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Type Tart Cards
June 26, 2009 5:32 PM   Subscribe

Tart cards [NSFW] are the means by which many London prostitutes advertise their services. Step into almost any central London phone box and you can contemplate up to 80 cards inviting you to be tied, teased, spanked or massaged.... [Wallpaper Magazine] asked designers – from students to superstars – to find the tart hiding in every typeface and create their own graphic numbers.... all 450 cards can be viewed here. [NSFW]
In among this plethora of brilliant, witty graphic designs we would like to highlight the serious issue that lies at the heart of the world of tart cards – the plight of trafficked women in the sex industry. It is a subject touched eloquently on by Mike Dempsey of Studio Dempsey, who is a volunteer at the Helen Bamber Foundation which helps rebuild lives broken by human rights violations. While our exhibition is an ode to the graphic qualities of the tart card phenomena, Dempsey's design is a pertinent reminder of the sinister world that lies beneath every card.
Read Mike Dempsey's letter and design.
posted by carsonb (39 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Previously (same site, different story, sort of)
posted by kuujjuarapik at 5:55 PM on June 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


What's the deal with the references to typefaces and typesetting? Are the hookers in London a bunch of out-of-work graphic designers?
posted by Xoebe at 5:55 PM on June 26, 2009


Oh wait, nevermind. I see.
posted by Xoebe at 5:56 PM on June 26, 2009


I dunno, I don't see the kind of shops that produce top-flight graphic design adverts as the kind that also take would-be immigrants and shunt them into dungeons where they only meet their clients and get fed Happy Meals laced with downers.

I'm kind of instead seeing college students who have gotten the memo that most college graduates don't get jobs that require a college education and have suddenly realized they can make ten times what I do per hour for something that is usually kind of fun.

I do not really see a connection between the two links.
posted by localroger at 6:01 PM on June 26, 2009


OK, on review the top flight graphic design was an academic hitching a ride. But the real cards still require a bit of tech you don't associate with the streetwalking end of the trade. At the least someone has to answer the phone and arrange the hookup.
posted by localroger at 6:04 PM on June 26, 2009


MetaFilter: Don't Forget to Bring Your Johnston.
posted by not_on_display at 6:09 PM on June 26, 2009


Damn, I really should have travel to London when I was 20
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:13 PM on June 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wallpaper is a very Nathan Barley magazine. Those tart cards are well weapon!
posted by Artw at 6:21 PM on June 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm really disappointed that this isn't about tarOt cards. I was excited that modern day prostitutes were utilizing such an ancient form of trickery and symbolism to engage in commerce. Oh well, it's still good! My font addiction is still getting fed.
posted by Mizu at 6:23 PM on June 26, 2009


The cards are quite good, but I doubt many sexworkers would use something so sophisticated. Tart cards are cheap quick advertizing, and need to catch the eye and get the essentials over. They can allow an 'impulse' purchase on the part of a client, but bypass the legal problems of streetwalking. If somebody wrote an iphone app that coordinated your GPS with active sexworkers within 1.5km radius, they'ld be a millionaire by breakfast.

Damn, I really should have travel to London when I was 20

16, and you wouldn't been breaking a single law. Damn.
posted by Sova at 6:31 PM on June 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


Damn, I really should have travel to London when I was 20

When I graduated from high school my parents bought me a ticket to London and a two week Brit Rail pass and said, "Enjoy." I spent one night in London clubs (I did get to see the Sugarcubes at least) before I realized that I would be penniless if I spent any more time there. Off I went to Snowdonia where after two weeks I returned to Gatwick feted, fattened, hung over, oversexed by some malnourished blue-haired Welsh waif who'd never really met a Yank I met on the train returning on her University holiday to some forlorn slate heap, along with nearly as much money as when I left.

There are far better things to do in Britain when you're young than waste time with women that advertise in phone booths.
posted by Pollomacho at 6:33 PM on June 26, 2009 [3 favorites]


Dempsey's design is a pertinent reminder of the sinister world that lies beneath every card.

Interesting - my understanding was always that these cards were, relatively speaking, a good thing, insofar as they allow the prostitutes to advertise their services directly to customers (ie. without pimps) and to work indoors (ie not on the dangerous streets). I may be completely wrong though.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 6:35 PM on June 26, 2009


I hope they're storing these in plastic sleeves. They're worthless once you get the corners bent.
posted by littlerobothead at 6:39 PM on June 26, 2009 [5 favorites]


Dempsey's design is a pertinent reminder of the sinister world that lies beneath every card.

No. Emphatic no. Sex work and human trafficking are not interchangeable or equal, no more than agriculture and slavery. What they are is an industry and an attendant human rights issue; and if the last few years mean anything to anyone at all, it is that no sort of business is without this sort of legal shadow. But not behind every card. Behind some cards, and within any functional society's capacity to regulate.
posted by kid ichorous at 6:41 PM on June 26, 2009 [7 favorites]


Metafilter: humiliation, correction, open late, sure to please.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 6:42 PM on June 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


I was all ready to be mildly irritated by the Wallpaper thing but Filthy Gill is spectacularly brilliant and many of the others are vaguely funny (for certain values of funny not necessarily valid in all jurisdictions).
posted by motty at 7:10 PM on June 26, 2009


"trafficking in women" reminds me of the myth of white slavery- and a quick search finds an essay with that subject (no idea if the essay is good).
posted by bhnyc at 7:22 PM on June 26, 2009


Are you saying that you don't believe in human trafficking, bnyc?
posted by Pollomacho at 7:25 PM on June 26, 2009


Wallpaper, hoping for fashionably late, finally arrives at the porn-design party, only to find The Bachelorette drunkenly misquoting Baudelaire and making out with Jeff Koons. Everyone else had already gone.
posted by xod at 7:29 PM on June 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


These cards sent me to the dictionary to look up a word I didn't know: tawse.
posted by zadcat at 7:40 PM on June 26, 2009


Are you saying that you don't believe in human trafficking

I think kid ichorous put it well above.
posted by bhnyc at 7:50 PM on June 26, 2009


No. Emphatic no. Sex work and human trafficking are not interchangeable or equal, no more than agriculture and slavery.

