Thursday, 29 April 2010

Corsets, Kentish Town

With the preparation of my trip to Germany, I had almost missed the scientific revelation of the year: thanks to Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi, we now know for certain that earthquakes are caused by women! As the Iranian cleric declared: "Many women who do not dress modestly ... lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which increases earthquakes." Ah! Why didn't he speak earlier? Maybe I would have chosen to study seismology instead of politics. Actually one of the few times I felt the tremors of an earthquake was in a small town of Ecuador, where the only hotel was more often booked by the hour than for the night as the continuously squeaking beds clearly indicated. I was enjoying the view over the tropical forest and towards the Andes from the roof when it all started to shake (and hundreds of cockroaches appeared out of nowhere). All this because of these scantily clad women standing about by the hotel's door!

So where do corsets fit in Sedighi luminous theory? Supposed, in most cases, to enhance the curves by reducing the waist and exaggerating the bust and hips, these garments certainly ought to be banned.


Fortunately for Kentish town it looks like whoever paid for this sign has been out of business for a while, and therefore many natural disasters have been avoided.
Long live obscurantism!

Location: Kentish Town Road / Picture taken on: 14/08/2008

Spiders Snooker, Bexleyheath

Apparently there is some kind of snooker tournament or championship going on at present and this morning I found a spider under the shower. Those two events, totally unconnected, give me the perfect opportunity to post this sign spotted after a day out at Danson House and William Morris's Red House in southeast London.
The telephone number is slightly more recent than the rest, having been painted after April 16, 1995, the day when a '1' was inserted into all UK geographic area codes.

Location: Percy Road / Picture taken in July 2009

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Tobacco shop and Wellness studio, Zwickau

From the rather unappealing to the more enticing...

... in just a few metres! Yesterday morning I was going through the streets outside the centre of Zwickau when I passed by a derelict building where once a small shop sold tobacco and cigarettes.



The bottle and pack of cigarettes lying there just added to the grimy and rather unhealthy feel about the place.
However on the other side of the street was a brand new painted sign of quite a different nature...

Painted on the side of a new building and measuring about seven metres, her majesty is hard to miss.

Location: Marienthaler Str., Zwickau, Sachsen / Pictures taken on: 27/04/2010

Friday, 23 April 2010

Cycle & Motor Works, Catford

At first sight, this is a pretty straightforward sign.


But why does it look like they tried to hide the lower half by painting it over? A bit of work in Photoshop shows traces of an earlier sign.
...eaman [written diagonally and cutting the sign in two]

Actually this isn't it. Although it is impossible to read anything, there was even a third sign on this wall.

Location: Stanstead Road / Picture taken on: 23/07/2009

Thursday, 22 April 2010

The Obelisk Dairy, Southwark

Enough of alcohol for this week! (if you've missed the beer and aperitif, look at some of the previous posts) It's time for something healthier. What about some milk? As it happens, there is at present a campaign run by the Milk Marketing Forum of trade body Dairy UK and fronted by Pixie Lott and Gordon Ramsay to encourage people to drink more of the white stuff. Last time I went shopping I even got a coupon for a free bottle (first I thought it was thanks to my smile, but then realized it was more certainly linked to the amount I had just spent). Provided you don't have any allergy or digestive problem, milk is now a perfectly healthy drink. Yet that wasn't always the case, as mentioned in a previous post. Especially in cities, people had to put up with poor quality dairy products for decades. Therefore freshness was a key argument to convince customers.

Estd 1810
New Milk
Fresh From The
Twice Daily

That dairy took its name from the obelisk erected in the centre of St George's Circus in 1771. Designed by Robert Mylne, it offered a focal point for the new thoroughfare from Blackfriars Bridge and the other roads radiating from the circus.

Location: Borough Road / Picture taken on: 20/03/2009

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Optician, Eibenstock

We'll we go, won't we go...? We're supposed to fly tomorrow afternoon to attend the confirmation of some relative in Germany. Hopefully our plane will take off but then, will we be able to come back? If you don't see a new post by Wednesday or Thursday, blame the Eyjafjallajökull!

