A Gallery of Ghost Signs

Ghost sign on Granville

Grandma’s Boy, Vancouver, British Columbia. This old advertisement for Harold Lloyd’s 1922 classic silent comedy was rediscovered in February 2012 when the building next to it, built in 1923, was torn down. Sadly, this building was also scheduled to be demolished, and indeed it was just a couple of weeks later, taking the advert with it. Source: C. Browne, http://www.flickr.com/photos/carolbrowne/6937438297/. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic licence.

The above photo is an example of a ghost sign.  Ghost signs are the remains of old advertisements that were painted onto the sides of buildings in the days before billboards.  As such, most of them date to between the 1890s and 1930s.  Chances are you walk or drive past a ghost sign every day.  Most of the time, it will simply blend into the background; a part of the landscape that’s been there much longer than you have to the point you never notice it anymore.  Stop and look, however, and you’ll be surprised how often you come across them.

Most ghost signs, of course, have long been demolished, and even ghost signs that have been recently uncovered after being obscured from view by newer buildings often see the wrecking ball instead of a preservation effort.  Fortunately, there are also many places where the cultural and aesthetic values of such signs are appreciated to the point where communities and individualsalike have worked to preserve and restore these advertisements of yore.  In this entry, we simply present a gallery of two dozen remainders of the past from around the world.  Thousands of images of ghost signs just like these can be found in the Ghost Signs and Faded Signage pools on Flickr and in the Wikimedia Commons.  As well, the excellent British website Ghost Signs, dedicated to the documentation and preservation of ghost signs throughout the UK and Ireland, is well worth the browse.   You are encouraged to explore them.

Henry George 5¢ Cigar

Henry George 5 Cent Cigar, Mount Pleasant, Utah.  Source: jotor, http://www.flickr.com/photos/jotor/1033526699/in/photostream/.  Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic licence.

Gold Dust Wash Powder ghost sign

Gold Dust Wash Powder, North Center, Chicago.  Source: C. Lohman, http://www.flickr.com/photos/chloeloe/2502436728/.  Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) licence.

Chehalis, Washington

Big Department Store, Chehalis, Washington.  Source: A. Filer, http://www.flickr.com/photos/afiler/244298401/in/set-72157603994082601/.  Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic licence.

Andrew Ross/Coca-Cola, Hamilton, Ontario.  Source: R. Cordeiro, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:AndrewRossCola.JPG.

‘Are You a Woman?’, New Orleans, Louisiana.  Source: Infrogmation, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Are_You_a_Woman_NOLA.jpg.  Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic licence.

Ghost sign

Milgrom Limited, Richmond Avenue, Toronto, Ontario in the city’s former garment district.  Source: emdurso, http://www.flickr.com/photos/emdurso/6545697365/.  Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) licence.

Russell Park Bakery, Bedford, Bedfordshire.  Source: S. Speed, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:RusselParkBakery.JPG.

OshKosh B’Gosh, Freelandville, Indiana.  Source: Nyttend, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kixmiller%27s_Store_advertisement.jpg.

Ghost Sign - Bovril

Bovril, Brixton, London.  Source: failing_angel, http://www.flickr.com/photos/11561957@N06/4672353555/.  Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic licence.

Vote Against Prohibition

‘Vote Against Prohibition’, Fells Point, Baltimore, Maryland.  Source: C. Ford, http://www.flickr.com/photos/84108771@N00/3059978048.  Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic licence.

This is the tallest ghost sign I've ever seen -- roughly three stories tall. Very cool.

Purse & Co., Dallas, Texas.  Source: M. Block, http://www.flickr.com/photos/mollyblock/6246733653/.   Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic licence.

DSCF0056

Heywood Shoes, Worcester, Massachusetts.  Source: improbcat, http://www.flickr.com/photos/improbcat/2824901726/.  Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic licence.

DSC_4696

Sealy Posturepedic, Woonsocket, Rhode Island.  Source; Improbcat, http://www.flickr.com/photos/improbcat/4747473043/.  Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic licence.

Boydton Farm Supply 2

Boydton Farm Supply, Boydton, Virginia.  Look closely and you can see the even older Coca-Cola advertisement underneath it.  Source, D. Hoffman, http://www.flickr.com/photos/universalpops/4330613590/.  Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic licence.

Joseph's Relives Fatigue

Joseph’s, Austin, Texas.  Source: S. Anderson, http://www.flickr.com/photos/swanksalot/5223868636/.  Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic licence.

A Ghost Sign Within A Ghost Sign

Nestlé’s Milk, Coventry, West Midlands.  Source: J. Garghan, http://www.flickr.com/photos/johngarghan/7211155108/.  Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic licence.

Orantips Tea, Walsall, West Midlands.  Source: TinTrunk, http://flickr.com/photos/69879869@N00/857696567.  Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic licence.

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Senator Restaurant, Toronto, Ontario.  Source: r.d.i., http://www.flickr.com/photos/rdi/35747806/.  Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic licence.

Gillette, Commercial Street, Spitalfields

Gillette, Spitalfields, London.  Source: CarolineLD, http://www.flickr.com/photos/carolineld/3402946782/.  Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic licence.

Of Narborough Road, Leicester

Sid Mottram Racing & Touring Cycles, Leicester, Leicestershire.  Source: Djinn76, http://www.flickr.com/photos/amyjaneb/2789617585/.  Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic licence.

Bulls Dairies, Cambridge

Bulls Dairies, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire.  Source: Djinn76, http://www.flickr.com/photos/amyjaneb/4269031799/.  Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic licence.

Gordon's Pharmacy, from the side

Gordon’s Pharmacy, Milton, Massachusetts.  Source: emdurso, http://www.flickr.com/photos/emdurso/3449800489/.  Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) licence.

Buy Meggezones

Meggezones, Wandsworth, London.  Source: J. Van Campen, http://www.flickr.com/photos/otrops/3477009745/.  Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic licence.

Grits are Good for You!

Hominy Grill, Charleston, South Carolina.  Source: P. Zarria, http://www.flickr.com/photos/toby_d1/7213043202/.  Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic licence.

Further Reading

Berger, J. (2005).  Fading Memories.  New York Times, 5 November 2005.  Available at http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9B07E6DF143EF936A35752C1A9639C8B63&pagewanted;=all.  Accessed 17 September 2012.

Mackie, J. (2012).  Ghost sign disappears.  Vancouver Sun, 6 March 2012.  Available at http://www.vancouversun.com/entertainment/movie-guide/Ghost+sign+disappears/6260870/story.html.  Accessed 17 September 2012.

Roberts, S. (2012).  Salisbury Ghost Sign Restoration Project.  Ghost Signs, 21 July 2012.  Available at http://www.ghostsigns.co.uk/2012/07/salisbury-ghost-sign-restoration-project.html.  Accessed 17 September 2012.

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4 thoughts on “A Gallery of Ghost Signs


  • I'm having comment issues. I'll try once more. This was really interesting and I had no idea these signs had names. I always look for them when I travel through a town with old buildings. I especially love signs that have company names like "Smith & Daughters".


  • I'm seeing two comments as if I posted twice which is what happened the last time. When I deleted one it deleted both. So I'm leaving this one with an apology for the duplicate if you can see it.


  • It's just a coding quirk with this Blogger template, I think, although I've noticed on WordPress-based sites as well. Sometimes when you're attempting to make a comment, it will show up in multiples, most of the time they don't. Just ignore them and post away; the extras go away eventually!

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