Author: Helen Cox

Helen Cox is a UK author. She made her on-screen debut in The Krankies in 1990. Given the choice, her Mastermind topic would be Grease 2 and when someone asks her if she is a god she says 'yes.' Oh, you want to know about her books? Best click some of the links below.

Fading Ads of Manhattan (Part 1)

ghost sign manhattan magid handbags

I can’t help it. I just love words.

It’s not just because of all the deep and meaningful semantics. Not all the time. So much of what I admire about words is surface. Downright superficial. That’s right, I don’t like to brag, but I can be pretty shallow if I put my mind to it.

I love the shape of words. Their lines. Their curves. The feel of them on my tongue. The sound of them in my ear.

My eyes search for text wherever I go. Particularly old, faded script that may soon be lost for good. Ever since writing Fading Ads of London I’ve collected ghost signs along my many travels, and lately I’ve been in New York. The Big Apple is a typography fanatic’s dreamland. Proportionally speaking, very little of the Midtown area has been redeveloped and consequently a lot of old adverts, hand-painted on the side of buildings, remain in tact.

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This old sign for Young’s Stetson Hats (Clearance Center) in the meat-packing district has a special place in my heart. Whilst I was a teacher I taught Of Mice and Men twelve times over. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve had to explain what a Stetson is. Apparently, they’re not the height of fashion anymore. I guess Young’s found that out the hard way and were, it seems, unwilling to branch out into other hat styles.

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As one might expect, on Seventh Avenue (known between 26th and 42nd Street as Fashion Avenue) the buildings are awash with old signs for handbags, coats and furs. Best Craft Handbag Corp operated from this building for nearly a decade between 1978 and 1987. The typography is still in beautiful condition, betraying that this is a more recent sign.

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Alongside fashion, real estate is a common theme amongst Manhattan ghost signs. Given the incredible influx of people to The Empire City over the years, this is perhaps not that surprising. But there a great many of them and the ones we can still see are just the leftovers. It is very likely that some have been lost to redevelopment, implying that at one time you couldn’t turn around in Manhattan without coming face-to-face with a real estate advert. This one is located on East Houston Street.

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This advert for Berley and Co real-estate was painted in 1970. More information about Russian immigrant Max Berley who established a real estate business in Manhattan in the 1920s can be found here.

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For a Diet Coke head like me, this sign is the Holy Grail of all ghost signs. As you can see, although many ghost signs in New York remain intact, they are still very much an endangered species. Unlike a lot of ghost sign enthusiasts, I’m not too worried when signs are covered with billboards. Any damage is usually minimal and the board often protects the signs from the weather, preserving them for future onlookers.

But. This sign was painted over without a second thought simply because it was in a prime location, and that is saddening. Ghost signs need to be more widely recognised as important historical artefacts. Not just in terms of our understanding of commercial and local history but also in relation to the history of art, design and type. So. Go spread the word. And if you see someone painting over a ghost sign, accidentally knock over their paint bucket. Go on. I dare you.

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This entry was posted on November 11, 2015 by in Author Blog and tagged , , , .
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