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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Before the Internet, the best way to find out what was happening on Friday night was to look for a poster tacked to a telephone pole. Eventually, the show poster was recognized for its art as well as its information. And Globe Poster in Baltimore was the best in the field. During its 80-year history, Globe printed posters for 1930s gangster movies, 1950s rock-and-roll shows, as well as the emergent hip-hop acts of the '80s.

When Globe shut down its shop last year, a group calling itself Friends of Globe stepped in to save its historic collection.

NPR's Leah Scarpelli has this story.

(Soundbite of machinery)

LEAH SCARPELLI: Globe Poster owner Bob Cicero fires up an old Heidelberg letterpress. The sounds echo around us as we walk through Globe's cavernous, dimly lit warehouse. It's like a tour of entertainment history and Cicero is happy to play tour guide.

Mr. BOB CICERO (Owner, Globe Poster): This is a form right here and this is a -if you walk that way, this is...

SCARPELLI: Posters spill out of boxes and sit in huge stacks on the floor and on shelves. There are larger-than-life sized bins of metal letterpress plates, each imprinted with the images of just about any musician you can think of, about 10,000 in all.

Local antique shop owner and member of Friends of Globe, Christian Sturgis shuffles through them.

Mr. CHRISTIAN STURGIS (Member, Friends of Globe): And there's really no record of Globe's, like, how many posters they did or how many bands they have touched. Oh, this is Etta James.

(Soundbite of song, "At Last")

Ms. ETTA JAMES (Singer-Songwriter): (Singing) At last...

SCARPELLI: Etta James, B.B. King, Solomon Burke, Chuck Berry; the list goes on and on.

JOHN LEWIS (Arts and Culture Editor, "Baltimore" Magazine): When you look at Globe's work over the years, you can really see that they have documented the history of American music; in particular, the development of African-American music.

SCARPELLI: That's "Baltimore" magazine Arts and Culture Editor John Lewis. He's written articles about Globe Poster and is working on a documentary.

Mr. LEWIS: They used to do these like "Biggest Show of Stars" posters, in the '50s into the '60s. And then they did these great posters too, you know, for Otis Redding at the Apollo, James Brown at the Apollo. And again, these are just classics.

(Soundbite of song, "Ill Go Crazy")

Mr. James Brown (Singer-Songwriter): (Singing) If you leave me, Ill go crazy. If you leave me, Ill go crazy. 'Cause I love you, love you. Oh-oh...

Mr. LEWIS: And that continued straight on through to hip-hop. Those eye-popping posters really matched the vitality and energy of that music.

SCARPELLI: That pop was Day-Glo. In the mid-50s, an employee named Harry Knorr introduced fluorescent ink into Globe's work. It was vibrant, cheaper and easier to print and it gave Globe Poster its iconic look.

Owner Bob Cicero says it also made for good advertising.

Mr. CICERO: They had the fluorescent oranges, the pinks, the yellows, the greens. And if you take a look at the outside world, everything is browns, blacks and whites. Well, this hit you in the face and you looked at it.

Ms. MARY MASHBURN (Owner, Typecast Press): What's really striking is how much they had a visual language.

SCARPELLI: Mary Mashburn runs Typecast Press and teaches letterpress printing at Maryland Institute College of Art, or MICA, in Baltimore. She says nicks and cuts in Globe's old wood blocks lent character to lettering on the posters.

Ms. MASHBURN: And then they paired that with this very clean, smooth screen-print background that helped to delineate the type; that helped to show you the different acts, to really pop that there were different acts. So it was a very clever way to impart a lot of visual information.

SCARPELLI: Mashburn is also a Friend of Globe. Together with Christian Sturgis and others, she's been raising extra revenue for the old printing company.

Ms MASHBURN: And then, because I was teaching at MICA and saw the extraordinary interest of the students, I thought, wouldn't that be cool if the collection could go to MICA.

SCARPELLI: Mashburn's students thought it was pretty cool, too.

Ms. SABRINA KOGAN (Graphic Design Student, Maryland Institute College of Art): I think all of us have been bitten by the Day-Glo bug.

SCARPELLI: Sabrina Kogan is one of three senior graphic design majors who jumpstarted MICA's arm of Friends of Globe. The others are Carolyn Williams and Allison Fisher. They made T-shirts, started a Facebook group and a blog. They printed their own Globe-style posters using original materials.

Here's Carolyn Williams.

Ms. CAROLYN WILLIAMS (Graphic Design Student, Maryland Institute College of Art): You open up the same drawers of type that people opened up 50 years ago, but can do completely different things with them each time you use them.

SCARPELLI: MICA announced last month that it's purchasing a large part of Globe's collection to use as teaching tools. Other institutions have expressed interest in buying the other, music-related assets.

Bob Cicero is thrilled to see a new generation of Globe lovers, and he'll be teaching a graduate letterpress class at MICA in the fall.

Mr. CICERO: I'd love to see what happens in the next two to three years and what they do. And I'm pretty sure - Im not pretty sure - I'm positive it's going to be awesome.

SCARPELLI: Back in the warehouse lobby, Christian Sturgis points out a few framed prints.

Mr. STURGIS: This is a really early one that they found. What year do you think this is, Bob, the Edward Robinson, the "Little Giants," '28, '29, '30?

SCARPELLI: "The Little Giant," starring Edward G. Robinson, actually opened in 1933.

(Soundbite of movie, "Little Giant")

Mr. EDWARD G. ROBINSON (Actor): (as Bugs Ahearn) You ever seen anything like that before? I suppose you think that's a cat having a fit in a bucket of tomato ketchup. Well, it ain't, see? That's art.

SCARPELLI: Just like Globe's posters.

Leah Scarpelli, NPR News, Baltimore.

(Soundbite of song, "Ill Go Crazy")

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) Ill go crazy. If you leave me. Ill go crazy...

HANSEN: To see a slideshow of the posters, go to NPRMusic.org.

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