My in-laws have planned a whole programme of visits and although I already know quite well some of the places we'll go to like Erfurt, Leipzig or Zwickau, I'm confident I'll discover something new. So I may come back with some new ghost signs for future posts. In the meantime, here's one I saw last winter on a freezing day in Eibenstock.
This small town in the Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains) became well-known around the world in the nineteenth century for its embroidery. In order to foster trade, the US even opened a consulate on September, 12, 1891. It closed on June 6, 1908, when it was transferred to Plauen, at the time a booming textile manufacturing centre. The large building, which displays some Art Nouveau or rather Jugendstil influences was then converted into flats. The embroidery industry collapsed with the First World War. It re-emerged in the 1950s but without enjoying a similar fame. Although machines were introduced from the 1850s, part of the embroidery remained hand-made and this must have been taxing for the eyes. Thus many women working in the industry may have needed to visit an optician.

Optisches Institut

This sign must have been covered when the optician was replaced by a furrier, as the words pasted on the broken window suggest:
... - Pelze - Mützen
[... - Furs - Caps]

Actually this is confirmed by the sign on the door.

W. Brenner

This is one of the few houses not renovated yet in Eibenstock, but that could change soon. I hope the painted sign will be preserved. It certainly adds some character to the property.

Location: Postplatz, Eibenstock, Sachsen / Pictures taken on: 26/12/2009

Robins' Brewery, Seaford

After Smithers earlier this week, we return to the world of Sussex brewers but this time move from Hurstpierpoint to Seaford. Indeed in this sleepy seaside town stands a building, now occupied by the Lucky House Chinese takeaway, that displays both a ghost sign and a mosaic.


I haven't been able to find any information on the internet about that particular brewery. However the name Robins appears in connection with several other breweries in Sussex and it could be that a member of the family either established a brewery in Seaford or took over an already existing one.
Born into an empoverished Jewish family from Hove, Ebenezer Robins had become by 1800 an established brewer (the date of 1789 has been suggested regarding the foundation of his original brewery) and he soon began to amass a respectable fortune. In 1830 he became one of the original Brunswick Town Councillors. During the 1830s he purchased several plots of land to build houses for other members of his family and to build a new brewery. Opened in 1840 in Waterloo Street near the Hove - Brighton limit, the Anchor Brewery replaced the original facilities in Western Street. One of his brothers, Usher, also achieved some success in the brewing trade. The companies they set up passed on to their heirs and documents indicate that in 1877 Usher Robins & Co. took control of the East Street Brewery in Horsham before selling it one year later, while in 1889 E. Robins & Son took over the Albion Steam Brewery in Shoreham. Several generations occupied key positions in the business, even after E. Robins & Son Ltd merged with Findlater Mackie & Co in 1929 (the names of both companies were kept). However the Robins seem to have paid a heavy price during the Second World War, with several men not returning from the front. As a result it looks like the family sold its remaining shares in 1946. By 1949 all activity had ceased at the Anchor Brewery.
It seems E. Robins & Son continued trading until 1964 but there is no mention of it after that date. Perhaps it disappeared in the reorganisation process that followed the purchase of George Prentis & Sons Ltd by Findlater Mackie & Co in 1962. The new company, Findlater Prentis, was eventually bought by Whitbread in 1967 and liquidated in 1971.
Could the Seaford brewery be linked to that family? It isn't impossible, but I can't be sure...

Location: High Street, Seaford, East Sussex / Picture taken on: 25/07/2009

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

A blossoming mosaic, Wandsworth

Floral motifs on doorstep mosaics are often reduced to intertwined flowers and branches running along the edges. However on the mosaic below a single colourful flower is given centre stage.

Location: Wandsworth High Street / Picture taken on: 23/05/2008

R. Day & Sons Depositories, West Norwood

Not much to say about this sign that extends over the whole length of this small building by the railway tracks except that I couldn't decide which picture to post. That's why you get two!

R. Day & Sons Depositories

Location: Pilgrim Hill / Picture taken on: 01/03/2010

Monday, 19 April 2010

Smithers' Brewery, Hurstpierpoint

The last two weekends have been gorgeous and we've been able, at last, to go out for long walks through the countryside. Whenever we go hiking I don't usually come back with many painted signs, but chances are the couple I might spot along the way aren't as well-known as the ones in the London area.
Yesterday we went along the South Downs before going down into the Weald to catch a train back. Even though we had already passed last year through the large village of Hurstpierpoint, where I had seen a very faded sign, we wandered a bit around. As we did, I came within a short distance across two nice signs, including this colourful one on the side of the office building of the former Smithers' brewery.

