Melbourne Ghost Signs

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Ghost Signs are old hand-painted signs and stencils that have been preserved on building walls for long periods of time. The signage may have been preserved for nostalgic appeal or simply forgotten by their owner. The artists who crafted them were street artists long before Melbourne’s fashionable street art movement appeared in the late 1990s. All these signs have an important story to tell about Melbourne’s commercial, industrial, creative and consumer history. They often feature public advertisements from the 1920s onwards. Many have faded with time or may be suddenly exposed during demolition works.

BOOKINGS:    See heritage signs tour

Hunting Ghost Signs is part of a growing ‘retrostalgia’’ movement by young people and urban archaeologists seeking to mine the richness of our past in order to gain a greater understanding of our present. In fact, hunting ghost signs has become a worldwide pursuit, with thousands sharing photos on social media. For those who hunt them, unearthing ghost signs is as thrilling as an excavation of ancient burial grounds.  In March 2013 an international Ghost Sign Conference was co0rdinated by by Dr Stefan Schutt of Victoria University in Melbourne to share experiences from experts across the globe.

The impermanence of these signs has fostered debate about whether precious signs should be afforded protection for their cultural and artistic significance in the same way as important sky signs such as the Pelaco, Nylex and Skipping Girl signs have been preserved.

For our holiday jaunt, the ID/Lab crew went on a tour of historic signage (guided by Melbourne Walks) in Melbourne’s CBD. Walking through the city, it quickly became apparent how much of the city’s history is reflected in the signs people choose to adorn their buildings. The rise and fall of Melbourne during the gold-rush, the various waves of migration, the emergence of street art, and the development of the iconic lane ways were all apparent in one of the most common and underrated forms of Melbourne’s cultural expression. We had a fun time and learned a good deal about the history of our great city.”
                             Christopher Thorpe, ID/Lab, Melbourne, Jan 2012









Sources and further information:
Article by Jill Stark, The Age;
– BOOK: Characters: Cultural Stories Revealed Through Typography, Stephen Banham, 2011.

Radio i/v 774 with Dr Stefan Schutt
Danthonia Designs Blog: Signs Exhibition




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