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Signage History

Date Published ‐ 09/11/2021

Sign making through the ages has seen one of the biggest changes than many other industries. Whilst it may seem relatively simple in concept, sign making requires research and development of appropriate materials the right skills to carry out the creation. Signs are a fundamental part of trade and business and have been around since humans first began expressing themselves with art and tools. However, we cannot fathom the use of signs at such early stages, as surely before the sales of goods, and large-scale infrastructure, what need is there for signs?

After the dark ages, there was a surge in commerce, trade and wealth and people began to create increasingly adventurous and artistic signs to catch the attention of richer people. New skills were incorporated into sign making to compete against other traders, introducing the use of gilding, ironwork, bright paint and carving the wood, and as wood deteriorated, they would need to be reinvented and remade, pushing people to come up with weatherproofing and longer-lasting techniques.

Once the industrial revolution came around, people found new ways to advertise themselves. No longer was a shop sign just for outside a store, but billboards and motorway signs became popular to show passing motorists what was available nearby. Councils and governments also utilised the use of signage in wayfinding on large roads, showing people how to get from A to B and promoting motorist safety with helpful tips and reminders to take a rest.

Pub signs have beaten the test of time and received the most attention throughout history. They have been found in England, Europe, and North America as a method of advertising in 1393 when King Richard II passed an act stating that all pubs and alehouses must have a sign to state their produce. This was to encourage official ale tasters to the area rather than just advertising to the public. This practice is what left us with strongly identifiable branding of traditional pubs today, with creative artwork and styles.

 Signs were traditionally a way of advertising one’s services, so when the introduction of newspapers, flyers and catalogues occurred in the mid-1800s, a new way to advertise and show your sign was made available. This also came around at the time of gaslighting and electric bulbs which paved the way to the first neon sign being made in 1929. This success spread through the rest of the world like wildfire.

The before and after World War II brought a surge in quality plastics and man-made fibres, the age of mass production was beginning, and this included signage. Technology discoveries and developments moved quickly from this point and new technologies such as the LED light allowed signs to change their messages or be backlit and visible in the dark. Due to lowering costs of LCD and plasma TV technology, a new digital signage age commenced. Signs are now available as waterproof, well protected and can be connected to internet servers.

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