What is a Ghost Sign? 3


Gillette, Criterion Matches, Westminster Gazette palimpsest, Stoke Newington Church Street, London. Photographed by Sam Roberts

What is a Ghost Sign?‘ is the title of the second chapter of our book, Advertising and Public Memory. It is an attempt to provide a logical approach to formulating a definition, and a formal response to the many times I’ve been asked, ‘Does this count?’.

The article started life a few years ago as a blog post, but then sat in draft form until the book project came about. Geraldine Marshall was an obvious collaborator given her research into the wider realm of public lettering and signage, and we have drawn on research from a variety of disciplines. This has included examining existing definitions, whether explicit or implicit, before considering what the key differentiating factors are among these. After developing a method for constructing a definition, we offer up a tentative one of our own as a starting point for further debate and analysis.

Download ‘What is a Ghost Sign?’ (PDF, 1MB)

I hope that you enjoy reading the paper, and would welcome comments and questions.

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  • Hazel Nicholson

    Would you class signs for Bovril or Hovis as ghost signs? Both brands still exist so they’re the ones I’m most doubtful about.

    • For me they are included. I am less concerned with the trading status of the business represented by the sign, and more with its method of production (painted) and current appearance (faded). That said, you could still include Bovril and Hovis signs by developing a criterion that the sign is in some way redundant, abandoned, or no longer serving its original purpose. This is the direction that Nikki Villagomez suggests in her book and is a alternative and valid way to determine whether a sign is a ghostsign or not.

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