The earliest mentions of Smithers go back to the late 1780s and early 1790s, in relation to a brewery in Preston, just north of Brighton. The business seems to have been already well-established by the 1820s, when Smithers controlled the Amber Ale Brewery in Preston (it was later sold to Longhurst and demolished in 1901) and the North Street Brewery in Brighton. Smithers continued to grow slowly during the second half of the nineteenth century and in 1906, upon merging with Ashby & Co of Brighton who owned the Bedford and Castle Breweries, it became a limited company. It was around this time that the small brewery in Hurstpierpoint was opened. In 1913 Smithers & Sons Ltd purchased all the ordinary shares of Vallance & Catt's West Street Brewery (established in the mid-eigthteenth century, it had been the first brewery in Brighton to use steam). Further expansion took place in 1919 when Smithers purchased the Portslade Brewery and some licenced houses from the Kemp Town Brewery in Brighton. Soon afterwards the Portslade brewery was rebuilt and extended in order to satisfy growing demand for Smithers' products. Upon completion of the work in November 1920, production ceased at the company's original Brighton site. The North Street Brewery was then sold off (the site was demolished in 1984). The Portslade Brewery was one of the most modern at the time, and the employees enjoyed housing in the new model dwellings, and benefited from a profit sharing scheme and a pension scheme. Everyday electric and steam vehicles could be seen bringing casks to the bottling plant in Regent Street, Brighton, and making deliveries to the company's licensed houses (a picture of these vehicles was published in issue 25, 1995, of the Sussex Industrial History, the journal of the Sussex Industrial Archeology Sociey).
However the good fortune of Smithers didn't last. A rise in beer duty and the economic crisis led to a decline of demand. Additionally, even if half of Britain's breweries had closed since 1914, there was still over-capacity. In 1929, in spite of the opposition of two of its directors, Smithers was taken over by Tamplin & Son, another brewer from Brighton. Tamplin immediately closed the West Street Brewery. In 1953 Tamplin's Brewery and 400 licensed houses were bought by Watney, Combe, Reid & Co of London. The name changed to Watney Mann (Southern Counties) in 1969, to Watney Southern Ltd in 1976, and to Phoenix Brewery Co. Ltd in 1982 (the Phoenix Brewery had been opened by Richard Tamplin in 1821. Brewing ceased in 1973 when it became a bottling plant and depot, with beer brought from the brewery in Mortlake, near London).
Unfortunately I haven't been able to find out what happened to the Hurstpierpoint site during all those years. In the early 2000s the site was bought and the buildings converted to housing. The first flats went on sale in 2005.

Ales & Stout

Judging by this sign, Smithers must also have been involved in the wine and spirits import or reselling business.
Another sign was painted over this one but it has almost completely disappeared. Fragments of a few letters still cover the lower parts of 'Smithers'. They seem to spell 'Distillery'.

Location: Manor Road, Hurstpierpoint, West Sussex / Pictures taken on: 18/04/2010

St Raphaël, l'apéritif au quinquina, Rigny-Ussé

With this cloud of ashes hanging over Britain, France is one of the few foreign destinations that can be easily reached. So once more we head towards the Loire Valley, where upon arrival we could enjoy a glass of St Raphaël, a cinchona-based aperitif.
Invented in 1830 by one doctor Juppet, St Raphaël is made of red or white partly fermented grape juice, in which cinchona bark, bitter orange, vanilla pods, cocoa beans, and different aromatic plants have steeped. Thus St Raphaël is available in both Rouge (Red) or Ambre-Doré (Golden Amber). Once more I can't tell you anything about the taste. There used to be a bottle at my grand-parents' but I never touched it (nor did anyone else as far as I can remember).
Since the company has a neat website in English, there is no need for me to write you much about it (on the 'Cafe waiters saga' page, don't forget to check the 'History and advertising' link to see some of the amazing posters designed for St Raphaëel between 1900 and 2005)

St Raphaël
Rouge - Blanc

Below is a detail of the two garçons or waiters. The one on the left should have been painted black or red. However all traces of colour seem to have vanished.

Actually I really hope these ashes will be blown away from Europe soon because I am supposed to go to Germany in a few days...

