Five of the Best: Books about Ghost Signs


Over the years I’ve tried to seek out and review books about ghost signs here on the blog. Here is a set of recommendations drawn from these, focused on those in English. In a future blog post I’ll feature work published in other languages.

1 Ghost Signs: Brick Wall Signs in America by Wm. Stage

I always say to people that if you’re only going to buy one book on ghost signs then make it this one. First published in 1989 it is still, in my opinion, the go to primer on the topic, and one that I continue to refer to ten years after my original review. It’s out of print so look for second hand options e.g. Amazon (UK) marketplace.

2 Advertising and Public Memory, edited by Stefan Schutt, Sam Roberts and Leanne White

Disclaimer, I am one of the editors on this book, but it is the only deep academic exploration of the topic available. It covers a wide range of themes associated with ghost signs, bringing perspectives from multiple authors across five continents. This isn’t one to buy if you want lots of pretty pictures, but is definitely the volume to access for critical analysis of ghost signs and their place in the world. (With a hefty price tag, even for the eBook, you may want to request a copy at your local library.)

3 Ghost Signs of Bath by Andrew Swift & Kirsten Elliott

This is the first of two geographically-focused titles in the list and comes from the wonderfully ghost sign-filled streets of Bath, and surrounds. What sets this book apart for me are two things, first the number of signs featured (over 160) and, second, the meticulous local historical research that has been done in bringing it together. Structured as a series of walks, there’s also a uniquely practical dimension that the book brings to those wishing to actually get out onto the street and see the ghost signs ‘in the flesh’.

4 Fading Ads of New York City by Frank Jump

This was the first in the current series from the History Press which features books from, among others, St Louis, Philadelphia, Dublin and Liverpool. Jump’s original title delves into the plentiful material offered up by his home city, drawing out the stories of the firms featured, complimented by his photography, much of which dates back to the late 1990s. In addition to his own writing, Jump invited a number of other experts to make contributions, further enriching this detailed book.

5 Walls by Deidi von Schaewen

Last by not least is this visual feast of a book, the first that I know of dedicated solely to the documentation of fading painted signs. Although the text is minimal, this is offset by the now-archival photography dating from 1962-1976. It has a wide geographical coverage with material from Paris, New York, Berlin, Brussels, London, Barcelona, and even one from Jamaica. It’s another that’s out of print so look out for it second hand e.g. Amazon (UK) marketplace.

I’ll post again soon with five of the best non-English-language books, some of which are already featured in the various reviews published on this site over the last ten years. If you know of any that I might not have heard of then please let me know and, if you are an author or publisher, arrange to send me a copy to review.

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