Stencil Work in America 1850–1900

baseline magazine | issue 38 | 8 page article

Stencil Work in America 1850–1900
by Eric Kindel

For stencil letters, the early 20th century is something of a beginning when, in the decades after 1910, they were relieved of their workaday tasks and cast anew by artists and designers of the avant garde. So compelling was this reconfiguration, by Cubist and Futurist painters initially and thereafter by a succession of painters, architects and graphic designers, that the contexts in which stencil letters were made and used before their 'rebirth' have now slipped almost entirely from view.

If a history of stencil letters and their myriad applications is to be assembled from a past more distant than the 20th century, the United States in the 50 or so years before 1900 is one place and period that certainly merits review. There, stencil work was diverse and inventive to a degree that in hindsight seems remarkable but on reflection is in keeping with a time of considerable fertility in the design of letters, and rapid advances in trade, transport and manufacturing...