The Grand Exhibition of the Pre-Vinylite Society: An 18th Century Revival

Letterheads 2018: London Calling proudly presents a free exhibition showcasing the work of an international cast of sign painters and lettering professionals. Curated by Meredith Kasabian of the Pre-Vinylite Society, the exhibition is open to the public on the 1st floor 11am – 6pm (Thursday to Saturday, 16th – 18th August) and 11am – 4pm (Sunday 19th August). Exhibition curator, Meredith Kasabian, will be giving a short curator’s talk at 1pm every day 16-18 August. These are free and open to the public.

[Image above is detail from original exhibition artwork designed and painted by Jakob Engberg of Copenhagen Signs.]

Left: Shelby Rodeffer, The Good Woman. A Whole Length, but no Portrait. By Sympson. N.B. It is done from Invention, not being able to find one to sit for it. Right: Carl Frisso Angell, Hand and Lock of Hair. Hand unknown.
Curatorial Statement

The Grand Exhibition of the Pre-Vinylite Society: An 18th Century Revival is a sign painting exhibition presented in alliance with London Letterheads. The show directly references an exhibition of signs that took place in London in 1762. The original Grand Exhibition of the Society of Sign Painters opened on April 22, 1762 on Bow Street, Covent Garden. The exhibition was a satirical display of pictorial signboards, some painted specifically for the show (purportedly by William Hogarth) and some taken clandestinely from the city streets in the aftermath of a city-wide sign ordinance which required all projecting signs to be removed.

One of the few surviving objects from this exhibition is its companion catalogue, which playfully and often facetiously describes the pictorial signs for the 18th century viewer. For our Grand Exhibition of the Pre-Vinylite Society, the artists work directly from the 1762 catalogue to translate the descriptions into contemporary lettering and pictorial styles. Each artist interprets a description from the original catalogue by lettering it verbatim, rendering it pictorially, or by utilizing both lettering and pictorial skills.

While this exhibition references 18th century British signs, it is not a replication or reenactment of the 1762 Grand Exhibition. Instead, this show is a contemporary interpretation, or “revival,” of the historic event. In the 256 years since the men behind the Society of Sign Painters used the medium of sign painting to express their varied views on 18th century London life, sign making has remained an integral method of public expression and demonstration. Our Grand Exhibition of the Pre-Vinylite Society is a celebration of 21st century sign painting as told through a global community of sign painters, using the historic occasion in 1762 to inform their work.