When I moved to New York in 2011, I found myself staring at the tiles on the subway station walls while I was waiting for next train to arrive.
"I wonder how old these are? Wow, they're hand painted! What font is that?"
I did a bit of digging on the internet and I couldn't come up with an answer to that last question (see bottom of this page for more info). Furthermore, I couldn't believe that somebody hadn't tried to recreate the font.
So, after many months of taking photos and kicking around the idea, I finally decided to try to do it myself.
NOTE: This is an ongoing project and I'll be posting progress updates here. I'm hoping to have a working beta version of the font within the next week or so.
History of the New York Subway tiles and typefaces
Squire J. Vickers was an architect and lead designer for the subway system from 1908 to 1942 and was responsible for 300 station designs. Here's a NYTimes article about Vickers.
The question remains: Who designed, manufactured and hand lettered the tiles? This short article in The New York Times identifies architects George C. Heins and Christopher Grant La Farge
From the article THE (MOSTLY) TRUE STORY OF HELVETICA AND THE NEW YORK CITY SUBWAY:
"For the IND Vickers also added a second set of modular tiles for the station names. These were integrated into the station walls rather than being attached to the platform columns. The lettering of these signs is in a spur serif style—common in 19th-century sign-painting manuals—that is reminiscent of social invitation typefaces such as Copperplate Gothic."
From Forgotten New York:
"Vickers also designed smaller, black and white directional signs pointing to the closest exits, with a simple arrow pointing in the direction the traveler should go. These signs featured a font quite like Copperplate, the font I use (along with Franklin Gothic) for FNY title cards. It wasn’t Copperplate, though; the font featured small, “vestigial” serifs much like Copperplate but it wasn’t quite the same. I wonder what the font name was."
I'm using a font editor called Glyphs to import the Illustrator paths and export to an Open Type Face.
A complete copy of the New York City Transit Authority Graphics Standards Manual from 1970
An incredible online resource NYCSubway.org has photos from every station and a wealth of historical info
Subwaynut.com also has photos from many NY Subway stations
Tiles in New York blog