A Mystery Sign Painter from 1950s Cuba

Photos of a Cuban sign painter and his work appear on eBay and make their way to Letterform Archive.

Sepia photo of a topless man resting his arm on the back of a truck that has hand-painted lettering on the door.
Who is this man that decided to capture himself and his work in Cuba in the late-1950s? Photo reproduced with kind permission of Letterform Archive.

"There are some epic photos of a sign painter in 50s Cuba on eBay" was the message I received from BLAG member Brennen Bechtol back in April. This was followed by some pictures and a link to the eBay listings.

This article has been amended since first publication to add four additional photos that weren't previously known about.
Smartly dressed man posint in front of a painted wall advertisement for 'Trimalta Polar'.
Our mystery sign painter posing with a piece of branded wall work for a brewer. Photo reproduced with kind permission of Letterform Archive.

After I shared the discovery on mastodon, the wonderful folks at Letterform Archive picked up the baton and purchased the available set of eight prints. However, before they did that, Brennen had snapped up his favourite, which he has since donated it to the archive.

Photo cropped to give a head and chest image of a man in an open-necked shirt and hat.
The sign painter, Cuba, 1950s.

Letterform Archive have taken high resolution photography of the images, and kindly given permission to publish them here at bl.ag online. In some cases I have cropped them to show the lettering in more detail, alongside the original print.

The Mystery Sign Painter

The photos were likely produced for the sign painter to use as a portfolio, and his pride is evident as he poses in front of his work. The prints are signed, presumably by him, with what looks like 'P.T. Dust', but otherwise there are few clues as to his identity.

2 x 2 array of signatures by the same person.
Four examples of the signature that appears on the prints.

Among the handwritten annotations on some of the prints is one that says "maquina de la Habana" (Havana machine), which initially made me think that the sign painter was based in the capital city. However, looking at some of the lettering on the vehicles, the central Cuban city of Camagüey is mentioned a couple of times. This is over 500 km (300 miles) from the capital and so I suspect that this is where our mystery sign painter was operating.

Detail of a hand-lettered truck door with a picture of a tyre and lettering for "El Transporte".
Detail of the truck door painted for Rogelio Hernández, and including an address in Camagüey. Photo reproduced with kind permission of Letterform Archive.