Sunday, December 21, 2014
Back in March 2008, when I first posted a photograph of this shop in Ross-on-Wye, I felt rather apologetic about my picture, because it had been taken quickly with the camera in my mobile phone. The other day when I was in Ross I did what I’ve always meant to do, and took another picture with a bit more detail and a view of the whole shop and all the signs, from Player’s on the left to Palethorpe’s on the right. This photograph has, as usual, been reduced in size to make it more web-friendly, so you still can’t see all the detail (even if you click on it to expand it), but it does now give a better sense of this wonderful collection of street jewellery.*
I’m impressed by the variety of lettering, from plain vanilla sans serifs (e.g. Goodard’s), through sans serifs with a shadow (Tizer), ornate sans (Sunday Dispatch: extraordinary), various versions of serifed capitals, to curvaceous script lettering (Maynard’s). Text arranged on a curve seems to have been particularly popular, as seen in the Sunday Dispatch, Fry’s, and News of the World signs (I remember the latter being especially widespread in my youth). Many signs make their effect through lettering alone, though a few bear images that were also familiar long ago – the Black Cat, of course, recalls for architecture buffs the outstanding and feline architecture of the old Carreras factory near Mornington Crescent underground station in London.
And then there are the slogans, not all of which are legible on an internet-friendly, low-resolution photograph. Everyone seemed to need a slogan. There are the enticing: Player's Navy Cut, "Beautifully cool and sweet smoking"; Park Drive: "For pleasure”. The rhyming: Tizer, "Drink Tizer the Appetizer”. The commanding: Goddard's Embrocation, "Rub it in!”. The grand: News of the World, "The largest weekly paper”. The punning: Maynard's Wine Gums, "By gum! They're good”. The mysterious (to me): Tug-o-War Plug, "It's made by the 'Mick McQuaid' people”.† And the assertion of ubiquity: R. White’s Ginger Beer, "Luncheon, dinner & supper".
Pundits are fond of saying that today we are “bombarded with advertising”. But this selection of slogans shows that, in the heyday of enamel signs as now, we can be tempted, cajoled, ordered, seduced, inveigled, coaxed, and enticed. We can be serenaded and our fancies can be tickled as well as our senses bombarded – the medium is both the message and the massage, as they say.§ Looking at this selection of superannuated slogans and lost brands, I found the whole process, I have to say, rather pleasurable…
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* The various editions of the book The Art of Street Jewellery, by Christopher Baglee and Andrew Morley, are wonderfully enlightening on this subject.
† Mick McQuaid was (and is) a type of tobacco produced originally in Ireland. It's named after a character in a popular Irish magazine, The Shamrock.
§ Marshall MacLuhan was responsible for the phrase "the medium is the message", which, when garbled by a misprint into "the medium is the massage" he let stand as the title of a famous book.