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Sam Roberts

Black Cat Cigarettes, Dingley Place EC1, Clerkenwell, London – UK – Featured Fade, Dionysis Livanis

© Dionysis Livanis

Black Cat Cigarettes was first introduced to the English market in 1904 by Carreras Ltd , the company of a London-based Spanish nobleman, which was by then well-established in the tobacco market. Carreras built the art deco Greater London House in Mornington Crescent as a factory in 1926, and Black Cat was one of the first machine manufactured cigarette brands in the UK. The cat itself owes its origins to a real black cat that used to reside in Don Jose Carreras Ferrer’s Wardour Street shop. – Ghost Signs: London’s fading Spectacle of History – Sam Roberts and Sebastian Groes – Literary London Journal

Meet the ghost-sign hunters | Cities | The Guardian | Melbourne – Nick Gadd

The Omega Oil sign in New York. Often these adverts are hidden for decades by buildings, billboards or trees – reappearing briefly during a construction project, before they are destroyed forever. Photograph: Frank Jump

READ MORE: Meet the ghost-sign hunters | Cities | The Guardian.

ALSO CHECK OUT: Ghost signs from around the world

BetterLetters dot Co Presents: Mike Meyer Sign Painting Workshop in Industry City, Brooklyn – Nov. 29-30

Date: 29-30 November 2014, 10am-5pm
Venue: Van Zee Sign Co, 55 33rd St (Studio A319), Brooklyn
Cost: $395 for two days, includes all equipment and refreshments
Bookings: www.betterletters.co/events/mike-meyer-hand-lettering-workshop-new-york
All enquiries: Sam Roberts at Better Letters, info@betterletters.co or +44 7989 409 046
Full worldwide workshop listings: www.betterletters.co/workshops

Hand-Painted Signs of Kratie by Sam Roberts

© Sam Roberts

Flying pigs, retro hairstyles and hand grenades are among some of the images found in this new book celebrating the art and craft of Cambodia’s hand-painted advertising. 

Sam Roberts, a long-time member of the visual anthropological and urban archaeological community, has published his first book Hand-Painted Signs of Kratie, a brilliant and colorful monograph that “introduces the signs, the people who paint them and uses them to explore Cambodia’s art, culture and history.”  Mr. Roberts has authored the website and archival project called Ghostsigns UK and has been instrumental in the historic preservation and documentation of vintage painted adverts in his island nation. Roberts was drawn to this “quirky” form of hand-painted advertising while he and his wife Gilly were doing humanitarian work with Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) in Cambodia.

While the signs have experienced something of a resurgence in the last three decades, they now face another demise, this time at the hands of technological and economic development. In this respect, author Sam Roberts draws parallels with his interest in ‘Ghostsigns’, the fading remains of advertising painted on buildings in his native UK: “The loss of hand-painted signs marks a distinct period in countries’ economic development. It is the point at which access to technology and rising labour costs tip the balance in favour of mechanical or digital formats. In the UK this happened in the middle of the last century, in Cambodia it is happening today.”

 I’m looking forward to getting my first peek at this remarkable book by this accomplished author who also featured an essay on fading ads in my book last year.

Ghost signs from Vancouver’s past spring up to haunt us still

Ghost signs from Vancouver’s past spring up to haunt us still.


VANCOUVER — Ninety years after it was covered up by a building, a “ghost sign” for a 1922 movie has reappeared at Granville and Robson.

The sign promotes the Harold Lloyd comedy Grandma’s Boy, which played at the Capitol theatre Oct. 2-7, 1922.

The sign is painted onto the north wall of the Power block at 817 Granville, across the street from where the Capitol opened in 1921. Hence the sign includes a red circle reading “Capitol over there,” and features a wonderful disembodied hand with a finger pointing across the street.

Booze & Fags – Ghostsigns UK – Sam Roberts

Book Review of Fading Ads of NYC by Sam Roberts (Ghostsigns UK)

Fading Ads of New York City cover


The eagerly awaited release of Frank Jump’s ‘Fading Ads of New York City’ book is almost upon us. I was fortunate enough to be offered a sneak preview by Frank himself so here are some reflections on the book to whet your appetite and hopefully encourage you to get a copy as soon as it’s published in the UK and the USA.

