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Typography on the door of Number 10
November 3, 2010 1:05 PM   Subscribe

“I am sorry that, after all, the numerals on the doors at Downing Street are so beastly.” Why the 1 and 0 affixed to the door of the British prime minister’s residence, 10 Downing St., look the way they do.
posted by joeclark (36 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
"It is nice of you to be interested, but all I want to do is forget about it".

Interesting story, thanks for posting it!
posted by Ms. Next at 1:15 PM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


It just occurred to me that I have no idea if "1600 Pennsylvania Avenue" appears anywhere on or near the White House. Does anyone know? It's interesting that such a famous address is not physically prominent (unlike 10 Downing Street), if it even exists at all.
posted by theodolite at 1:18 PM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


That's because 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is an address that changes all the rules.
posted by condour75 at 1:28 PM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


theodolite, This is probably what you are looking for.
posted by Araucaria at 1:28 PM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Great read, thanks.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:31 PM on November 3, 2010


This article simultaneously has a little bit of everything I love and hate about typography.
posted by echo target at 1:33 PM on November 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


Awesome! I also feel a little better knowing that I am not the only person who has hated that zero for years.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:35 PM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Fun fact: I’ve been inside Number 10 three times.
posted by joeclark at 1:40 PM on November 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


Argh! I can't unsee it!

Thanks. Great post.
posted by motty at 1:45 PM on November 3, 2010


I remember a while back reading the Wikipedia article about #10 out of sheer curiosity. It was really interesting. The blog post is pretty down on the whole thing, and I guess I just assumed that the whole area was sealed off, which turned out to be true.
For a long time now public access has been denied. Gates, rising barriers in the road, and a permanent armed guard defend the street at both ends and the front door is a steel plate. The Prime Minister does not walk to the House of Commons.
That's too bad, I guess. I think the imagery is really nice, it makes the government look -- or appear -- really accessible. As well as unpretentious. Of course it's actually a huge complex behind that door, which I didn't realize. Also, I don't think the Wikipedia article really got into much of the stuff in the blog post. Maybe someone with more time on their hands should update it.
posted by delmoi at 1:57 PM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Me, I'm just happy to see the word "numeral" in use anywhere.
posted by JHarris at 2:09 PM on November 3, 2010


Fun fact: I’ve been inside Number 10 three times.

Can you talk about it, or was it top secret?
posted by delmoi at 2:10 PM on November 3, 2010


I've been in a riot just outside those barriers delmoi mentions. As any decent citizen should be at some point in life.
posted by Abiezer at 2:22 PM on November 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


This would matter more if 10 Downing Street had any architectural merit. Really the point of the place is it's "ordinary" modesty: a much more democratic residence than the palaces of most national leaders.

What annoys me much more is the way the street has been fenced off, and more recently Whitehall has quietly been fitted with heavy fortifications, dressed up as meaningless balustrades along the pavement - which tourists probably suppose are traditional features. I think Joe Public should be able to stand on the doorstep.
posted by Segundus at 2:25 PM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Very much enjoyed the post on the declaration of the Irish Republic at the linked blog too. Great post, joeclark.
posted by Abiezer at 2:29 PM on November 3, 2010


You'd think it wouldn't be that difficult to track down what kind of lettering existed around 1800 and whether letters were brass. I know many buildings have been renovated but there must be some documentation out there.

For example, I live in a Regency building (built about 1800) Georgian in style - looking a lot like 10 Downing street - which has been owned continuously by the Duke of Bedford. I believe any changes to the building has been thoroughly documented for 200 years. It would just be a matter of getting access to their archives.
posted by vacapinta at 2:33 PM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


That's all well and good but doesn't explain why there are two foot scrapers.
posted by unliteral at 3:39 PM on November 3, 2010


How many feet have you got?
posted by crunchland at 3:50 PM on November 3, 2010


I would suggest a brushed-aluminium square, 40cm x 40cm, with a modest "10" in the lower-right corner, in black Helvetica.
posted by Jimbob at 4:15 PM on November 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


Segundus: I think Joe Public should be able to stand on the doorstep.

Joe Public is lucky to get within mortar range of no 10.
posted by GeckoDundee at 4:23 PM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


That's all well and good but doesn't explain why there are two foot scrapers.

One is for Tories and one is for Whigs. Radicals can't be bothered.

I am not even going to try to update this; I'm just leaving it in its original Trollope.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:40 PM on November 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


I can never see that number 10 without imagining it transforming into Nigel Hawthorne and Paul Eddington.
posted by George_Spiggott at 6:42 PM on November 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


Needs moar Comic Sans.
posted by Quantum's Deadly Fist at 6:55 PM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've always noticed that the numbers look funny, and I'm not even British!

A sloppily written street address seems to fit with the carefully studied lack of pretension by the prime ministers, so it's a little surprising to me that it was a genuine accident by the builders.

