This post is intended for fans of Toynbee tiles. If you’re not a fan, I’m sorry, but there wasn’t a whole lot I could do to make this entertaining reading for you. It’s largely technical and entirely esoteric. However, if you are a fan, this post represents the largest disclosure in Toynbee tile research in a very long time. Revealed herein is new, possibly earth shattering information. Read on.
Classic Toynbee tiles stopped appearing in cities across the country sometime in late 2002 or early 2003. Immediately following the disappearance of the original tiles, several new styles of tile started showing up in Philadelphia streets and on highway exit ramps surrounding the city. Until recently, it was generally believed that these new tiles were the work of a copycat.
The font on the new tiles is different. The material (at least on the smaller ones) seems to be something new and far more brittle. The tiles are placed differently, close to the curb and on highways. They’ve also wandered from center city seemingly following the subway and elevated train lines. New tiles have been spotted at 52nd street, Temple campus, Drexel campus, even in Frankford and the lower Northeast. There are 3 tiles on I-95 near the Linc, and farther north on the same road. There are also several on I-76 and the Blue Route. But that’s where they ended. These new “copycat” tiles never appeared outside of Philadelphia. (For a complete taxonomy of the tiles, click here)
Taken as a whole, all of these facts suggest the work of a copycat. Without getting into too much minutiae, the new tiles don’t appear to be as skillfully crafted as their predecessors and their M.O. seems much different.
But 2 tiles changed all of this. The first was discovered in early June at Cottman & Torresdale in Northeast Philadelphia. The second was found in central Connecticut by a man named Brian Stroehlein. About 2 weeks after the discovery of the NE Philly tile, I read this thread over on metafilter and contacted him. He was nice enough to pull over and get a couple shots of the CT tile with his Nikon D70. The image he sent me represents the first new style tile found outside of the Philadelphia area. Already, this news is very big in the strange little world of Toynbee tile research.
But I think this news is potentially much bigger. The Cottman Torresdale tile shook the tile community. The font on the sidebar sections was extremely close to that of the original tiles. Was this just the work of a copycat working harder to emulate the original, or was it the work of the original tiler? The question hung in limbo until the discovery of the CT tile.
What struck me about this tile (besides its location) was that it was a near exact copy of the NE Philly tile. The emphasis here is on the word ‘near.’ There is 1 very small difference between the tiles. The CT tile contains the message:
YOU MUST LAY TILE YOU!!
While the NE Philly tile says:
YOU MUST MAKE TILE YOU!! YOU!!
Just a week or so a go a tile at the Broad Street exit of I-95exit was discovered. It too is identical to the other two, except that it says:
YOU MUST TILE!! YOU!
Other than these tiny differences, the tiles are identical. Without revealing anything I am not at liberty to speak of, I have to say that the tiny differences in these otherwise identical tiles strongly suggest that these new school tiles display the very same unique form of obsessive behavior that inspired the originals. If they were exactly the same, I’d say a copycat was banging them out out of a single stencil. That they display extremely minor differences, but are otherwise precise clones suggests that they’re the product of genuine obsessive behavior. Put together with their geographic diffusion and stylistic similarities and I am close to being convinced that these new tiles are the work of the original Toynbee tiler. In short, this is huge news. That’s all for now.