23 Jun 2024

H. Newman & Sons (Have Removed), Melbourne

In Issue 02 of BLAG (Better Letters Magazine), the ‘Ghost Sign Corner’ was this wonderful palimpsest for H. Newman & Sons in Melbourne. Here I’ve reproduced the piece by Sean Reynolds, who is giving a talk about his work in Melbourne on 25 July.

A portion of a brick wall adorned with a fading painted sign that reads, "Newman’s have removed to 289 Collins St., 1 Door from Elizabeth St.". There is lettering visible below this too, making two layers present at the same time, although this earlier layer is less legible.
The 1930s sign is in palimpsest with an earlier advertisement for the Newman’s jewellery and watchmaking business.

H. Newman & Sons, Melbourne

By Sean Reynolds

This is one of Melbourne’s best-known ghost signs, sitting high above Elizabeth Street near the central Flinders Street Station. Its two visible layers were painted for the H. Newman & Sons jewellery and watchmaking business, which also traded in paperweights, clocks, optical goods, and silver teapots.

The business was founded in 1852 by Henry Newman. Born in Russia, he moved to England as a boy and came to Australia to seek his fortune in Ballarat during the gold rush in Victoria. This wasn’t fruitful, and so a short time later Newman moved to Melbourne to open his watchmaking shop.

After occupying two different premises nearby, the firm took up residence on Elizabeth Street in 1911. Henry Newman was retired by this time, but two of his four sons continued to run the business. One of these, Frederick Arthur Newman, had the company renamed after him in 1931 as F.A. Newman Pty Ltd.

Henry Newman died in 1913 at the age of 89, although it could easily have been sooner; on at least four occasions he was struck by cars and trams. Frederick, a lifelong bachelor and man about town, died in 1939, aged 74; at this point it seems that the business ceased trading.

The older sign on the wall, painted after 1911, would have been commissioned by Frederick Newman or his brother. It’s likely that they leased the wall space, as it’s actually painted on the building next door to the shop. The sign reads ‘H. Newman & Sons, Watchmakers & Jewellers, Opticians’. The street numbers 84–86 are also visible.

The newer, and more legible, layer was then painted when the shop moved around the corner to Collins Street in 1930, keeping the same wall space to direct customers to the new location.

Other elements seen on the wall are a vertical ‘Newman’s’ running down the right side, and a trace of the sign painter’s signature in the bottom right corner. It’s likely they painted the most recent 1930 layer, but their name has been lost as the sign has aged. However, what survives is a trace of one of the oldest and longest-running businesses of old Melbourne.

A smaller portion of the earlier brick wall with a slightly grainy detail of some patchy painted lettering. There are traces of individual letters, but the full name cannot be clearly made out.
A crop showing what remains of the sign painter’s signature. I’d love to know if anyone can decipher this, or identify the firm from what’s visible…

H. Newman & Sons

Newest Layer

Newman’s have removed to 289 Collins St., 1 Door from Elizabeth St.

Earlier Layer

H. Newman & Sons, Watchmakers & Jewellers, Opticians

Vertical Strip (Right Side)


82 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne, Victoria [Streetview]

Subscribe to my newsletter for news, events and projects from the world of ghost signs. I curate the newsletter roughly monthly and welcome submissions.