03 - Pre Electric Era


Pre Electric Era

This next stop on the tour takes us back into the timeline that we laid out on the letter wall. This whole room is dedicated to pre electric and non-electric style signs.  


Starting on the left you will see a giant shoe, a pocket watch, top hat, and an axe head. All of these are collectively known as trade signs. Trade times are an important concept in the sign industry. They are signs that are made into the shape of an object and that object represents a particular industry or a particular field. So if you see a giant shoe outside of a shop, you could probably guess that they're working on shoes. These style signs were particularly helpful when you had a population that wasn't always literate. If people cannot read, it really does not matter what you put on your sign, but if you make the sign into the shape of something they recognize, then they'll be able to figure out where to go. Because of its simplicity, these are amongst the very first style signs ever used by humans, and we never abandon that concept. All throughout the museum we will continue to find trade signs, and you will continue to find them as you drive around later today. This also includes things are are not always so literal, the best example of that being the barber pole.  While the symbol itself has nothing to do with haircutting, you can still use that symbol to identify barbers.


Along the back wall is our wall dedicated to show cards. Show cards are the precursor to the movie poster, and most of these are hand-painted or at the very least screen-printed. In the early days of the American cinema, it was up to the individual theaters to make the displays of the movies that they were going to be showing. This meant that each theater had a different display depending on how their local artist decided to make the show card. As movie posters became more and more popular, many of these artists lost their jobs. They moved out west to Branson,  Missouri and Las Vegas, Nevada where they found work doing show cards for concert venues and casinos. From left to right on this wall you can see the evolution in Artistic Styles from a busier style of the 50s and 60s, to a cleaner aesthetic in the late 60s and 70s.


Then on the right side of the room are the two large shiny objects. These were originally the transoms to a cigar shop and are fantastic examples of glue chip glass. The crinkle or crystal look on the glass is a result of the glue chipping process. Essentially you rough up the glass on the surface in the exact shape and design that you're going for, and then you apply a very hot hide-glue to the roughed-up glass. As the hot glue begins to dry it will put so much tension on the roughed up glass that it will actually break the glass on the surface, hence the term glue chipping. It takes about two weeks for the glue to chip the glass, at which point the glue is cleaned off and they will gold leaf and silver leaf the chipped glass, everything else being hand-painted. So these are two examples of some incredible skills coming together to make these signs, that you just don’t get to see today.


For the next part of the tour we will continue down our timeline to early light bulb signs, which you can find behind the big boy statue, between the boot and the D of A signs.