Thursday, November 9, 2017

Ghost Signs..What Are They?

A Stroll Down Memory Lane

A Ghost Sign From My Hometown: Chattanooga, Tennessee

As a sign manufacturer we hear signs referred to in various ways. Typically, we have a customer who is trying to tell us what type of sign they need, but refer to the sign type by a wrong name. Eventually, we arrive on the same page and are able to help the customer(s).

Today, however, I came across a term (a couple in fact) that I have never heard before which referred to a "Ghost Sign". Having just highlighted some Halloween signs, I thought it might have had to do with the holiday. I was mistaken.

A Ghost Sign as defined online, was/is a sign that was/is hand-painted on the side of a building. Ghost signs were typically painted from the 1880's through the 1950's before ads could be inexpensively mass produced, installed and replaced.

If you're a baby boomer or before, then you may remember growing up around some of these bigger-than-life signs. Their quaint remnants offer us a lens into a neighborhood's past, reminding viewers about elements of commerce and life at certain points in history.

Classic Coca Cola Most Of Us Remember

Nostalgic Appeal

Gold Medal Flour

Ghost signs were never intended to be charming or picturesque, they were only intended to advertise products and services in a very conspicuous location. Some wall signs are well preserved decades after their painting. That is especially true if the wall has been protected from the elements. 

Many ghost signs were painted with lead-based paint which may also have been a factor in the slow rate of decline. Some old signs have been repainted in attempts to match the color and charm of the original sign, while others continue to fade away, one flake at a time.

What? Wall Dogs?

Back When People Could Afford A Movie At A Theater

The sign painters who painted these impressive building signs were actually referred to as: "Wall Dogs". They typically worked for one of the major sign companies in a town. It was not unusual for wall dogs to travel from town to town painting the signs on the walls. Also, it was not uncommon for a sign painter to come from a family with generations of painters who had passed down the sign painting skills. Back in those days one sign painter explained that he learned how to make paint colors by mixing the white lead, linseed oil, dryers an pigment to attain various colors. 

Yes, Please

Things change..

There are still talented sign craftsmen who paint signs, but for the most part, we only see their beautiful work on the ghost signs that still exist. When you see one of those large buildings, consider that those signs were painted by a person whether six or twenty stories off of the ground. Layout, lettering skills, font types and art skill were just a few of the factors that made a good sign person. In fact, there is an artistry to designing for signs and that creative eye is still a necessary skill for we sign folk. 

The good news is that our current day hardware and design software (with the right person(s) behind the keyboard) can replicate the comfortable nostalgia of ghost signs past. The bad news...well every township has signage ordinances which may limit a bigger-than-life message.

Eat Mush Ya'll

Vital Signs Can Capture Your Message

My Personal Favorite

On your next trip to a small town, take a look around to see if you can spot any of these memorable signs. Want to recreate a blast from the past sign for your business? It just so happens that we have some very talented sign designers on our staff who can help to execute your vision (modern or not). We may not be able to use the entire side of a building as the canvas, but we can give your sign an updated message with the design touch of an era gone by.

No Wonder We Remember These Brands

We're waiting for your call on our modern-day phone!

   (412) 494-3308