Location: Rue Principale, Rigny-Ussé, Indre-et-Loire / Pictures taken on: 28/05/2009

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Milliner, Crystal Palace

From far away it didn't look as if much could still be read on this large sign but a closer look revealed a few more words hadn't completely faded yet. What has definitely disappeared is the name of the business.

... ..t Drapery
Millinery Mantles & Jackets

The easiest part to read is where the paint has peled off. Yet another sign written in black was also painted on this wall. A few letters appear roughly at the same level as the "Drapery" line. All I can make of it is:

General Fa...s B...ry

More was written above and below.

Location: Westow Street / Picture taken on: 17/06/2008

Sunlight soap, Upper Clapton

As I made my way towards my seat at the back of the plane last week on my way back to Europe, I grabbed several papers: my favourite satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaîné, and daily papers Le Monde, Libé (short for Libération), and The International Herald Tribune. Hey, the flight was long and I wasn't planning to watch movies all night long...
In the IHT an article by Stephanie Clifford about product placement in the movie industry caught my attention: "When brands are cast as carefully as actors." (Tuesday, April 6, 2008, p. 14). If you thought some movies were already looking more like elaborate advertising, apparently you've seen nothing yet! Obviously product placement has a long history but what I didn't know was that the first product to be featured in a film was Sunlight soap. In 1896, a few months only after holding their first screening of a motion picture, the Lumière brothers agreed to include the Lever Brothers' product in their short film Washing Day in Switzerland.
This forty-second film opens with "Sunlight" written in white on a black background before three Swiss women are shown washing some linen. We can't see whether they are using the soap themselves but two large wooden boxes bearing the name "Sunlight" are clearly visible on the ground. The one on the left says "Sunlight Seife" while the one on the right says "Sunlight savon."
This gives me the opportunity to post another Sunlight sign, after the ones in Boscombe Road and Chatham Road.

Largest Sale In the World
General Household ...

Location: Upper Clapton Road / Picture taken on: 10/04/2008

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Walpamur paint, Fulham

With spring comes the pressure to redecorate parts of our flat. Time to get the brushes out and to paint that stairwell and the corridor upstairs, I can almost hear! I can sense the journey to Homebase approaching...

Who could have come up with a name like Walpamur I thought when I first saw the sign below? After doing plenty of research (for about five minutes), it appears the name is, with a slight twist in the end, the abbreviation of the Wall Paper Manufacturers Ltd.
Based in Darwen near Blackburn, Lancs, the company was formed in 1899 to merge the interests of 31 wallpaper manufacturers. The group, which at the time controlled around 98% of the British wallpaper market went on to acquire several independent wallpaper manufacturers and either bought or set up a large number of retailing businesses. By August 1906 WPM diversified into the manufacture and distribution of paint with 'Hollins Distemper', a water paint named after the Hollins Paper Mill in Darwen where the laboratory had been set up and production first took place. Originally paint was brought by horse-drawn wagons to the local train station twice a day. However growing demand led WPM to improve its distribution network. By 1910, the company had set up several depots across the country to speed up deliveries, while six travelling salesmen promoted its water and by then brand-new oil based paints. In 1915 WPM set up Walpamur Co. Ltd to handle the manufacture and retailing of paint. In 1929, when Arthur Sanderson & Sons, of Perivale near London, was fully acquired by the WPM group, Walpamur took charge of the paint side of the business. Four years later, in 1933, the Walpamur Company (Ireland) was founded in Dublin. This was the step in the international expansion of the company. Over the years subsidiaries were set up in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and several African countries. Meanwhile in Britain, Walpamur acquired in 1934 a large number of wholesale paint and wallpaper distributing companies.
In the early 1960s, the WPM group came under investigation by the Competition Commission. Indeed, in spite of growing competition, WPM still controlled 79% of the wallpaper market and its pricing policy raised some questions. The paint side of the business was also of concern. By 1964, Walpamur had 89 depots, 42 of which were owned by subsidiaries, and 6 of which were jointly operated with Smith & Walton. Originally a manufacturer of paint based in Haltwhistle, Nthumb, Smith & Walton had moved into the wallpaper business in 1955, becoming in the process one of the main competitors of WPM, but in 1961 it was acquired by the latter. This meant taking control not only of the production lines of Smith & Walton but also of 23 depots and over 300 Brighter Homes Stores. Probably as a result of the investigation, WPM sold Walpamur in 1965 to Reed International.
Traditionally Walpamur concentrated on water-based paints, which bore its name, but after the Second World War it introduced new products such as Darwen, which offered a satin finish for kitchens and bathrooms, and Duradio, an enamel paint for exteriors. By the 1970s the company began producing emulsion paints. Feeling the name Walpamur was too closely associated with water paints, it was decided in 1975 to change it to Crown Decorative Products.
The company was acquired by Wiliams Holdings in 1987, and in 1988 the name was changed to Crown Berger. In 1993 Crown Berger was taken over by Nobel (from 1994 AkzoNobel) but when AkzoNobel acquired in 2008 Imperial Chemical Industries, the maker among others of Dulux paint, the European Commissioner for Competition feared the company would have a near monopoly in several countries, including the UK. As a result AkzoNobel decided to sell Crown Berger in a management buyout backed by private equity firm Endless LLP.

