Hi again…as I said last time, if you look around, or drive around, when you live in any industrialized country on earth, your locale is full of signs. Most of us simply accept that a sign maker made all the signs, but that’s pretty much the extent of anyone’s thought on the subject.
In this second article on the brief history of signs, we’ll cover everything from the 17th and 18th centuries until the present, and my hope is that you’ll have a great handle, whether you wanted a handle on it or not, all about the sign maker and printing and signs.
Signs as an Art Form; the Sign Maker of the 17th, 18, and 19th Centuries
As I stated in the final part of the last article, by the 18th century and into the 19th century, many a professional sign maker turned the art of making signs into an art form, and some artists actually made their living as a sign maker doing mostly signs. In the 19th century also, some establishments began to use oil lanterns to light the surface of their signs, if they were available in the evenings for business, such as a pub or an inn or an apothecary. In a sense, this was the beginning of illuminated signage.
While a sign maker might make some signs fancy, and others plain, sign maker technology didn’t change dramatically in the 19th century, although one type of sign that a sign maker could make other than wooden signs, has existed since possibly before this time were cast metal letters, particularly bronze. Due to the cost of bronze, the average sign maker probably didn’t do metal castings, and businesses were more able to afford a sign maker to paint a wooden sign than to pay really big bucks for cast metal signs or plaques.
Adding Electricity to Art; How the Profession of Sign Maker Changed in the 20th Century
However, with the introduction of electricity in the late 18th century, it was only a matter of time before an enterprising electrician would become a sign maker and completely change the sign industry.
In 1910, Georges Claude, and electrician turned sign maker, first demonstrated neon signage to a large public forum at the Paris Auto Show. The result was electrifying (hahaha!). Neon became very popular by the late 1920′s as a form of signage as many a sign maker learned how to bend neon into signs, especially in the US and Western Europe, and remained the most popular form of electrical signage into the 1960′s, when many a sign maker switched over to the internally illuminated fluorescent sign (actually developed in the 1920′s), replacing neon, most probably due to cost factors.
Neon is still popular with the sign maker today, although due to it’s cost is not used nearly as much as it was in the past. With the advent of LED lighting and the sign maker adopting it in place of neon, neon’s popularity has continued to erode, again, mainly due to cost. Neon will never be completely replaced with the neon sign maker, though, as it is still the brightest light in the sign business.
As of 2003, according to Signs of the Times industry magazine, 46% of all signs manufactured by a sign maker have fluorescent internal lighting, compared to 41% which are illuminated with neon. The big gainer in the sign maker repertoire recently has been animated LED (light-emitting diode) signage, also known as the electronic reader board.
The electronic reader board can be made as large as a huge billboard, and can have enough pixels (small LED lights) to make a moving picture like a movie screen. Oddly, while many municipalities have outlawed chase lights on the perimeter of a neon or fluorescent-lighted sign due to the motion being dangerous to drivers, LED signs are popping up all over the country with their moving and changing copy, pictures, and logos. As a sign maker, I am only somewhat amused at the contradictory nature of government. In case you couldn’t tell, as a sign maker, myself and most of those in this industry are not big on government regulation; but as long as they’re able to collect taxes on animated LED signs, they’ll probably continue to allow them, and the revenue on the sign maker who sells these signs is significant for the government.
In Part 3, I’m going to back up chronologically and talk about printing, from papyrus to Gutenberg to the desktop printer. Until next time, remember, the world knows where it’s going because of us sign makers! Click this, http://www.visigraph.com/, if you want to see one.
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