Advertising through history

Advertising today changes very rapidly. TV adverts may be on for a few weeks only before a new version appears. Paper adverts on bill boards are regularly replaced and notice boards often display a wealth of out of date material unless someone keeps a watchful eye.

This was not the case so much in the past. Theatres and later cinemas may change their displays frequently but other businesses could afford much more permanent adverts.

Retailers or people who offered a service  often used the walls and gable ends of their properties to attract custom. Their adverts were painted directly onto the walls and today these signs may remain, often fading hence their nickname of ghost signs,  offering an insight into the commercial world of times past. Some adverts are for long lost trades or for products no longer available. If a retailer had no use for the walls to advertise his own business he may sell the space to others whose business may be off the main street and require customers to be directed. Others would display adverts for products they sold, the advert paid for by the manufacturer and earning the property owner a fee.

Wall painted advertising, Banbury

Metal enamelled signs also had permanence about them. Signs for tobacco products, groceries and animal feeds are the most common left in situ but today there are many collections in museums and in private hands of these colourful relics of the past. Packaging was changed less often in the past so enamel signs could be displayed for many years without the need for their replacement. They were much more durable than either paper or wall-painted adverts.

Metal advertising sign, Ironbridge Museum

A much older form of advertising was the 3D sign. The most common even today is that of the striped barber’s pole. Plenty of wooden poles still remain although some have been replaced by lit signs instead. This type of sign harks back to the day when fewer people were educated and could read so pictorial signs were needed. Giant boots still adorn some of our boot and shoe retailers and coffee pots or teapots usually denote a tea and coffee merchant although today the teapot may be used for a café, also. Less common are quills for stationers, books for book sellers and top hats for gentlemen’s outfitters. Whilst some areas seem to have gone out of their way to remove these colourful signs others have embraced the idea and their use adds an individual look to the high street, many of which have become clones of each other in recent years with a few major stores dominating.

Barber’s pole

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