Something that has both fascinated and inspired me for years now is my neighbours beautiful collection of enamel advertising signs. In next doors picturesque, warren of a garden these signs hang proudly, vivid colours glinting in the sun. The house is no different, every room with another piece to gaze at, their collection one that a museum would be proud of.
These adverts were made from fused glass to retain the bright colours and graphic designs much longer than paint or print. Their heyday wasn’t long but by the start of the First World War, almost every small shop in Great Britain would have had a colourful display of permanent advertising signs on its external walls, with slogans proclaiming the properties of the goods they advertised.
These signs are a piece of social history, exquisitely nostalgic and to me each one the epitome of perfect design. I was eager to find out more about how this collection next door began and where indeed these beautiful adverts came from.
The collection started in the 1970’s (as many good collections do) Their first sign was the Virginia Cigarettes ‘Black Cat’. When they first saw it, it was on the wall of a shop where they lived getting damaged daily by milk floats. The rescue mission was on and now it hangs proudly, staring down over the dining room table. The cat is still their favourite sign today and I can see why and it was with him that the obsession and the ‘trailing’ for signs began.
They describe the signs as "Street Jewellery" and I suppose they’re right. The intensity of the colours in the enamel are like precious stones, brightening up a drab, industrial high street. “There is something about them that transports you right back to the time they were made, giving you this intimacy with history.”
You used to be able to come across advertising signs in the most unlikely of places. For example tied together to make sheds in abandoned allotments or patching holes in fences. (These particular signs were obtained in covert missions under the cover of darkness) “To find the best signs you had to be bold” they told me. They often managed to get keys to abandoned attics and warehouses and this is where many of their haul were found, as well as on scrap heaps and in hedges. Today they are mostly gone and only to be found in specialist antique shops. “The dream would be to find an old shop that has been abandoned for fifty years with hundreds of intact sign inside.”
To me the collection looks as good as complete so I was surprised to find they are still searching for a few elusive pieces. They have always wanted a Nectar Tea advert, its cut out shape making it all the more pleasing.
Will they find it? You never know! Maybe its lurking somewhere just waiting to be rescued.