Wednesday, May 16, 2012

New York Neon: On The Books

After nearly a year of dropping semi-subtle plugs for what I've come to call the "neon book", I'm happy to finally be able to offer a peek at what this book of mine will actually look like.  Last week, after some final tweaks and revisions to the proofs, W.W. Norton sent her out to the printer.  The book's actual title is New York Neon.  The release is still a few months away (I'll keep some shameless self promotion up my sleeve for that event), but here's a preview.

The Cover.
To design the book's cover and interior, Norton hired the graphic design studio Modern Good, who did a gorgeous job with the layout and especially, I think, the cover (above).  The title font is Tarzana, a contemporary alphabet that suggests the letterforms you'll see on the old signs pictured inside the book.

Skeleton sign montage.
The book's content is the product of about six years of obsessive labor.  I began casually photographing old neon signs in New York back in 2006.  To my surprise, I realized no one had done a book on the subject – sure, there are books about old neon signs in LA, Vegas, Rt. 66, the USA as a whole, etc., and books that memorialize the great Times Square spectaculars – but none covering the real workhorse storefront signs of midcentury New York.

Pages from the Introduction. 
Although many share my enjoyment of these old signs, I found that few people – myself included – really understood the intricacies of how they came to be.  So the first part of the book is a heavily illustrated 50-page introduction outlining the history of illuminated signs, of neon sign shops in New York specifically, the story of their design and fabrication, and the way popular sentiment toward the signs has evolved through the years.  There is also an appendix at the back of the book with short "bios" on a handful of the more prominent neon shops that operated in New York during the early to middle decades of the 20th century.

After the introduction comes the real main course – 125 pages of contemporary photographs showing the signs as they exist today throughout the five boroughs of New York, in all their ancient splendor.   Each sign pictured is identified by location and business name.  Wherever possible, I have also provided the sign’s maker and date of installation, along with observations on the design or the business that commissioned it.

The production phase takes some time, but Norton will have the book in stores in plenty of time for the holiday shopping season.  The sticker price is $26.95 – probably less than ConEd charged to keep the P&G Bar sign lit for a long day's night.  What a deal!   It's even got an ISBN number (978-0-393-73341-9) and everything!   Readers of this blog will be the first to know when the book comes out – in the meantime, stay tuned for the usual clips from the cutting room floor.

Many sincere thanks to Nancy Green and Ben Yarling at W.W. Norton for all their help in getting the book ready to go, to Christine Dahlin who helped with the editing, to Modern Good for a great job with the design, and to everyone who helped along the way!


This is a special time of the year, if you're a fan of old signs and commercial archeology – Debra Jane Seltzer is on the road, posting photos of great discoveries made on the course of a multi-thousand-mile roadside Americana trek. This year, Debra Jane has headed from Brooklyn out to the Southwestern states.  She'll return by way of the American Sign Museum in Cincinnati.  
My cousin bought me a super cool neon-themed refrigerator magnet made by neon photographer Susan Mara Bregman – take a look!
Brite Buy Liquors down in Tribeca appears to have shuttered, leaving its lovely vertical LIQUORS sign in peril.


  1. Congrats. Can't wait to pick up the book.

  2. It looks really beautiful! Congratulations!

  3. Good for you documenting this stuff - can't wait!

  4. Congrats Tom! Can't wait to see it.

  5. Thanks for the shout-out Tom! I'm glad you liked the magnet.
    You and your readers can check out my letter / number magnets from neon signs at my Etsy shop (

    I look forward to reading your book.

  6. Thanks for your comments and praise everyone! So good to see this finally taking shape...

  7. Congratulations! and thanks for all your efforts to preserve our local history including information you gave us about the tanker MARY A. WHALEN.

  8. This is fantastic news, Tom. And the book is gorgeous! I often think of our nights out in search of neon spumone. - Anthony

  9. Congratulations Tom! thinking of you! Kate