For most of their first sixty years of existence, the signs out front read “J.C. Penney Company” or “J.C. Penney Co.” in “black and mustard yellow“ as Time Magazine described them in 1965. Straightforward and prosaic these signs were, with the exception of some nice deco versions in the 1940’s. From 1971 until earlier this year, it was “JCPenney” in Helvetica, a much-loved classic in its own right. And just recently the logo has been tweaked, in an understandable way for understandable reasons.
But from 1963 to 1971, a snazzy, remarkable, highly individualistic logo took center stage, and even the name took on a new form – “Penneys”. Sure, the word “Penney’s” (in standard letters, with an apostrophe) had been used from time to time previously, on the odd blade sign here, the occasional newspaper ad or gift box there, but the new Penneys logo would be emblazoned on everything – traditional company products like clothing, sheets and towels, new offerings such as car batteries, stereos and sporting goods, and the cover of the newly-launched Penneys catalog. And on the stores themselves, of course.
The new logo, part of a “total graphics design program”, was the creation of New York design firm Peter Schladermundt Associates, who worked to achieve the following objectives, outlined in a February 1964 Chain Store Age article: “The Penney trademark would have to exude fashion, hint at broader merchandise interests and expanded consumer services, larger, more exciting stores (and) appeal to a more sophisticated ‘self-service’ shopper”. After coming up with several preliminary designs, they arrived at the perfect “P” – a black vertical “strength, durability” with a blue “cool color, for permanency” curved section “fashion flair, dynamic feeling of future”. The rest of the letters were designed in like fashion.
Late-term baby boomers like me (who to this day call the place “Penneys”) tend to look back at this logo with great fondness for a number of reasons. For many of us, it’s the earliest one we remember – in my case at the Golf Mill Shopping Center in Niles, Illinois. The short tenure of the logo is probably another factor – it’s truly a “sixties thing”. But most of all, it was just so cool looking! This admiration is by no means limited to over-40 folks however, as evidenced by the affectionate nickname the logo has picked up in recent years – the “Funky P”. (Although if you ask me, the whole thing is funky. Just saying.)
Getting back to the company’s newest logo, the all lower-case “jcpenney”, I don’t think it’s bad at all by current standards. Will it last as long as the “Funky P” did? I’m not sure – attention spans are kind of short these days. As long as the 1971 logo? Not a chance. But they can always go the “funky” route next time!
The publicity photo above, from 1964, depicts the inside entrance of the Penneys store at the Shepherd Mall in Oklahoma City, which opened in November of that year. Below, shown here by the kind permission of Chain Store Age magazine, are two graphics - the first showing some interesting experimental versions of the new Penney logo, the second showing the final version, with notes by designer Schladermundt. I think they made the right choice, don’t you?