Tavern and Shop Signs in America

In colonial America, tavernkeepers and shopowners used free-hanging wooden signs to attract attention to their businesses. Since many potential customers of the time were illiterate, signmakers utilized well-known symbols to advertise a business. For example, grapes suggested wine. Since usiness owners also wanted to showcase their prestige and good taste, they sometimes had artists create fancy signs for them in the hopes that consumers would head to their business.

Really, not much has changed. The American public became more illiterate of the course of the last 200 years. Signs reflect this change, and written words came to replace universally symbolic graphic representations. However, some symbols, such as the barber pole, continue to this day. Signmakers also began working in other materials, such as tin. In the 20th Century, neon gas became a popular part of signs. These signs are cost-efficient, durable, and easily replaced. Importantly, they attract attention better than that wooden bunch of grapes down the street.

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