Water Paint
Enamel Paint
Satin Finish
S. G. Purkiss
& Co. Ltd
Stock and

Parts of an earlier sign can still be read:
S. G. Purkiss
P....ers Merchants
Stock &
...s Pa...
For Beauty
& Durability

The hand pointing downward belongs to that earlier sign, and if you look carefully under the hand, you may notice a small roundel. This is the signature mark of:
Tolson Signs
68 Munster Road W6
REN [?] 2404

I would assume the most recent of the two signs was painted in the late 1950s or early 1960s as it is consistent with printed ads published around that time in magazines.

Location: Munster Road / Picture taken on: 31/03/2008

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Canham, general draper; East Sheen

Several cafes, newsagents, estate agents, and a railway station can be found along Sheen Lane, but no draper. Still, the only ghost sign in the area was for such a shop.

& Ha... [Haberdasher]

Another sign was originally painted on this wall but apart from a couple of "S"s not much is left of it.

The Canham shop was located at 40 Sheen Lane, at the corner with St Leonard's Road, fifty meters south of this sign, on the opposite side of the road.

Location: Sheen Lane / Picture taken on 21/05/2008

Anou Cleaning, Vientiane

Happy New Year from Laos

Today marks the beginning of the New Year celebrations in countries where Theravada Buddhism prevails. Called Thingyan in Myanmar, Chaul Chhnam Thmey in Cambodia, and Songkran in Thailand, in Laos it is known as Songkan. Actually the new year itself only starts on the 15th. The 13th is the last day of the year, and the 14th is a day that is neither in the old nor the new year. The celebrations last normally for three days but in the wonderful ancient capital of Luang Prabang they last for more than a week and include, among other events, a procession during which the masks that protect the city are paraded across the streets, colourful boat races on the Mekong, and a beauty pageant. Across the country visits are made to temples, where images of Buddha are beautifully decorated with freshly picked and washed flowers, and much water is poured on relatives, friends,... and thrown at anyone passing in the streets to wish them a happy and long life.

To celebrate the event, here is one of the few painted signs I saw while travelling across northern Laos. The name and telephone number are written in Lao and western characters, while the name also appears in Chinese, certainly a reflection of the ever growing links between the two People's Republics.

Anou Cleaning
Tel: 219072-020512545

Location: Rue Phanompenh, Vientiane, Laos / Picture taken on: 09/12/2008

Monday, 12 April 2010

X-Zalia, Islington

No, this is not some kind of 1970s soft porn movie in which frisky people frolic in the middle of the countryside (in that case it would certainly have been called X-Tasia) but a medicine that appeared in 1893 and remained available during the first decades of the twentieth century.

Manufactured by the X-Zalia Corporation of Boston, Mass., it could cure (and here I'm quoting a promotional article published in both the Lewiston Evening Journal on November 14, 1904, and in the Boston Evening Transcipt two days later)
cuts, wounds, bruises, abrasions, scratches, burns or scalds or any break or wound in the skin which may lead to blood poisoning; eczema, rash, hives, shingles, erysilepas, ulcers or any form of skin disease; hay fever, rose cold, cold in the head, catarrh, sore throat, tonsilitis, diphteria or any form of germ disease of the mucous membrano; stings and bites of poisonous insects, poison ivy, poison oak and dogwood poisoning; piles, fistulas, leucorrhœa, and is especially effective as an injection, lotion, spray or douche for treatment in all diseases of the ear, nose, mouth, throat, rectum, vagina, uterus, urethra and bladder.
Wow! With such a miracle product around it makes you wonder how people could still die. It really sounds like the forerunner of Paracetamoxyfrusebendroneomycin !