Ah yes but people who engage in sexual activities are slaves to sin.
posted by Avenger at 8:10 PM on June 26, 2009


How do you tell your fortune with these cards?

Oh... Tart.
posted by Balisong at 8:14 PM on June 26, 2009


Are the hookers in London a bunch of out-of-work graphic designers?

All designers are whores.
posted by rokusan at 9:12 PM on June 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


London phone box

Who uses these?
posted by stbalbach at 9:36 PM on June 26, 2009


Course, actual cards in phoneboxes are more likely to be some image scanned from a jazz mag and some hurried text plastered on top with little regard for layout.
posted by Artw at 9:37 PM on June 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


Who uses these?

People have to pee somewhere.
posted by Artw at 9:38 PM on June 26, 2009 [3 favorites]


How do you tell your fortune with these cards?

Fortune 1, Tart card Upright: I see romance in your future.

Fortune 2, Tart card Reversed: You will meet a tall dark stranger pimp, who will roll you for all your money.
posted by BrotherCaine at 10:23 PM on June 26, 2009


Who uses these?

Punters.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:38 PM on June 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


When I was in London in the mid nineties, doing the usual touristy things one does in London, I had an occasion make a phone call. Since this was the days before ubiquitous international cellphones, I head into a phonebooth and come across about 75 of these.

This naive Minnesota boy couldn't believe that call girls advertised this way, so I took down a few for souvenirs. When my friend's English wife told me that they were called tart cards, I totally lost it. To this day, I think Tart Cards would be a great band name.

I think I still have them somewhere, gonna have to check the basement.
posted by Sphinx at 12:44 AM on June 27, 2009


I read an article, a few years ago, about the extraordinary battle that goes on (or went on, in those days) between the 'carders' who put the cards up in phone boxes and the cleaners who took them down again. No sooner had one set of cards been taken down than a new set would go up to replace them. This article from Sept 2000 claims that 13 million cards were removed from London phone boxes every year (and on one occasion, 280,000 cards in a single day).

It's said that, at one point, tart cards replaced Pokemon cards as the collecting craze among London schoolchildren. ('I'll swap you a Filthy Sex Kitten for two Busty Blondes and a Spanking Mistress!') This may be an urban myth. But there are serious collectors of tart cards, and even a book. (Oh, and an art installation.) The heyday of tart cards was the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the cards were home-produced and often quite witty -- I remember seeing one very demure card offering 'tuition in O- and A-Levels' (being more innocent in those days it took me some time to work out what this meant). Now they are tacky and ugly and rather annoying, but like the pigeons in Trafalgar Square, they are a reassuringly familiar part of London life and I'd miss them if they disappeared.
posted by verstegan at 1:25 AM on June 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


I remember seeing one very demure card offering 'tuition in O- and A-Levels' (being more innocent in those days it took me some time to work out what this meant).

Yeah, I did like this one.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:42 AM on June 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


I was all ready to be mildly irritated by the Wallpaper thing but Filthy Gill is spectacularly brilliant

Eric Gill genuinely was particularly filthy.
posted by Electric Dragon at 3:47 AM on June 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


I still see the O and A-level references, along with a white sticker with 'T.S 21yr' on them. The one that makes me inexplicably sad is 'Sexy Black Woman, new to the city' - even though she's practising shrewd marketing, it always sounds like a plan that fell through. My favourite is one with a judge on it promising 'domination training'.

I sometimes see men sticking up tart cards - I wonder if they are pimps, or whether they just provide a service. And I wonder where they get them discreetly printed.
posted by mippy at 8:33 AM on June 27, 2009


HA! I've only just realised these are Type tart cards. I thought they were just what tart cards would look like if they had studio design behind them.
posted by mippy at 8:34 AM on June 27, 2009


"trafficking in women" reminds me of the myth of white slavery

Incidentally, human trafficking does happen in the sex industry, particularly from eastern Europe - see the video linked here.
posted by mippy at 8:40 AM on June 27, 2009


mippy: I sometimes see men sticking up tart cards - I wonder if they are pimps, or whether they just provide a service. And I wonder where they get them discreetly printed.

They're placed by carders, who get paid by the thousand - much like people who are paid to stand on street corners and leaflet passers by. They don't need to get them discreetly printed; pretty much any local printer will do them since printing them isn't illegal.

But what I really came in to say is: I cannot believe none of those designers did a card with Vag Rounded.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:15 AM on June 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


Vegas also has a ton of these card-distributing guys (and girls), but they try to hand them directly to passersby. They stand along the strip, slapping the cards listlessly against their hands while waiting for someone to walk near them. When someone does, they wave them in their faces. (I took a picture of one of these guys once, and man, he did not like that.)

A lot of them are handing out the same cards, so I'm guessing they're printed on a rather massive scale, so I imagine some pimping conglomerate is involved, rather than a card-per-prostitute kind of thing.
posted by ignignokt at 7:48 PM on June 27, 2009


<font face="impact" color="bordello red" class="low" style="backdoor">

2 £ :

— Call —
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</font>
posted by BrotherCaine at 10:13 PM on June 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


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