Badge of Honor

Published by: David Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives, LLC
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From early times, artisans and craftsmen have signedtheir work.  It’s a symbol of pride aswell as promotion, calling out to one and all the reputation and desirabilityof a piece.  Centuries ago, this samepractice was established within America’s horse drawn vehicle industry.  Wagon makers not only positioned their nameson the sides of their vehicles but also granted space to endorse the sellingdealer.  It’s a promotional legacy stillfelt throughout the world of transportation. So much so that auto makers have continued to employ both of thesemarketing features.
When it comes to the most visible placement of abrand name on a wagon, there were several methods involved. Generally speaking,the three most typical methods utilized either transfer decals, stenciling, orhand painting to showcase the maker name. Sometimes a combination of two or more of these processes wasutilized.  Metal tags were also occasionallyused, but were not as prevalent as with buggy and carriage makers.
Hand painted names and logos were among the firstways wagons were branded.  As with anytype of art, there were various levels of skilled application.    While some makers clearly lacked style and professionallettering ability, other brands took the promotion of their brand quiteseriously, hiring accomplished artists and sign painters to reinforce areputation for excellence.  Today, almostany hand painted logo is a relatively rare survivor.
Using the pre-formed shapes and patterns of metalstencils was another popular method of applying signage to wagons.  Engaged at least as early as the Civil War, stenciluse ranged from single metal cutouts for simple paint applications to multiplestencils used to add supplementary colors and/or additional artistic elementslike drop shadows and decorative designs. The Stoughton wagon logo shown above utilized three stencils to add bothcolor and style to the insignia. 
This Birdsell logo is actually a pre-printed transfer.  These pieces were designed to be applied withadhesive and water.  Once they dried onthe surface of the wood, they became part of the surface and were impossible toremove without destroying.  Many of themost elaborate logos on surviving wagons are actually these printed “decals” attachedby the process of decalcomania.  While ittook a little investment in printing for a maker to acquire these pieces, theypaid off in production speed, consistency, efficiency and great looks.
Artistically and tastefully applied, any of thesethree methods can be attractive and effective in helping showcase a particularbrand.  Whatever the name, symbol orgraphic early wagon makers applied to the vehicle, it was always meant toreinforce the reputation of the firm while simultaneously brandishing acreative badge of honor.
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