Project Manual — Part 4: Who designed the street plates?
|Published:||Aug 19 2018|
The search for the origin of the design of the street signs themselves. Who designed them and when? Was their design standardized?
Since street plates are essentially uniform throughout Slovakia, one could expect their design to be defined by some standard, norm or regulation. The earliest reference of street and building labeling that I have found is Decree 97/1961 of the General Bureau of the National Committees from September 4th, 1961 on the names of municipalities, street labeling and house numbering. It contains information about the placement and plate contents but does not address their appearance. This decree was replaced by Decree 93/1970 of the Ministry of the Interior of the Slovak Socialist Republic from June 18th, 1970 on the naming of municipalities and their parts, streets and other public spaces and the numbering of buildings, which was supplemented by the following annex:
As we can see this template contains dimensions and defines the layout, but does not mention a typeface at all. Although by the 1970s the street plates using Manual Grotesk have long been in production, the pattern surprisingly shows a completely different typeface that has actually never been used on street plates. It is most likely a typeface that can be found in the researched publications under the name Prague Grotesk. I was unable to find anything about the origins of this template.
Decree 93/1970 was in force until 1990, when it was replaced by Act 517/1990 of the Slovak National Council from November 22nd, 1990 on the territorial and administrative division of the Slovak Republic. This act dismisses the design template, but its article 8, paragraph 4 introduces a sentence “All plates used within a municipality shall use a uniform design.” Like street naming and designation, the design of street plates was left to each municipality’s will.
In the wording of the most recent regulation dealing with street plates – Decree 31/2003 of the Ministry of the Interior of the Slovak Republic from January 30th, 2003 on the designation of streets and other public spaces and numbering of buildings – the sentence “All plates used within a municipality shall use a uniform design” was supplemented by "The plate with the reference number and the plate with the orientational number shall be placed next to each other so that they are clearly visible from the street and do not disturb the appearance of the building." These are the only references regarding design.
After reviewing the laws, I turned to the databases of the Slovak Office for Standards, Metrology and Testing. Since 1950s, there are only two technical standards concerning type, unfortunately neither of them deals with the street plates typeface.
So where did the design come from? There is one relatively rational explanation. The street plates currently in use in Slovakia first appeared in the early 1950s and were produced in the state-owned factory Kodreta Myjava. Kodreta manufactured plates for the whole country and had a monopoly on their production. From the same period comes Richard Pipal’s publication Písmo a jeho konstrukce (Type and its construction), which contains the most detailed description of the construction of the Manual Grotesk model. Therefore, it is quite likely that both the plate layout and the typeface were simply designed by one of Kodreta's responsible staff, who has learned and used Richard Pipal’s narrow upright grotesk. And since the plates were not produced by anyone else than the state-owned Kodreta, there was no need to define their design in a technical standard or in the law.
Of course, this is only my assumption. I'd be happy to hear from anyone who could bring more light to the origin of our street plates typeface.