20 Jan 2022

Oslo Ghost Signs with Martin Holm

Fading painted signs for Gasmann's, and what appear to be other clothing brands in Oslo.
I discovered this during the building of a new hotel in central Oslo, Clarion Hotel The Hub. As it was impossible to get a good photo from outside the construction site, I had to ask the construction company nicely. Luckily they were nice enough to lend me a hard hat, vest and let me get some shots. The signs are fully covered up now, and probably lost forever. Photo: Martin Holm at Biskop Gunnerus gate 3, 2017.

Martin Holm is a digital design who has been documenting Oslo ghost signs for just over ten years. This work has become a record of what has been lost in the city over this time. His Oslo Type page (and Instagram) features a broader range of public lettering styles, but here he’s kindly shared some from the ‘Spøkelsesskilt’ (ghost) gallery alongside a brief commentary on them and his wider interest.

Martin was awakened to the beauty of signs during a study visit to San Francisco while studying graphic design. It took this temporary dislocation from his home to allow him to see Oslo with fresh eyes on his return. While he finds it difficult to pin down exactly what appeals most to him, the notion of signs that have ‘soul’ perhaps best sums it up.

“I really appreciate signs where you can clearly see that craftsmanship used to design and make them with care. They have to have a certain uniqueness to them and if they’re hand-painted or carved, I find them especially interesting. If a sign has clear markings of being old and weathered that is also a plus. That makes it even more soulful, and it feeds my curiosity and imagination. I find real beauty in the imperfect, the clearly not machine made.”

Martin Holm

Martin recalls his time over the last ten years or so walking Oslo’s streets in his spare time looking for interesting signs. A period of paternity leave after the birth of his first child gave him more time to do so, although his explorations have slowed recently due to a move just outside of the city itself.

Martin laments the general lack of interest in Oslo’s historical signs, and many from his collection have since been lost or replaced. He comments that: “Unfortunately, the new signs that are put up don’t have the same soulfulness or uniqueness.” This is no doubt true elsewhere, although there is hope in Oslo with firms such as Christiana Design continuing the tradition for hand-painted and gilded work in the city.

[PS. I’ve only featured Oslo on the blog once before, but it is an impressive ghost sign worth checking out.]

Fading painted sign with a business name arching across the top of the wall and a pictorial of a coffee cup underneath.
This hand painted sign still clings on, and is easy to miss unless you keep looking up. I believe this was an ad for a wholesale business which was in business until 1975. Photo: Martin Holm at Bernt Ankers gate 6, 2012.
Fading and crumbling shop front sign.
I came across this sign entirely by chance, while they were reworking the facade. The sign is now covered up. Photo: Martin Holm at Prinsens gate 22, 2013.
Fading painted sign with a large pictorial of a car tyre.
This one was fairly well kept until it was recently painted over. It’s not possible to see what brand this was an advertisement for any more, but after a bit of research, this is apparently for the Goodrich Silvertown Balloon, a tire produced in the mid 1920s. Photo: Martin Holm at Maridalsveien 31, 2011.
Fading painted sign with only vague traces of letters, with the only word clearly visible being 'Modes'.
This one is no longer visible. Photo: Martin Holm at Skippergata 15, 2017.