Discovering ghost signs

Hey you. How’s it going? Good? Pleased with the weather lately? Yeah, me too. We needed a bit of rain. Kind of refreshing in a cosy, red wine kind of way.

So, today, something caught my eye. A Love Letter For You. (I found the site because it was tweeted by these people). As quoted from their website:

Love Letter is a project by Stephen Powers with the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program and is sponsored by the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage through the Philadelphia Exhibitions Initiative. Generous support provided by the Brownstein Group and Septa.

That’s actually a very modest description of their site. The page in particular I was interested in was the one on murals. Not murials. Murals.  They’ve created a series of murals around Philadelphia, which follow the Market-Frankford elevated train line. There are so many of them, and they’re all so detailed and well-conceived.

Everything about what they’re doing, I love. I love the fact that they’re spreading messages across the city. I love the fact it takes years to get this good at doing what they’re doing. Not everyone can just start up with this skill. It’s a craft. It’s also something which has been going on for decades. And after a little mind-ticking-over moment, I started to look around the internet.

Adverts were once painted on the sides of city buildings. Personally, I can think of no better way to advertise. Hand-painted = quality, which inevitably leads to a strengthening of a brand. I mean, back in the 1890’s, there was no other way. They obviously didn’t have the glorious benefits of high definition, or…….personalised mailings…..or, adverts in the sky over the beach you’re bathing at. The adverts we see these days are generally predictable, computer-generated and everywhere. These brick-wall adverts couldn’t be easily duplicated and probably took weeks to get right. But, as famously quoted in a very old nursery rhyme…’once they were up, they were up’.

This preserved sign was uncovered off Tottenham Court Road  because the building next door had been knocked down to make way for a new crossrail station.

And suitably so, these adverts have been nicknamed ‘Ghost Signs’. They present themselves after disappearing or fading years ago and are now, becoming a local feature, rather than ‘just another advert’.

These adverts (which have been around sometime on sites like Creative Review) have come back into fashion. Clemmow Hornby Inge agency created these old-fashioned ‘hand-lettered’ adverts, based on the long established business of Anchor Butter, since 1886.

And as beautifully these adverts work here (in my opinion), they totally contradict the reason they were created below.

This is going to sound a little strong, but whoever approved this advert being shown in this way, should be removed from their work place. Ridiculous. Surely this ad placement actually defeats the whole point of the advert? Oh, listen to me. What do I know. I’m off my soap box.

BUT. Worry not, friends. The talented Alison Carmichael (who co-produced the Anchor Butter adverts) has things under control.

These adverts which I found via her website are like the 21st century digital version of old-fashioned signwriting. They still have the swirls. They still have the colour. Yet they’re portable amongst platforms. Magazines. Bus stops. Walls. I mean, I still personally prefer the old fashioned wall paintings, but at least sign writing is still alive.

And you know what? Anything typographically-related gets my cockles stirring….


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