Snapper: Keith Knecht

Keith Knecht shares some of his tales of a travelling sign painter in John J. Hodgins' Snapper book.

Bright pink sign kit with a cartoon sign painter, a list of services, and contact details for Keith Knecht, Toledo, Ohio.
Keith Knecht's kit box from the 1960s, one of many at the American Signs Museum.

During his talk at BLAG Meet: Inside Issue 03, Bob Dewhurst (@nevadahandpainted) mentioned a book, Snapper, published in 2001. Compiled by John J. Hodgins, it is "a collection of stories of sign painters" with anecdotes and funny tales of life on the road, and on the brush, from just over a dozen contributors.

The book was self-published, and the only copy that Bob knows of is owned by Steve Vigeant (@berkeleysigns), who is also one of the contributors. I asked if it would be OK to reproduce some of the stories for BLAG readers, and they kindly sent me a photocopy of the book to start transcribing.

Here's the first one I've worked on, with Keith Knecht sharing some of his experiences in a series of phone calls with John J. Hodgins. Sadly, the other book mentioned at the end, Memoirs of Keith Knecht, didn't materialise, although he did have his moment in the limelight as one of the stars of Sign Painters.

In a previous article, 'snappers' were defined as "the old-timers that used to travel from town to town, snapping a line and painting a sign to earn their keep". In a recent Instagram post, Elaine Wallis pointed out that the term has a variety of meanings, including the one that she learned, which is "a fast sign painter who had a quick casual letterstyle that he or she used for churning out showcards and paper window posters".

Snapper: Keith Knecht

By John J. Hodgins

Small section from a book with the title, 'Keith Knecht' and a charicature of a man in glasses and a hat. The main copy is then the opening paragraph of the transcription below.
Keith Knecht in Snapper: A Collection of Stories of Sign Painters.

The first time Keith Knecht called me was after SignCraft Magazine had published a little note saying that I was trying to collect a book of snapper stories. When I answered the phone a voice said, "Hey, I'm an old snapper". I had met Keith back at a couple of Letterhead meets but had not seen him in years.

In the conversation Keith said, "Just set me down anywhere in the United States with my sign kit and I can make a living. I may have to sleep in the car the first night, but the next night I will have a room and be eating a good restaurant meal."

Then I started calling Keith and found a wealth of good stories. He usually worked around Toledo from about May to October. Then he would hit the road. He traveled all over the south: Florida, Atlanta.

I asked how he proceeded when he hit a town.