Earlier this year, John Morgan Studio received an unusual commission – to reinstate the lettering on one of the country’s most important historic ships, HMS Victory. This wasn't just a case of repainting an existing design, but a unique opportunity to reimagine the ship’s lettering in an appropriate and historically accurate way. As they wait for the scaffolding to come down (and the full reveal), John Morgan and Adrien Vasquez explain the process behind the project…
How did the project first come about? Had you worked with James Mosley before?
The project is the result of years of correspondence between James and the various parties involved in the restoration of HMS Victory, in which James challenged the well-intended but anachronistic use of a pallid and weakly realised Trajan letterform on the ship’s transom. The ship (which was completed in 1765) is currently being restored to its aspect just before the battle of Trafalgar (1805). The wood and paint have been analysed scientifically to determine the exact original colours: black and a pale beige rather than a golden yellow.
This re-painting gave a welcome opportunity for a reconsideration of the Victory lettering. Our relationship with James begins in the Typography Department of The University of Reading, where James taught a course (on Saturday mornings…) in the History of Letterforms. John took on James’s call for action at the end of his quietly influential Motif piece ‘The English Vernacular; A study in traditional’ (1963), and began to introduce the English Vernacular letterform into the studio work. Firstly in the journal AA Files through the development of initial caps with Paul Barnes, and more recently and in consultation with James on the use of this ‘British’ letterform for the signage and way-finding for Tate Britain. The next step was Victory.