In November 2012 I received an email from Richard Jones in Welshpool suggesting that K-Type create a typeface based on a condensed sans serif he’d observed on old enamel signs. Richard attached this clear photo of one such sign showing particularly intriguing diagonal terminals on the J and S, and online research showed that the lettering was widely used for street signs, Post Office signs, the plates on James Ludlow wall postboxes, railway signs, direction signs and circular Automobile Association wayfinding plaques, apparently beginning in the early 1900s and continuing well into the 1950s.
Whilst the basic style persisted for decades, a degree of variation can be observed between different examples, with draughtsmen evidently feeling free to amend the basic letter shapes and exercise individual taste. The lettering sometimes has a hand-crafted quality that suggests the cutting of stencils or templates, perhaps based on a specification sheet.
The middle diagonals of the uppercase M usually extended down to the baseline, becoming rather heavy and congested, but some draughtsmen, as with Richard’s ‘Sand Pit’ sign, started following the Gill /Johnston example of a higher pointed vertex, and this more elegant option has been chosen for the new Enamela typeface, though the alternative M with lower vertex is also provided at the Alt-M (µ) keystroke on a Mac, or Alt-0181 on Windows. While some designers preferred a plain vertical throat on the G, others added a crosspiece to help distinguish it from a C, and the latter is the form chosen for the Enamela fonts. However, the G without the horizontal is also present, assigned Unicode FF27 (full width capital G).
The roots of the lettering would seem to be Victorian, a Cherry Blossom Boot Polish enamel advertising sign on the Advertising Antiques website is estimated to date from 1880. Between 1908 and 1915 the lettering was used on ‘bull’s eye’ station signs for London Underground up to the introduction of Johnston’s Underground type. I initially saw a similarity to the Charles Wright car registration plate font (see K-Type Mandatory) with its quirky terminals stemming from the compression of geometric type. Alan Brignull noted the similarity to a Victorian wood type called Runic, though the terminals on C, G, J and S slope in the opposite direction. However, the precise origin and identity of the typeface has so far proved elusive.
In search of an existing digital font, I sought the help of Luc Devroye in Montreal who identified the closest match as Czech designer František Storm’s Enamelplate D, similarly condensed with the correctly sloping terminals. However, many characters differ substantially from those in local source material, perhaps indicating that continental European enamel lettering varied from its British counterpart. And maybe, as with K-Type Enamela, there is a balance to be struck between creating a typeface that is both rooted in history and is also useful for contemporary contexts.
Enámela Condensed is offered in three weights, each with a free italic. The typeface isn’t simply a re-creation, which would hardly be possible since there are so many slight variations, it’s a family based on the best examples found, and offered in Bold, Medium and a Regular weight which probably never existed. Enamela has a simple, matching lowercase designed to appear convincingly classic, though this too may never have originally existed. Go to the Enamela font page…