Creating relics to decades and even centuries gone by, ‘ghostsigns’ for brands and shops that linger on London’s walls offer a fascinating glimpse into the past, offering insights into the typographic styles, marketing strategies and advertising approaches of old.
Sam Roberts (the man behind the gorgeous and bonkers Hand-painted Signs of Kratie book is a man obsessed with these ‘ghostsigns’, to such a degree that he has thus far chalked up more than 500 blog entries on the subject, curated the national History of Advertising Trust Ghostsigns Archive and now runs Ghostsigns Tours around Stoke Newington, north London, to impart his wisdom and enthusiasm onto others.
The tours, he promises, ‘take in some of London’s best pieces of painted advertising, fading on walls.’
His obsession started, he says, simply due to one day changing the side of Stoke Newington’s Church Street he walked down to work. ‘I spotted this old sign advertising fountain pens, and it struck a chord’, he says.
‘That was a day when people would actually bother to get pens repaired – people don’t even get expensive things like computers repaired today – and I realised these signs would bring about a lot of personal connections for people’.
In 2007, Roberts started his Ghostsigns blog, which led to creating an online archive of Ghostsigns with the History of Advertising Trust (HAT). The archive now pinpoints more than 1000 UK-wide ghostsign sites.
It’s the tours, however, that Roberts feels give the best opportunity to engage with the signs. ‘Photographs are one way, but it’s great to engage with them on street level and in the flesh’, says Roberts.
The signs are mostly from the Victorian times or the turn of the 20th century, he adds.
‘People often say “telly changed everything” or “the internet changed everything” but the underlying principles [of advertising and branding] are the same’, says Roberts.
‘You have to get people’s attention or communicate a message. The media you use has changed buy the methods don’t’.
Ghostsign tours usually run on the first Sunday of the month. The next take place on 5 January and 2 February. For booking information visit http://www.ghostsigns.co.uk/tours