Scanning Around With Gene: How Many Markers Were On Your Taboret?

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For those poor young people who grew up entirely in the digital art era, I should probably explain that a taboret is a small side cabinet, often on wheels, and usually with a few drawers or cubbyholes. In the days before computers, all graphic artists had taborets tucked next to their drafting tables or light tables. There, along with a collection of Rapidograph pens, Bestine, tissue paper, and assorted knives, was often a large collection of colored felt-tip marking pens.

I was always jealous of pristine collections of neatly organized colored markers. My art was limited to pure paste-up -- I couldn’t sketch a comp good enough to require colors. But every decent design studio or ad agency had at least one nice set to share among the artists, and if you were busy enough or lucky enough, you got your own set. Click on any image for a larger version.

These marking pens were used for any number of purposes, from sketching out illustrations to storyboarding to comping out type. In those days, long before any actual words were set into type, someone drew out the ad first, indicating with thin marker lines just where the actual type would go.

The smell of marker pens was only slightly overshadowed by the smell of Bestine, a volatile petroleum product that cleaned up stray wax and rubber cement. Between the two you could probably get a small buzz going if that appealed to you.

A particularly fastidious designer would be miffed if any one of the markers was missing from the set. Whether you kept your markers in proper color order was quite a statement, too. I always worked in sloppy shops, so the markers were usually put back randomly, if at all.

The most popular colors always dried out first. I suspect many an artistic decision was made based on which marker was available and working at the time.

Letraset licensed the Pantone library and made Pantone markers along with Pantone colored film for when you needed big patches of color. But if you think the color gamut of CMYK is a little weak, you should see what markers once produced. Let’s just say they didn’t exactly jump off the page, though they did a decent job of simulating the final product.

The claim for inventing felt-tip markers goes to Sidney Rosenthal, who, in 1952, came out with the Magic Marker line. These markers were actually small glass bottles with a screw-on lid that held the tip. When you tipped the bottle over you could see the ink flowing, though they discouraged you from opening the lids.

Rosenthal called his marker Magic because of its ability to write on almost any surface, and indeed that was the appeal of the marker “movement.” Quite a few companies released brands, each tackling a slightly different niche. The Marsh company specialized in markers for packaging; Design was another brand for artists; Carters and Stanford went more after the home and sign markets; and there were even very early markers for overhead projectors.

Go to page 2 to see the Squeezo marker brand and many other images.

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