Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Lost Art of Advertising

I was reading an article today in my various wanderings along the information superhighway of the internet. I typically find myself among the ruins of some sort of history, or sappy sports stories. Today, I found myself in the realm of history, studying the way our ancestors and their neighbors used to advertise their businesses.

(Here's the link for some cool photos: http://www.messynessychic.com/2016/03/31/the-lost-art-of-street-typography/?utm_content=buffere4641&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer )

The Mail Pouch Tobacco barn south of Lyndonville
photo via GoogleMaps.
 Our business district used to be lined with businesses, all trying to be the best at selling their wares. Each of their advertising signs were hand painted and unique. Today, that uniqueness has been replaced by the efficiency of a machine. What resulted is a homogenous, one size fits all, set of signs. The rich character of yesterday's signs is mostly forgotten.

There are still some snippets around. Take, for example, the barn in Orleans County on Route 63 just north of Route 104. "Chew Mail Pouch Tobacco" is still painted on the end of the barn. Nearly 20,000 barns were painted with this slogan from 1890 until 1992, with its heyday coming in the 1960s. For all of my youth throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the barn on Route 63 meant that we were getting close to Grandma's house or Meme's house in Lyndonville.

Gilbert barn in Middleport with Niagara County Bicentennial
logo painted by Scott Hagan.
photo via Niagara2008.com
Niagara County sought to recapture some of the magic of those old barns during its Bicentennial in 2008. Scott Hagen, of Ohio, painted the bicentennial logo on twelve barns across the county to celebrate the birthday of Niagara. They are a magnificent throwback to those olden days of barns as advertising.

We have some beautiful signs in Lockport, created by great sign-makers. Laws have changed so that the signs from a century ago would never be permitted. I wonder, in the days before Urban Renewal and longer ago, just how those endless signs looked lining Main Street. My guess is that, while beautiful and intricate in individuality, too many of them could have been overwhelming.

Another barn near Medina with the name of the farm
across the top of the barn.
photo via Flickr
In those days that your signs on your business meant selling and making a profit, or packing up shop and moving on. They didn't have Yelp! or Facebook to help or hinder their business. Those handmade signs were the first thing that most people learned about your business. They needed to be something to grab your attention and draw you in. That is still the goal today, but with the internet the biggest avenue to the hub of business, those old signs just aren't as important as they used to be.

Even some thirty-plus years after learning to read from that barn near Lyndonville, I actively search for that iconic billboard as I head north on Route 63. I haven't been down that road in about three years, but I hope it's still there. I bought a framed photo of that barn at the craft show in Lyndonville a couple of years ago. It was that influential on my young life. I hope that it stays there for years to come.

Craig Bacon will occasionally add stories from the internet that grab his attention. Not all of them will be as personal as this one. Sometimes they just may be articles that he thought were really cool. Check back for updates regularly.