The ‘Old West’ of America is deeply rooted in colorful and legendary stereotypes that capture the imagination and conjure up daring deeds of cowboys, crooks, sheriff and the inevitable gunfight. In the end law and order prevailed. These flyers were printed to identify and help capture the outlaw and restore and preserve order. Crude as they were one could not escape reading the large, bold type that announced a REWARD or proclaimed an individual WANTED.
When I began my work at the Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum in Wisconsin I was always asked to create a WANTED poster template that would incorporate an image of museum visitor and thereby generate income and provide a souvenir. I’ve resisted the idea until the call for proposals came from St Bride. With Bad Type as their theme I proposed a humorous look at the design and content of the WANTED poster in early America. This lead to the creation of a broadside printed at the Hamilton Museum last spring using their collection of historic wood type.
The Old West was a time of expansion and unbridled individualism. This period spans approximately from the early 1800s to the twentieth century. The Westward movement occurred at a rapid rate spurred on by the gold rush, land grants and other incentives that stirred the imagination of many who lived in poverty and neglect. Thoughts of easy wealth and an open and unprotected frontier was often too tempting. To maintain order printed flyers were distributed offering REWARD or seeking a WANTED criminal. Set in large, bold capitals (often in a Clarendon style wood typeface, perhaps ca. l865 William Page) these posters brought fear to the criminals and wealthy to those lucky enough to cash in on the reward.
The general layout was simple and effective with printing in black on white. What attracted me to them was not so much the type and design but the text. The lack of a photo, fingerprinting or an accurate drawing necessitated a way to identify or describe these individuals using words and phrases that were often humorous and stereotypical and sometimes just plain discriminatory: Georege Hoey WANTED for Rape: ‘age 45 to 48, but doesn’t look that old’. George was ‘very jolly and pleasant all the time; very talkative; generally dresses well, and was always known to wear a derby hat’.
Or this that describes Bert Goodwin alias Bert Cue arrested for an unknown crime: ‘Wore No. 10 shoe, and when last seen wore two pair of overal’s rather large, a double grey knit sweater, a brown necktie, a moleskin coat, sheep lined a brown mixed caped’. Walter Hitchcock who was wanted for Murder is described as a ‘Scotch (very profane, even in general conversation.)’ and with a ‘prominent, pointed, very red, (nose) apparently from excessive drinking’ but with ‘eyes and nose very striking’. Manu Peri’s poster for murder did not have a photo or drawing but is described as ‘a Finlander, rather good looking but speaks very little English’.
The next poster has a reward for $1,000 and seeks a double murderer who not only killed his partner but a deputy sheriff. The photos are of his partner but the description is for the unknown killer ‘age 32, height 5 feet 8 inches, complexion dark, weight 160, wide mouth, round face, short nose, fast walk, short neck, square shoulders, lines between eyes over nose, uses good English’. Under the photos the description reads, ‘Cady (dead partner) was a drug addict. His partner is undoubtedly one too’.
The next poster is for Herbert Campbell (alias Ryan or Evans) and Wanted for murder. Again there is no picture or drawing but a lengthy, humorous, and highly imaginative description of his apparel: ‘Dressed—black soft hat, coat light brown, figure invisible plaid, double breasted, three-button, top button missing, stitched around edge—tailor’s call invisible seam, size 38’. ‘…took with him black cheviot dress overcoat, four button full length coat, this coat has a label on inside right pocket giving date it was made, also name Harry Holland, and number of order, inside of right pocket, also label underneath collar, reading J. H. Holland & Co., tailors. This coat he will no doubt try to pawn. The fellow is a hard boozer’.
This is one of the few posters featuring a woman but the interesting description is of her partner in crime, Juan Samillian who is described as having ‘thick eye lid hanging down over eyes; very hairy over his body and has a very bestial appearance’. The next poster is from 1913 and describes a woman wanted for white slavery. There is a photograph of Lillian but it doesn’t do justice to her fashion sense or wardrobe. Lillian ‘has small feet; about No. 2 shoe. Was wearing a wedding ring, and signet ring with L. D. on it. Has also gold watch and chain. When last seen was wearing a black dress, but may be wearing a purple or brown velvet, which has a short slit in the side. Also has white Albatross suit in which above picture was taken. Has been seen wearing black and white striped silk suit and large hat’.
The next reward poster is for jail breaking and has a picture of one but statistics for both. But what is intriguing is the comment on their shoes. ‘When they left jail Eder wore a pain of Tan Oxford Button Shoes, and Vaughan a pair of No. 9 special made Hanan Shoes, with rubber heels’. Apparently these were good enough to make their escape.
F. W. Beck is wanted for abandonment of wife and four children. His picture is prominently displayed on the flyer but the description is much more revealing. F. W. has ‘dark hair, turning gray, thin in front and somewhat bald above temples; large eyes; smiling face; red cheeks; 3 moles, or marks resembling moles on left cheek near side of nose. Supposed to have scar on or near crown of head caused by a cut, which is not noticeable on account of hair’. A picture is not always worth a thousand words!
A fifty dollar Reward for embezzlement is being offered to RODNEY DAVIS, W. R. DAVIS who’s described as a ‘booze fighter, who will get drunk if opportunity offers’, Sheriff Goodman’s final words are ‘Officers, I want this man and want him bad; spare no expense’.
And finally we have HARRY MAYS WANTED, for FORGERY. His poster describes him in bold type as ‘A BOOZER, A DOPE FIEND AND ALL AROUND DEAD-BEAT’. And Sheriff Smith ‘wants him badly and he is sure to turn a bad trick somewhere else’.
A more recent post-9/11 WANTED poster deviates very little from the traditional format. With the exclusion of the colorful language it has adopted a second color to heighten the heading. Reversed in white on a red background and using type similar to earlier posters it boldly proclaims WANTED BY THE FBI. The image of the WANTED poster has become a powerful and nostalgic icon for contemporary advertisements promoting everything from books to BIGFOOT to a type conference!
Dennis Ichiyama is a designer and professor at Purdue University and teaches visual communication design focusing on typography. He holds a BFA from the University of Hawaii-Manoa and an MFA from Yale University. He was the first Artist-in-Residence at the Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, USA and is currently involved in research on wood type. In spring 2004, he took up a university fellowship to research multi-colour wood-cut posters.