The Typographic Hub

Sign writers

This PhD research project, conducted by TRACEY THORNE will document the emergence of sign-writing during the industrial revolution and trace its history until its decline in the mid-twentieth century. It will also provide insight into the craft of sign-writing whilst considering its role in the wider context of industry, commerce and popular culture.


1 - To understand the emergence of sign-writing in England both as an artand an industry, whilst mapping its journey through the industrialrevolution to its decline in the mid twentieth century;

2 - To provide analysis of the practice of sign-writing and explore itsrelationship with industry, commerce and public authorities;

3 - To provide new knowledge about the experiences of sign-writers inEngland, particularly those in the West Midlands;

4 - To undertake a survey of Birmingham’s hand painted signs and analysis toprovide greater understanding about their design and what they tell usabout sign-writing, as well as its wider links to trade, industry and popularculture in Birmingham;

5 - To explore the growth of sign-painting within the wider context ofadvertising history, popular culture and its relationship to Birmingham;

6 - To document the education of the sign painters;

7 - To consider the relationship of sign-writing to other industries such as brush-makers and paint manufacturers;

8 -And to understand current attitudes to sign writing to examine evidence of any revival and consider the historical significance of ghost signs usingBirmingham as a case study.