6 Aug 2022

Chicago Ghost Signs and the Beverly Sign Co.

In Chicago, the race is on to save two well-preserved ghost signs. Painted on wooden slats, they were revealed during the demolition of their host buildings. The Chicago sign painters organising the fundraiser want to have them removed in their entirety before the demolition work resumes in a couple of weeks’ time.

Chicago Ghost Signs

The two ghost signs are extremely well-preserved, advertising Ward’s ‘soft bun bread’ and Shell petrol (gasoline) respectively. The Shell sign also includes the name of coal and wood merchant Martin William Roth, and may have been a privilege his premises. I’d be interested to know if Roth’s name on the sign could help with dating it but, as we’ll see below, they were certainly painted before the late 1930s.

Beverly Sign Co.

What makes these signs even more remarkable is the presence of the sign firm’s signature, “Briggs Outdoor Adv. Co.”. This was the sign painting firm run by Jack Briggs before he went on to found the Beverly Sign Co. in the late 1930s.

Beverly was one of Chicago’s largest and most influential sign firms. It gets name-checked by Keith Knecht in the Sign Painters film, and has its own wall of design sketches and samples at the American Sign Museum. The photos below are from my visit to the museum in 2015.

Many Chicago sign painters learned their trade with Beverly in the 1950s and 60s, and in 1985 some were reunited under the initiative of Bob Behounek. Bob is now involved in the fundraiser to save these new pieces of Beverly Sign Co. history.

An array of Beverly Sign Co. design sketches for signs advertising a variety of products and services at the American Sign Museum.
Berverly Sign Co. design sketch for a sign advertising ‘Second Funeral Savings’ at the American Sign Museum.
Berverly Sign Co. design sketch for a sign advertising ‘Milesmaster’ showcard at the American Sign Museum.
Gold leaf lettering samples from the Berverly Sign Co. at the American Sign Museum, culminating with “The Husky One”!

The Signs’ Future

If the fundraiser is successful then the two ghost signs will be removed in their entirety from the wall. They are already promised a home at the American Sign Museum, but work is being done to find a place to display them in Chicago given their important connection to the city’s sign painting history.

The cause has also been taken up by local media, including the report below, and this article on Block Club Chicago.

Ward’s Soft Bun Bread ghost sign in Chicago, photographed by Colin Boyle for Block Club Chicago.
Shell | Martin William Roth ghost sign in Chicago, photographed by Colin Boyle for Block Club Chicago.
Detail of Shell ghost sign in Chicago, photographed by Colin Boyle for Block Club Chicago.