First and foremost is the quality of photography and the specimens that Frank has captured in his daring escapades around New York. 72 examples are beautifully documented which, although representing just a fraction of his collection, offer up some of the best examples to be found in this city of signs. Two of my favourites are his first ever photograph, the four-storey Omega Oil, and the colourfully illustrated sign for M. Rappoport’s Music Store. The selection is diverse, providing excellent examples of many components of the painted form: scale; lettering; illustration; characters; slogans.

Omega Oils Fading Ad in New York

Omega Oil by Frank Jump

Accompanying each sign in the book is a well researched account of the history of the company advertised. This is then set within the context of the wider industry and its connection to New York. In this sense, the book is an historical account of the commercial history of the city and the districts within it. There are parallels to Ben Passikoff’s ‘The Writing on the Wall’, although Frank uses individual signs as his springboard into the wider historical context.Perhaps the most striking difference between Frank’s book and others in the growing catalogue of Ghostsigns titles is the personal dimension that he brings to his work. The connections between his documentation of New York’s Fading Ads and his fight against HIV/AIDS are inescapable. He uses the unintended survival of the signs as a metaphor for his own survival against the odds, and is very candid in his account of his own story. In this respect, the book is part history, part autobiography, and I learned about more than just Ghostsigns from reading it.Adding another layer of depth to the book are a series of written pieces by various figures including historians, academics, and fellow Fading Ad enthusiasts. There are nine in total including an introduction from Ghostsigns pioneer William Stage (author of the original ‘Ghost Signs’ book) and an extended essay considering the meaning of these signs in terms of time and place from Dr Andrew Irving of the University of Manchester. It is clear from these accompanying texts that Frank’s life and work has touched many people in a positive way. In fact, my own account of the encouragement he offered me in the early stages of my interest in hand painted advertising is one such contribution. (To what extent it adds any depth you can judge for yourself by downloading here…)

This book is a fantastic addition to the published material available on the topic and I learned a lot from it. I hope that the publishers will commission a sequel so that even more of Frank’s photography can find its way onto the printed page. In fact, it looks like it might be the first in a series of titles based on this recent announcement from Lawrence O’Toole.

Fading Ad Blog is Officially One Year Old!

Birthday Cake

Time flies when your fading. And blah blah blogging. Fading Ad Campaign Website just turned nine years old. The project’s inception was February 1997. Thank you for coming along for the ride and your collaborations!

The Weekend's Feature Fade: The Art of Walldog Jerry "Orange" Johnson

Pintchik - Jerry Johnson

Bill Cody - Jerry Johnson

Mae West - Jerry Johnson

Cash - Jerry Johnson

O Calcutta - Jerry Johnson

Nick @ Nite - Jerry Johnson
Seattle WA

Nick @ Nite - Jerry Johnson
Cincinnati OH

Van Exel - Jerry Johnson

Benihana - Jerry Johnson

Foodways - Jerry Johnson
all images © Jerry Johnson

Here are ten images from Jerry “Orange Outdoor” Johnson’s private collection. Before establishing Orange as Brooklyn’s premiere hand-painted sign company in 1977, Johnson worked as a walldog for Seaboard Outdoor. These ads represent some of the work he did while at Seaboard and some of his signature murals like “Cash.”

Here is a response from Sam Roberts @ UK Brick Ads to Jerry Johnson’s work:

Frank Jump over in NYC has just posted a collection of ten outstanding images from the work of experienced signwriter (or “wall dog” in USA) Jerry Johnson. Some of these are genuine pieces of advertising and some, like the one pictured, are spoofs. The craftsmanship, or ‘art’ (?), is exceptional and so is the photography. It must be really satisfying finishing off a piece of work and then stepping back to take the first photo.

Colossal Media Dewars Ad in Red Hook, Brooklyn

Colossal Media Dewars Ad in Red Hook
© Frank H. Jump

Sam Roberts of UK Brick Ads site was kind enough to comment on the recent Landmarks hearings at which I was asked to speak on behalf of Colossal Media, but sent a letter instead due to work schedule conflicts.