Have you ever half glimpsed a faded piece of signage in London? Then you’ve seen a ghost sign, one of the fascinating pieces of advertising history that can still be seen around the capital. These fading adverts, like the Hovis sign in Haringey and the Bovril sign in Brixton, have endured over the centuries and survived against all odds.
Victims of modern sign making materials and techniques, these remnants of our advertising past can be found all over the world.
How were ghost signs produced?
The signs that remain are all a testament to the skill and craftsmanship of early signwriters. Smaller signs were often produced freehand, using the height of the bricks as a guide. Larger and more elaborate signs were often produced by a technique like stencilling – the design would be traced on paper with a spiked wheel and then chalk or charcoal would be used to mark out the perforations and create the outline of the design.
Particularly skilled signwriters would often embellish their signs with decorative flourishes like illustrations.
The early days of marketing
Ghost signs are a fascinating snapshot of changing attitudes in society – like the cigarette advert that claims smoking is good for your throat! Some of the businesses associated with ghost signs didn’t outlive their own advertising, but those that did moved with the times and started to explore other ways of bringing their branding to the public’s attention.
Though the heyday of signwriting was the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the art hasn’t died out. The craftsmanship that created the ghost signs is still around, although the materials have moved on – after all, many of the signs that remain were painted using lead based paints, making signwriting something of a risky business.
What modern signage can learn from ghost signs
With the uptick in interest in these remnants from marketing’s history, modern signs can learn from their more primitive ancestors:
– Good signs have a clear message: That’s demonstrated by the enduring popularity of ghost signs that keep the branding message simple. Your signs should be equally clear and easy to grasp, so your customers understand your business at a glance.
– Good signs withstand the elements: just like the lead based paint of old, modern materials should be chosen to withstand all weather conditions including harsh sun, wind and rain.
– Good signs boost business: there’s no way of quantifying what impact the ghost signs had in their time, but our enduring fascination with them suggests they continue to engage with passersby. A good sign will attract customers and have an impact on sales, otherwise you’ll need to rethink the way you’re using your branding and brand colours.
– Good signs reflect your business personality: Ghost signs are a snapshot of businesses that were around over a hundred years ago. If you want your signs to endure, they need to reflect the personality of your business by maintaining consistency across all the signs you use.
High quality signs for your business
Your current signage may not last as long as the beloved ghost signs, but at The Sussex Sign Company, we can help ensure they have just as big an impact. To find out how to maximise your ROI, contact us today.