In 2018, Roger Gastman compiled an amazing book called Beyond The Streets. In the early pages Roger gives his take on the mystery and possible origins of the S. A must read for fans of the S and graffiti/street culture alike, it is here that we learned about the term Strippable in relation to books.
You see in the 1960's is when barcoding was coming to life. With the steady advancements in digital technology, barcoding books and products was becoming a necessity.
Just like the daily paper today, some resellers want to be able to return a book if it doesn't sell. To prevent resellers from having to return the entire book, which would incur high shipping costs, the publishers had a plan. They would introduce an easy to identify logo - a S inside a basic triangle - which meant Strippable. This meant the reseller could 'strip' off the outer cover and return only the cover for a refund.
As Roger sums it up:
''Here we have a case where an ’s’ is present throughout the entire world, on the desks of children, and probably during a time when the mind is wandering and doodling follows soon after. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to insinuate that kids may have used the geometric shape of the triangle and the letter and tried to blend the two''
...and he's right. One the of best discoveries soon after this, was the same strippable S iconography in the artwork of New York's finest, Jean-Michel Basquiat. Famous for writing enigmatic epigrams in the cultural hotbed of Manhattan's Lower East Side during the late 1970s, where rap, punk, and street art coalesced into early hip-hop music culture, Basquiat was influenced not only by the Strippable S - but also his own take on the S thing - 'The Classic S of Graff'.
We spoke with Al Diaz - A close friend to Basquiat to learn if they knew the meaning behind his S's. Hear the fascinating story on a separate post here.
As for the Strippable S - Yes, it's certainly had an influence on bored kids in school and was often copied and embellished. Is it the origin of the S thing? No.