Monday, April 20, 2015

The History of Signboards

Jacob Larwood and John Camden Hotten - The History of Signboards (1866)

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While researching John Camden Hotten for the last post I found this book he co-wrote about a subject that probably most of us have given no thought.  In our defense signboards have really just become logos and not something that a history would seem worth the while but clearly there's plenty of material (this book runs over 500 pages).  The authors mention the "numerous absurd combinations" in addition to signboards' almost necessary utility before widespread literacy.

The book starts back with ancient Egypt and Rome then include all sorts of ballads, Parliamentary proceedings, advertisements, artists such as Hogarth, French names, and an inventory of current London signboards (which included "5 Artichokes", "10 Dolphins", "6 Flying Horses", "12 Kings of Prussia", "23 Lord Nelsons", "9 Pitt's Heads", "3 Three Kings", "8 Tigers" and "15 White Bears").  The rest of the book delves into how all these kings and animals and weather conditions and clothing came to appear on signboards.  Not something to read straight through since it's mostly a mass of material but pretty amusing material, especially given the authors' frequent inclusion of original texts and fondness for all sorts of trivia.  Chapter 15 is devoted to "Puns and Rebuses".

A sample:

"Lastly, we may mention the PICKLED EGG, in Clerkenwell.  As the origin of this sign, it is said that Charles II here once partook of the dish, which so flattered the landlord, that he adopted it as his sign, and so it has remained till this day.  It has given its name to a lane called Pickled-Egg Walk, in which there was a notorious cocking-house, frequently mentioned in advertisements circa 1775."