13 Oct 2013

Melbourne’s Ghostsigns and their Hunters

Ghostsign advertising Melbourne Shipping Company

Back in March I was in Melbourne where I checked out some of the ghostsigns the city has to offer in addition to giving a talk alongside Stephen Banham at the University. Some of this was thanks to a chauffeur-driven tour by Stefan Schutt (Finding the Radio Book and Lewis & Skinner) and some of it by way of accidental discoveries. I first caught a glimpse of the sign above from the top floor of one of the city’s skyscrapers within an hour of arriving off the plane. You can see it peeking through in the middle of the photo below.

Arial photo of a ghostsign advertising Melbourne Shipping Company
Ghostsign advertising Indian Root Pills being covered up by building works
Photo: John Hunter

The city is a real treasure trove of faded advertising on walls and it is no surprise to find that Stefan is not alone in his pursuit of them. He is joined in this endeavour by John Hunter (by name and by action), who has catalogued hundreds in his ‘Signs of the Times’ albums. These include the image above which was taken in May this year and shows the imminent cover up of the recently revealed Indian Root Pills ghostsign. My photo below shows this partial reveal before the building works started. The sign has been very well preserved, especially the bright blue colour.

Ghostsign advertising Indian Root Pills

Another Melbourne ghostsign hunter is Anthony Malloy who has mapped his vast collection of ghostsigns photography on his ‘Our Fading Past’ site [Link expired]. I wonder how many of John and Anthony’s images were the handiwork of Lewis & Skinner, recently the topic of an exhibition and series of events celebrating the work of this early 20th Century signwriting firm

Painted figures on a wall advertising a clothing retailer

The sign above is one of my personal favourites, especially the positioning of the boy in the small space between the windows. This innovative use of the space available has always struck me as a marginal advantage of painted signs versus billboards, with windows often framing pieces of advertising.

A couple more of my photos (and a friend’s) are below and I would strongly encourage some intensive browsing of the sites linked above for some similarly impressive specimens. I have a lot more where these came from so this may be the first in a series. It seems that wherever there are ghostsigns, there are people captivated by them and eager to document them through photography.

Ghostsign advertising Malcolm Reid Furniture Carpets
Ghostsign advertising American Soda
Painted sign on a tower for Lead Pipe & Shot Factory

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