The Better Letters tumblr has posted a massive gallery of the hand-lettered signs from Carter's Steam Fair, a touring vintage fair that stopped last weekend in Clissold Park in Stoke-Newington, London. Carter's is a family business, and it's a magnificent affair, even down to the gleaming, streamlined family trailers parked around the perimeter. Joby Carter, the fair's signpainter, is the son of the founder, John Carter, and he is part of a five-generation tradition of handpainted signs. My wife and I took our daughter and a friend to the fair yesterday and were amazed, thrilled and delighted by every single detail, from Voltini's Electrocution sideshow to the penny arcade where we gambled recklessly with enormous, Georgian pennies to the many rides and funhouses (and don't forget the steampunk QR code!). As my daughter's six-year-old friend said while we left, "This was the best day of my life!"
After taking these photos I had a chat with Joby Carter, son of the fair’s late founder John Carter. Aged just two when the fair first opened in 1977, he has since become an expert on fairgrounds, their history and the accompanying lettering traditions. For the last seven years he has been sharing some of this experience through his signwriting and fairground art workshops at Carters’ winter base in Maidenhead.
Joby’s own learning came through a combination of family tradition and training under a master signwriter. Joby’s father, John Carter, trained at Slade School of Art, and his mother was also an art college graduate. Joby started out by assisting them with some of the pictorial work around the fair, most of which is still done by his mother, Anna Carter. He was then deemed good enough to start doing pieces by himself and undertook further training in lettering from the fair’s resident signwriter, Stan Wilkinson. Stan is now retired and signwriting at the fair is entirely Joby’s responsibility. His skills were recently celebrated in this piece for the BBC, titled ‘21st Century Victorian‘.
Lettering at Carters Steam Fair [Better Letters]