Ben Passikoff has written a great book on the signs of Manhattan, New York, called “The Writing on the Wall“. He describes walking the streets in order to compile an almost comprehensive survey of the area. This is probably more straight forward in New York with it’s grid-like street layout but, also in contrast to London and the UK, this one area of New York generated over 1,300 photos.
The book is totally filled to bursting with pictures, my favourite on page four showing 11 stories worth on one building. They seem to be detailing the various occupants of the different floors of the building but it is vertigo-inducing to think what it must have been like to paint some of the higher levels!
The most interesting thing in this book is the way that Passikoff has chosen to look at the signs. He treats them as chapters in the economic history of the city and has done research into the companies advertised and the industries they represent(ed). He uses these industrial sectors (Clothing, Restaurants, Finance etc) as the mechanism through which he categorises the signs, forming the core chapters of the book.
I would highly recommend this book, although it is quite expensive to buy from Amazon so try ABE Books (USA / UK). Another review from Advertising Age can be seen here [Update: Link no longer available].