The same article tells us about the key components of X-Zalia:
Five hundred barrels of sap from birch trees! One thousands bushels of the leaves and blossoms of a certain shrub which grows in every woodland, picked after the first October frost has ripened its medicinal juices!
Two hundred and fifty bushels of a certain herb that is usually grown on every New England farm.
Further down, we learn that, timing is essential:
During a certain limited time in the spring over 500 barrels of pure sap are gathered from birch trees. This sap is scientifically treated within 48 hours of its flowing from the trees. During the months of October and November a corps of 25 men gather the leaves and blossoms of a certain shrub. To be of value these can only be gathered after the first frost has touched the leaves and blossoms.
What they didn't mention but must have been of the utmost importance were the naked women dancing around a white-bearded man while the latter recited some incomprehensible incantations under a full-moon!

As efficient as X-Zalia was, it still needed to be used in conjunction with an absolutely pure soap, and in case you didn't know which one to go for, the makers of X-Zalia had the perfect solution: the X-Zalia soap.
It is a beautifullly pure soap, absolutely free from coloring matter and from animal fats or other injurious substances. The wholesome odor comes from a necessary ingredient. X-Zalia soap alone will relieve and cure most skin troubles, will remove dandruff and invigorate the scalp, and finally is an exquisite toilet luxury which will appeal to people of the most refined tastes. Large (six ounce) cake 25 cents.
As for X-Zalia itself, in 1904, it cost 50 cents per bottle.

Having conquered the US by storm (I suppose; but how could it be otherwise with such a wonderful cure?) X-Zalia crossed the Atlantic and became available in Britain.

The Night Cure For
Colds in the Head
Ailments Influenza
..., Simple & Inexpensive

However X-Zalia seems to have vanished from the druggists' shelves in the early 1920s. Whether the company that manufactured it went broke or it was superseded by more efficient antiseptics I don't know.

Location: Essex Road / Picture taken on: 10/04/2008

Friday, 9 April 2010

My first Cuban signs

One of the first things you notice shortly after landing in Cuba is the complete lack of commercial advertising. No poster for a bank, drink or hotel jumping at you when you step out of the plane and make your way towards the centre of Havana. Given the economic policies adopted by the government over the past fifty years, the regular shortages of basic products and the lack of choice in most shops (the exception being those in the centre of larger cities where foreign products can be bought using convertible pesos), it is easily understandable why there is no need for advertising. This means the very few painted ads that can still be spotted date from before the advent or the very first years of the Revolutionary regime. This is a very small group (I'll have to check the pictures I took but right now I can only think of two, including one for a typical US product...).
This absence is largely compensated by the huge amount of political propaganda pasted on billboards along the roads or painted on walls in towns and villages. These consitute the second largest group of painted signs in the country.
Since consumption isn't glamourised or even encouraged, there is no need for retail outlets to be clearly identified by the kind of large, colourful, would-like-to-be trendy signs that all too often pollute our high streets. True, there are a couple of shopping streets in cities but the shops there still display signs that were put up either before 1959 or in the 1960s or 1970s, when the economy was doing well thanks to Soviet aid. That includes a few electric signs that are no longer switched on when night falls. In a large number of cases the name is also displayed on the doorstep, with mosaics or 'inserted' into the floor. Yet for the immense majority of Cubans, going shopping means going to, and queueing in front of, the tiny premises in their neighbourhood where they can get basic food products and services. Since those outlets barely make any money, if any, all they are given is a bit of paint to write their name, opening hours, and sometimes to add a drawing. As a result these make the largest group of painted signs seen around the island.
Finally a fourth group could be called the 'historic signs' group. Over the past decade or so, huge efforts given the scarce resources and materials available have been made to preserve and restore the historic centres of Havana and other cities, and, wherever possible, what was written on the facades has been kept. Therefore the names and nature of some businesses from the nineteenth or early twentieth century are still with us today. Often these were painted using the same techniques (in most cases the a fresco one) as for the colonial-era murals that adorned the houses of Cuba's high society.

