in One Takes | 01 SEP 01
Featured in
Issue 61

Picture Piece: A to Z

'The only quick map reference supplement to all old and new street names'

in One Takes | 01 SEP 01

The name A–Z was Phyllis Pearsall’s own invention. The logo of Tower Bridge with its bascules raised was the brainchild of her father, Alexander Gross. In fact, the whole cover design of Phyllis’s brand new street atlas of London was her father’s – including the line ‘Produced under the direction of Alexander Gross F.R.G.S’. He had arrived in London in 1900, a Hungarian immigrant determined to make his fortune as a cartographer in the largest city in the world. His wealth burgeoned with the disintegration of peace in Europe: the broadsheets’ huge appetite for accurate maps of the battle regions meant he could barely keep up with demand. By 1934, however, he had lost his business, his savings and his wife, and left London for New York.

The wrong side of the Atlantic, his ‘direction’ was confined to fierce telegrams lambasting his daughter and ridiculing her attempts at cartography: ‘How can you take weeks on a job I could accomplish in a trice!’ Indeed, the task of mapping the city was taking Phyllis an age – weeks on end of getting up at 4 am and walking the streets for 18 hours a day, noting every Av., Clo., Cresc., Ct., Gdn., La., Pk., Pl., Rd., Sq., St. and Yd. in London. When this labour was finally completed, she had to alphabeticize the index; it was during this period, her mind concentrated only on ordering, that the name of the map came to her.

Her father had his own thoughts on the matter: ‘What customer’s going to have the nerve to ask a shopkeeper for the first and last letter of the alphabet? Ludicrous! Whereas “OK” is on everybody’s lips. Synonymous with “fine” … implying excellence’, came the word from New York. But Phyllis was adamant, and calmly instructed the printer to substitute ‘A–Z’ on the final design. He needed no persuading anyway, dismissing the phrase ‘OK’ as ‘an Americanism that’s hardly taken on here’.