PHANTOMS OF MARKETING’S PAST | Sharon Henry
Vintage hand painted signs or ghost signs are not, as the later name suggests, warning signals of being haunted. Rather they are outdoor advertising signs of businesses that many themselves have ‘given up the ghost’, but their faded ads remain, like phantoms.
These vintage signs are adverts from a bygone era that miraculously still adorn buildings and brick walls in towns and cities today. These street signs give an insight of American culture and history, and the early practice of using advertising signs outdoor.
This mural type wall painting advertising is typically over 50 years old and often go unnoticed; many are severely faded and hard to decipher. These vintage hand painted signs were similar to the street art murals of today.
What’s fascinating about these old fashioned advertising signs, is besides being works of art, each one reveals a piece of history. It feels good to spot one – even better when you learn the story behind it, like Uneeda biscuits.
Vintage Hand Painted Signs Gone For Good
Our American road trip was peppered with these vintage advertising posters that I developed an interest in spotting. Another US road trip pastime are the quirky roadside attractions. Through Google I also discovered there is such a thing as ghost sign ‘hunters’, people dedicated to documenting these old signs before they disappear through weathering and property development – forever.
The trick to the ghost signs longevity is vintage paint; toxic and lead based, that was used back in the day. It isn’t as susceptible to the elements as todays water based alternatives. Because of this, the vintage ads are seemingly stained onto buildings and look as if the pattern was cleverly made of bricks.
Here is a collection of vintage signs we spotted while driving through the USA and across the border of Canada. I hope you enjoy this delve into the fading heritage of America, following the ghosts of marketing’s past
It’s likely that you too have vintage hand painted signs around you – the trick is to notice them.
White Tulip Flour, Rutledge, Alabama
Saw this fine example of vintage sign writing when we made a stop in the water tower town of Rutledge. It’s visible on a thoroughfare leading from Atlanta to New Orleans. Information online is thin on the ground of the Thaggard company, they are however, listed in the US White Pages dated 1962 to 1971 but not beyond. The White Tulip Flour brand could be a classic of 1940s advertising when it promised ‘oven magic’ for perfect baking results.
Uneeda Biscuits, French Quarter, New Orleans
We spotted this classic vintage sign in the Big Easy. The Uneeda biscuit history goes, when looking to package this new biscuit in 1898 the manufacturer said, ‘You need a name,’ hence “Uneeda” was born; a light, flaky cracker. Nabisco Biscuits still operates today and are the makers of Oreos and Ritz Crackers. They discontinued the biscuit in 2009 after 111 years.
Wrigleys Chewing Gum, Commerce Street, Montgomery, Alabama.
Although Wrigleys 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 faded 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.
Scholl Foot Eazer, Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee.
Out walking in Memphis we came across this restored 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.
Vintage Coke Signs With Sprite Boy, Vicksburg, Mississippi.
Finding any vintage Coco Cola signs in Vicksburg was a bonus as Coke was first bottled there back in 1891. And it got one of those old advertising slogans still in play today. Don’t know how old this one is but the mischievous looking Sprite Boy was a marketing mascot in the 40s and 50s. Unfortunately, the paint is peeling and the Coco Cola sign appears not to have taken kindly to restoration work.
American Steam Feed Company, 2nd Ave S, Nashville, Tennessee.
Painted advertising on buildings is eye catching. I spotted this sign crossing the pedestrian bridge over the Cumberland River in Nashville, Tennessee. From what I can gather, the company was established in 1881 and made daisy and hog feeds, chick mashes and were also dealers in bran.
Beesley Funiture Company, Broadway, Nashville.
Signs of lead paint is barely visible of this Beesley Furniture Company ad on Broadway, the busiest street in Downtown, Nashville. It’s easy to miss this vanishing sign of a family run business that traded here on three floors from 1900 to the 1970s.
Geo Keller & Sons, ‘Gem City’, Quincy, Illinois, on the Mississippi River.
Hopefully this is one of those vintage advertising signs that’s not giving up the ghost just yet. It belongs to Geo Keller & Sons, a 134 year old business that 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 vintage ad in real life and only discovered it after reviewing our photographs. It would have been 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, 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 these vintage hand painted signs from Trenton China Pottery. Founded in 1927 by Russian immigrants, this family run business is still in operation today, although they have since relocated to other premises