I shared images from the inspiring Wythe Hotel in Brooklyn the other day and the view from one of the rooms looks out onto an exposed brick wall which was painted with signage. But behind the freshly painted typographical advertising you can still see the faint remnants of much older, faded signs. Did you know that these old hand-painted adverts are called ghost signs? I find them so wonderfully reminiscent of eras long-forgotten and periods in history where hand-painted advertising was the norm. Forget today’s modern flashing banners on websites and neon advertising to light up the sky – these old hand-painted signs are a faint typographical testimony to a nostalgic bygone era.
Ghost signs are found around the world with the US, the UK, France and Canada having many surviving samples of these brick ads. The painters of these signs, known as wall dogs, used oil-based house paints which contained lead, allowing the paint to adhere strongly to the brick surface. There has been a revival of these signs in recent times and developers today are being encouraged to preserve these unique signs rather than painting over them. I think I will keep my eyes open for some ghost signs in my own city. Have you spotted any?