Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Ludlow, Shropshire

Still bright, still sharp

"Built to last" is something people like to say about architecture, and buildings are usually seen as enduring structures. Nearly all the buildings I post about are considerably older than I am, and some of them are 1000 years old or more. But I also like now and then to notice the ephemeral bits and bobs that get attached to buildings. Notices and advertising signs especially: old signs and posters pointing us towards camera film, wagonettes, elastic glue, beer, tea… Most of these weren't meant to be permanent, but somehow they cling on to walls and windows, against all the odds and against ideas that tell us that advertising has to keep up with the times, keep reinventing itself.

I saw two more examples at the weekend, stuck to the windows of an ironmonger's shop, Rickard's in Ludlow, a building of which I took many more photographs that I will no doubt share with you eventually. Two stick-on advertisements, one on either side of the shop door, still hanging on, and hanging in.

First, a vibrant sign for Atlas Lamps, which caught my eye because it's so colourful. Atlas lamps were in existence by the 1930s – in 1932 or 1933 Jules Thorn, the founder of the Thorn electrical company, started as a lighting manufacturer by buying up the Atlas Works, in Edmonton, London, where Atlas Lamps were produced. The "For staying power" slogan was in use in the 1940s and 1950s – I've seen it in newspaper advertisements of 1949 and 1950, both using the same distinctive typeface for "ATLAS" that appears on this shop sign. Thorn was still using the Atlas name in the 1960s and 1970s, after which the range was absorbed into the Thorn catalogue. This sign may date from the 1950s, as 1960s Atlas items I've seen online use bold lower-case type for the brand name.
Second, a sign for garden tools made by Wilkinson's. Beginning in the late-18th century as gunmakers, Wilkinson's started producing swords and bayonets in the early-19th century, building up a reputation for producing strong, good quality blades. Diversification into razors (1890) and garden shears (1920) followed. At various points the company produced bicycles, motorcycles, typewriters, and other items too. I've no idea how old this sign is – the style has a late-1950s or early-1960s feel to my eyes, but this is little more than the guesswork of someone trying to cast his mind back many years.

And I like the way these signs take the mind back, though my pleasure in them is more than just nostalgic. I'm interested too in the way that artists and designers presented brands in different ways – from the larky drawing of a modern Atlas lifting a light bulb to Wilkinson's more purposeful twin swords. The use of colour is a big contrast too, Atlas's bright, cheerful, appropriately well illuminated, Wilkinson's more subtle, with its mottled background like an old terrazzo floor and its hint of gold. A lot to think about on either side of this shop doorway, before you even step inside.


bazza said...

Philip, not only do I enjoy these nostalgic old signs, but I love the slightly frozen-in-time kind of emporia that they often are in front of.
Those type of shops seem to only be found in the provinces these days.
Click here for Bazza’s Blog ‘To Discover Ice’

Philip Wilkinson said...

Thanks, Bazza. Actually the emporium to which these signs is attached is fascinating. I plan to do another post on it, but it will have to wait for a couple of weeks, because it is going in a talk I am giving in two weeks' time, and I want to talk about it first, before posting.

Stephen Barker said...

I look forward to seeing further blogs on the shop, having an interest in shops and shopfronts.

worm said...

that atlas lamps one is lovely - surprising that it's not already in someone's islington kitchen