slightly disturbing obsessive behavior

Just because I haven’t posted about the Toynbee Tiles recently, doesn’t mean my bizarre obsession has waned. The tiles go into winter hibernation every year. Spring snow or not, the season awakens them. They’re like the cherry blossoms.

For all those who visit for it’s top-notch Toynbee Tile coverage, here’s a long overdue update.


On the documentary front, a preview has been created. Unfortunately that preview is secret. I’m told there are good reasons for this. As soon as it goes public, you’ll see it here. It looks great… but as I said, it’s a secret.

On the research end of things, the big 6 questions of who, what, when, where, why and how have been answered. Again, wait for the documentary. If you’re a tile fan, or even if you’re not, I promise that you’ll be both shocked and amazed by the epic of the tiles.


One lingering question remains. It’s been debated for years without an answer. Are the new style tiles spotted in Philadelphia between 2002 and today the work of the original tiler, or a copycat? In case you’re unfamiliar with the ins and outs of this ferocious debate, here’s a short synopsis:

Original Toynbee tiles appeared between the early 1980’s and early 2002. They were laid in streets across the United States and in 3 South American countries. These tiles come in several quantifiable clusters of shapes and varieties, but all are clearly the work of a single individual. As the 90’s wore on, original tiles became large, colorful mosaics, beautiful and ingenious. These are the tiles worthy of fascination. These are the tiles that caught the attention of most of the world’s tile fans.

Original tiles stopped appearing in early 2002.

Not long after, a new type of began showing up only in Philadelphia. They displayed shortened text (omitting in and on and sometimes replacing the word ‘resurrect’ with ‘raise.’) The font was also different and the tiles themselves were oriented in a new way. A copycat was immediately suspected by Justin Duerr and Bill O’Neill, the preeminent tile scholars of the time.

In September 2003 in an email exchange with Inquirer writer Larry Fish, O’Neill wrote of the tile at 13th and Chestnut, “It IS different, but it could be evolution by the same guy. The capital A’s, for instance, still are that odd bullet shape. I had a long discussion about (sic) Justin Duerr about whether we have a second perp. It’s almost too weird to think about. If there is a second one, is it a mere copycat, or a disciple?”

That was the beginning of the debate. Is there a copycat? I’ve gone back and forth for a long time, but recently started to believe that there has only ever been one tiler. This belief still goes against my gut, but less than before. If reason were the only measure in this investigation, the evidence for a single tiler is at this point nearly overwhelming. Some of the best evidence I can’t share, but this weekend something I can make public came to light.


Old style tiles disappeared and new ones appeared. There was no overlap of styles and until Saturday, no known transitory period.

For years I’ve thought I’ve seen a fragment of a tile near the 23rd street onramp to I-676 east. On Friday I confirmed it’s existence near 21st street and on Saturday morning photographed it. Like an archeologist forming the model of a hominid skull from a small fragment of jawbone, eyeing the remains of this tile, researchers can come away with a wealth of information.

The tile is a clear hybrid between old and new styles. The font is a mix of old and new style. The material and coloration of the tile is clearly old style. The appearance of the words Toynbee and Idea on 2 separate lines is clearly new style. That it was glued on a highway and not on an onramp is also new style. There is only 1 conclusion. This is a hybrid tile. This is some of the best evidence to date for the single tiler theory.

Alright, that’s enough obsessiveness. That’s all for now.

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