Recently, a customer took notice that artwork lining the walls of my shop were not exactly traditional paintings of scenic landscapes or moody subjects striking a pose. Instead, there seemed to be a theme of peculiar yet eye-pleasing subjects that ranged from old advertising shingles to transportation signs of previous decades.
It appears I have a thing for the unusual when it comes to collecting. I like the quirky and the often long forgotten relics of our past that once served a more utilitarian purpose. In their time, they would not have been considered art. But fast forward decades and centuries and they become a fun installation and witty way to complement your design style.
Antique Glass Sherwood Paint Sign From Australia - $695
Advertising is an art form in of itself. From written copy to compelling imagery, it is a call for consumers to engage with and ultimately buy a product. Even long before Madison Avenue and the agencies that created snappy jingles and campaigns, there were forms of advertising that existed in the way of trade signs and door shingles that would announce the business and its proprietor. Often carved from wood and painted by hand, these signs weathered the elements and have beauty that goes with age. I’m always on the hunt for them and double-sided signs are a major trophy.
As advertising advanced over the years, so did typography – the arrangement of font type and point size by graphic designers, art directors and typesetters. One vivid example is the often seen “Keep Calm And Carry On” sign that was produced by the British government in 1939 as World War II began. It can now be purchased in a plethora of colors and would be a fun addition to the room of my 4-year-old daughter, who at times, can be a bit dramatic about life.
Vintage roller skating sign - $395; French Botanical - $495
Equally desirable to antique advertising are vintage teaching aids that were used in classrooms as early as the 1900’s. From anatomical charts to illustrations of the galaxy and its planets, they were rich in both color and graphic quality. And because their scale was often large, they are bold works of art for any room. I recently scored a pair of antique charts from Germany that depicts marine life and amphibious subjects like frogs. They are perfectly suited to the room of my son, “the little tadpole.”
NYC Subway Rolls - sold; Other rolls available
Mass transit and easy access to travel in the 20th century created the need for signage and lots of it. Signs were often colorful with large font type in order to communicate direction to drivers and passengers. They would advise travelers where to go and keep order for the masses that were moving about.
One popular trend turning up recently in restaurants and homes are the use of long destination rolls as wall art. These graphic black-and-white signs would announce stops to passengers on subways and buses. They are a funky nod to the past and I have one at the end of a long hallway in my home. Now, if only to find one for the entry that cautions “Slow Down, Speed Zone Ahead.”