Thaggard Mercantile Co, advertising brown bilt shoes for the family.
We made a stop in a water tower town where this ghost sign is visible on a thoroughfare leading from Atlanta to New Orleans. Information online is thin on the ground of the Thaggard company who are, however, listed in the US White Pages dated 1962 to 1971 but not beyond.
The White Tulip Flour brand promised ‘oven magic’ for perfect baking results in the 1940s.
10 GHOSTS OF MARKETING’S PAST | Sharon Henry
Ghost signs – are not, as the name might suggest, indicators to warn you’re being haunted. Rather they are advertising signage left behind by businesses, who in some cases have ‘given up the ghost’ – phantoms if you like of marketing’s past.
These vintage advertisements that miraculously still adorn brick walls in towns and cities today were hand-painted in a bygone era. Like a trail of historical breadcrumbs they offer a unique step-back-in-time to an artistic phase of American business culture. These mural-type adverts are typically over 50 years old and often go unnoticed; many are severely faded.
Uneeda Biscuits 5c a packet. National biscuit company [Nabisco].
French Quarter, New Orleans.
We spotted this classic ghost sign whilst immersing ourselves in the magic of the Big Easy.
The story goes, when looking to package this new biscuit in 1898 the manufacturer said, “You need a name,” and hence “Uneeda” was born; a light, flaky cracker.
Nabisco operates still today and are the makers of Oreos and Ritz Crackers. They discontinued the Uneeda biscuit in 2009 after 111 years.
Gone For Good
Our US road trip was peppered with these ghost signs that I developed a casual interest in spotting. Through Google I also discovered there is such a thing as ghost sign ‘hunters,’ people dedicated to documenting these faded murals before they disappear through weathering and property development – forever. There are even specific tours for this niche available around the world.
What I find fascinating about these old-fashioned adverts, besides being works of art, is each one reveals an interesting piece of history. It feels good to spot one – even better when you learn the story behind it.
Many seem so embedded into the walls, it’s as if the pattern was cleverly made of bricks. But their longevity is down to the toxic, lead-based paint used during those times which isn’t as susceptible to the elements as today’s water-based alternatives. Because of this they are seemingly stained onto buildings.
Here is a collection of ghost signs we spotted driving through the US and across the border to Canada.
Scheuer Wise & Company. Wholesale dry goods and notions. Wigleys Spearmint Pepsin Gum – buy it by the box.
Montgomery, Alabama. End of Commerce Street.
Although Wigleys gum is still going strong, the same cannot be said of Scheuer Wise & Co. Spearmint came on the market in 1893 and the ‘Pepsim Gum’ packaging dates this ghost sign between 1893 to 1913.
The gum was originally marketed as a free give-away with the purchase of baking soda. It became so popular it was eventually sold in its own right.
The Scholl Foot-Eazer. No more foot trouble.
Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee. Authentic 1907 sign.
Out walking in Memphis we came across this beautiful ghost sign, promoting Scholl. Dr William Scholl patented his first invention in 1907, a revolutionary foot insert to support the heel arch. It was the start of his lifelong quest in foot care. He died in 1968 leaving a company that still trades worldwide today.
It’s the real thing. Coca-Cola Sprite Boy.
Vicksburg, Mississippi. Ghost signs of the US.
Don’t know how old this sign is but the mischievous looking Sprite Boy was used as a marketing mascot in the 40s and 50s. Unfortunately the paint is peeling and the sign appears to have not taken kindly to restoration work. Coincidently Coca-Cola was first bottled in Vicksburg back in 1891.
American Steam Feed Company
2nd Ave Nashville, TN, located on 2nd Ave S, Nashville.
We were crossing the pedestrian bridge over the Cumberland River in Nashville, Tennessee, when I spotted this ghost sign. From what I can gather, the company was established in 1881. They made daisy and hog feeds, chick mashes and were also dealers in bran.
Beesley Funiture Company. Broadway, Nashville.
Broadway is the busiest street in Downtown, Nashville, blazing with distracting neon. It’s easy to miss this vanishing ghost sign of the Beesley Furniture Company that once traded here on three floors from 1900 to the 1970s.
Geo. Keller & Sons. ‘K’ brand field and garden seeds. Quincy, IL.
Located in the ‘Gem City’ on the Mississippi River, this 134 year old business closed in 2014 having succumbed to economic challenges, it had been family run for four generations since 1880. They sold farm machinery, fodder seeds and garden products.
Southam Press. Duncan Street, Toronto, Canada.
Admittedly I missed this ad in real life and only discovered it after reviewing our photographs. This ghost sign was painted around 1909 by the Southam Press, a news conglomerate created by William Southam who began his career as a delivery boy for the London Free Press.
Trenton China Pottery Co. Complete restaurant equipment. Silverware, glassware, chinaware.
2nd & Arch Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
There is so much to see and do in Philly, from the liberty bell to the Rocky Balboa statue, it’s a wonder we even noticed this fine example. Founded in 1927 by Russian immigrants, this family run business is still in operation today, although they have since relocated to other premises.
I hope you enjoyed this little delve into the fading USA, following the trail left by the ghosts of marketing’s past.
It’s likely that you too have ghost signs around you – the trick is to notice them.