Tekens Aan De Wand (Writing on the Wall) is a book documenting the collective efforts of local historical societies across the Netherlands to restore ghostsigns. It is published by Trichis and features over 170 pages of beautiful painted signage, graphic design and archival photography. Sadly this review is limited by my lack of Dutch language skills but the book says enough through the visual content contained within its pages to make the following observations.
Following introductory material covering some general historical context and methods of restoration, the bulk of the book is divided into chapters representing the work carried out in different locations, among them Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht, Groningen and Kampen. Within these geographically-focused chapters are a series of case studies documenting details of the signs that have been restored and the reference materials that have been used to do the work. In some cases these are pieces of press advertising, in others archival photography of the locations in question. The completed example above for a coffee and tea house is taken from the chapter on Kampen.
The book has a good number of archival images taken from various collections in the Netherlands. Most of these are from the first half of the 20th Century, including the one above showing a signwriter at work in Leeuwarden in 1934. Other archival images show street scenes with painted signs adorning numerous buildings, showing that this form of advertising was prevalent across the world in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The brands featured are typically local, although a few global companies also feature such as Texaco and Sunlight Soap.
For those interested in graphic design, and Dutch graphic design in particular, the book offer a rich source of visual material. Examples such as the one above from Kampen litter the pages, all beautifully photographed and reproduced in full colour.
While the focus of the book is on the restorations, there is plenty of traditional ghostsigns photography to keep those with a preference for the faded form happy. The one above from Valkenburg is a personal favourite with multiple signs all sharing the space on this particular wall. I think it is fascinating that the Netherlands has such a co-ordinated and disciplined approach to ghostsigns restoration, versus the more ad hoc efforts found in the UK. My earlier article ‘Fresh Lick of Paint‘ discusses some of the issues related to restorations and, if they are to be done, I would vouch for the approach taken by those in the Netherlands versus this shambles in London.
In summary, the book is a beautifully produced, full colour, hardback exploration of the history and contemporary approach to ghostsigns in the Netherlands. A full specification can be found in this information sheet and orders can be made via email@example.com. The wider organisation responsible for the restorations can be found online here and they also have a Facebook page regularly publishing new material.
Thank you to Ester Martens at Trichis for supplying the review copy of the book.