It's unimaginable to us Americans that the leader of a major country doesn't have a giant house, even a small private plane, or a personal security force of 2,000. Even the governors of minor US states get really nice executive mansions and private jets! But I realize the prime minister's facade of humility is just as thin as our president's facade of unlimited power.
posted by miyabo at 9:04 PM on November 3, 2010


if they don't like their numbers, why don't they buy some at the local b&q?

i like this one - this would be a nice homey touch for a dour p m who's having a bad day - and even in these days of austerity, 16.50 is a slight price for alleviating governmental melancholy - it's got flowers on it - how could a man enter a house with flowers on it and think everything's a muddle?

and butterflies - did i mention the butterflies? - and stars - it's charming

it'll perk him right up
posted by pyramid termite at 9:07 PM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's unimaginable to us Americans that the leader of a major country doesn't have a giant house, even a small private plane, or a personal security force of 2,000.
They do get the use of Chequers as well, a rather splendid country pile, but it seems to be kept fairly low-key.
posted by Abiezer at 9:56 PM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


neat article, thanks for posting it.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:57 PM on November 3, 2010


While our prime minister gets to live in an estate in The Hague (if he wants to, which for some reason nobody does), his work office is the 14th century Het Torentje (the little tower).
I find it very fitting that in a country where every elevated location above a hundred feet is called a mountain this structure of two stories is called a tower.
posted by joost de vries at 10:07 PM on November 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


That's just wonderful.

But I still find myself wondering what tune the doorbell plays.
posted by Ahab at 10:35 PM on November 3, 2010


It's unimaginable to us Americans that the leader of a major country doesn't have a giant house, even a small private plane, or a personal security force of 2,000.


Well your President is the Head of State, as well as Head of Government. Our Prime Minister's house may be modest, but our Head of State gets a nice one.
posted by greymullet at 6:36 AM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I would imagine that the white house didn't have a house number until pretty recently. I know that, in the small town my dad grew up in, they didn't have proper addresses until the mid sixties. Probably the white house got a house number much before that, but the idea of numbering every house, rather than the local mailman just knowing where everybody lives, or picking up their mail at the post office, is definitely not a time-immemorial tradition. I would argue that the white house is indeed one of the few buildings in the united states that doesn't need a number. If I send a letter to "President X, White House, Washington," then it's pretty clear where I want it to go. Furthermore, I would assume that the main mail processing facility for whitehouse-bound mail is somewhere offsite for security reasons, so the address isn't really descriptive of a physical place, but a logical place, and therefor maybe a White House P.O. Box (albeit bigger than most entire small town post offices) would be a better way to handle mail to the president.

But "Barry Hussein 'Yes-We-Can' Obama, PO Box 1600, Washington, D.C." doesn't have the same ring to it.

Also, the gov't should totally use eminent domain to grab 867-5309 and Pennsylvania-6-5000 for incoming calls to the White House.
posted by LiteOpera at 7:46 AM on November 4, 2010


Even the governors of minor US states get really nice executive mansions and private jets!

The what, in the where, now? I live in Massachusetts, where there is no governor's house at all and--private JET? Are you SERIOUS?

Huh. Google tells me that 45 states have official governor's residences. I just happen to spend time in three of the states that don't--Massachusetts, Vermont, and Rhode Island--so I didn't know it was the norm.

I don't think the governors of the other New England states actually live in the official governor's residences, and nor are they "executive mansions"--the New Hampshire governor's house, for instance, is a very nice old house that is only used for cocktail receptions.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:57 AM on November 4, 2010


United Kingdom: If I could change anything, I'd straighten up that 0 on the number 10. It's a bit wobbly.
posted by Kabanos at 9:41 AM on November 4, 2010


Really the point of the place is it's "ordinary" modesty: a much more democratic residence than the palaces of most national leaders.

If the architectures of significant national buildings express their nations' characters, Number 10 expresses the polite hypocrisies at the heart of Englishness: the self-deprecation which to an outside observer may seem modest or self-effacing, but is really a very subtle form of oneupmanship, and the art of saying one thing but meaning an entirely different one. Housing the effective head of the government in a grand presidential palace, a Whitehouse, or even a prominent-looking building that exudes importance would be terribly un-English.

(It's OK for the Queen though, because she is essentially an ornamental fixture in the governmental scheme of things.)
posted by acb at 4:04 PM on November 4, 2010


Am I the only one who imagines walking down some quaint European avenue, thinking

Downing Street... Downing... it should be just about - ah, yes, this left and then which side is the even? Oooh there is 3 on the other side okay here we are at 4... 6... 8... 10! Oh, oh. well hello there. That was easy to find. That's it?
posted by whatzit at 11:00 AM on November 5, 2010


Even the governors of minor US states get really nice executive mansions and private jets!

NYTimes just has an article about the underused mansion in New York. (The Governors are generally well-off and already have a perfectly good house of their own already.)
posted by smackfu at 1:27 PM on November 5, 2010


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