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Vintage Chicago street gang business cards

Before the internet, even before desktop publishing, gang members who wanted calling cards headed to a printer with their idea. The results are collected in Brandon Johnson’s Thee Almighty & Insane: Chicago Gang Business Cards from the 1970s & 1980s.

These small cards display nuggets of historical artefacts, both in their design and context. Created years before the ease of mass-produced business cards, Brandon recognised their aesthetically cultural worth. “The hand-drawn graphics, the ‘Old English’ typefaces, the outlandish names and clever slogans,” he explains are elements that time stamp the activity and attitude of Chicago’s gang culture. “For example, an upside-down symbol or name is a sign of disrespect. Acronyms ending with the letter ‘K’ mean ‘killer’ – so ’S.D.K’ is short for ‘Satan’s Disciples Killer’.

These guys loved grocer’s apostrophes and Chicago’s own Playboy logo. The one below has a deceased member’s name crossed out:

One of my fave names is the Almighty Gaylords, a hardcore southside gang that used a lot of racist prison gang iconography. All in all, a fascinating design artifact of a subculture.

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