Robert L. Peters

30 December 2011

Polish Cold War Neon

Warsaw, Poland

Neon signs, made using electrified, luminous tube lights containing rarefied gases, were introduced in December, 1910 by Georges Claude at the Paris Motor Show. Claude’s associate, Jacques Fonseque, subsequently realized the possibilities for a business based on signage and advertising—by 1913 a large sign for the vermouth Cinzano illuminated the night sky in Paris, and by 1919 the entrance to the Paris Opera was adorned with neon tube lighting.

A decade later, in 1929, the first neon sign in Poland went up in Warsaw. Popular from the start, the earliest neon signs were made to order—free in design, shape, and color, and significantly influencing other forms of advertising like poster design and typography. Designed and built by prominent architects, graphic designers, and artists, and overseen by a chief graphic designer in the state-run company Reklama, Polish neon signage was renowned for its outstanding technical and artistic qualities.

A new book, Polish Cold War Neon, tells the fascinating story of neon in Poland by preserving and celebrating the remnants of this rich and influential history. During its peak, Reklama maintained over 1,000 neon signs, whose playfulness and folly stood out in dark and oppressed Poland, ornamenting otherwise drab cities and towns. The book offers stunning photographs by British photographer Ilona Karwińska, along with archival images, original neon designs, and interviews with their designers to reveal the untold story of Polish neon.

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