If I had photographed every single painted sign I came across in Cuba, I wouldn't have had time for much else. Indeed I must have seen more signs in three weeks on the Caribbean island than in three years in Britain! Still I came back with a respectable number of pictures and over the next few weeks and months I'll present some of them. Today are two of the first signs I saw in Havana: one for a political organisation, and one for a bakery.

Wherever you are in Cuba, you are never far away from some political propaganda, and when it comes to painted signs, the Unión de Jóvenes Comunistas (Youth Communist League) is only second to the Comités de Defensa de la Revolución (Committees for the Defense of the Revolution).

Fieles a nuestra historia
[Faithful to our history]

This was painted over a sentence, parts of which can still be read, taken from a speech delivered by Fidel Castro on July 26, 2002 in Ciego de Ávila to mark the 49th anniversary of the failed assault on the Moncada and Carlos Manuel de Céspedes barracks in Santiago and Bayamo respectively:
¿Qué somos y qué seremos sino una sola historia, una sola idea, una sola voluntad para todos los tiempos?
[What are we and what will we be if not forever one history, one idea, one will?]

On the right is the emblem of the UJC, the youth organisation of the Communist Party of Cuba. It was designed in 1962 by Virgilio Martínez, who was then artistic director of the magazine Mella, the voice of the Asociación de Jóvenes Rebeldes (Association of Rebel Younth), the precusor of the UJC. Unveiled at the first congress of the UJC, it includes against a white, blue and green background the motto of the organisation: "Estudio, trabajo, fusil" ("Study, Work, Rifle"). These three words were taken from the speech given by Osvaldo Dorticós Torrado, then president of Cuba, to the AJR in 1960: "The future of the Motherland belongs to you [...]. Study, work and rifle, young rebels of Cuba". The colours white and blue are part of the Cuban flag, while the green was chosen because of the olive green uniforms of the Rebel Army. The letters UJC are against a red background, the third colour of the flag, which here also symbolizes the ideological position of the organisation. In the central part, against the red star found on the Cuban flag are the figures of Julio Antonio Mella, Camilo Cienfuegos and Ernesto 'Che' Guevara. Originally only the first two were represented, in opposite order. Mella (1903-1929) one of the founders of the Cuban Communist Party, was murdered while walking through the streets of Mexico City with photographer Tina Modotti (who escaped uninjured). As for Cienfuegos (1932-1959), one of the most popular figures of the Revolution, he died in a plane crash in 1959. According to Dorticós Torrado, the two symbolized the historic continuity in the revolutionary struggles of the Cuban youth. The figure of Che was added after his death in Bolivia in 1967.

On the left, the three revolutionary heroes have been painted from the front.

Location: San Lázaro, Havana / Pictures taken on: 20/03/2010

Then as one walks towards the Paseo Martí in Centro Havana, one can pass by the bakery El Faro (The Lighthouse), which, according to what is written by the entrance, is open 24 hours a day.

This is a typical shop where Cubans get their food: dark, with a very limited range of products (in that case, two sorts of bread), and with a small painted sign outside. In some shops a revolutionary slogan is also painted inside. On that Sunday morning, most people who queued had their ration book in hand. The ration book allows them to buy food at subsidized prices (here 5 cents of a peso moneda nacional for a small round bread. That's equivalent to 1 cent of a euro for five breads) but what can be bought this way is usually enough for eleven or twelve days only. For the rest of the month food must be purchased at a higher price (sometimes 20 times more). Since the majority of the population only earns the equivalent of between 10 and 25 euros a month, making ends meet is a constant worry for many.

Although the drawing of the lighthouse is quite childish, the lettering is pretty elaborate.

Location: Consulado, Havana / Pictures taken on: 21/03/2010

I am now uploading slightly larger pictures, so don't hesitate to click on them to get a better view!

Thursday, 8 April 2010

The Ghostsigns Archive

On March 18th I was lucky to be invited to the Ghostsigns Archive launch event held at IPA on Belgrave Square. That was a great opportunity to meet Sam Roberts, the father of the whole project, as well as bloggers Caroline, Jane and Yelfy. Thanks a lot Sam for a wonderful evening, and for ensuring that those fading signs are recorded permanently for all to enjoy!

So far the rather capricious nature of my computer has prevented me from sending large size pictures and to contribute to the online archive, hosted by the History of Advertising Trust, but that will be resolved soon. Consequently you may be able to see a larger version of the pictures I've been posting so far plus some I will write about on this blog at a later date.