May 19, 2024

Hankering for History

Hanker: To have a strong, often restless desire, in this case for–you guessed it–history!

Preserving Historic Signs – Why it Matters?

2 min read

Preserving Historic Signs – Why it Matters?


Iconic historic signs can become as valuable in terms of historic value as the buildings to which they are attached. Contributing to our knowledge and understanding of the past, they also add to the character of the buildings and the areas in which they are located. When you see a photo of an iconic sign you immediately understand what it represents. A good example of this is the famous London Underground sign or the Broadway sign in New York. Throughout history, many signs have been lost or damaged by weathering and ageing. Legislation in 1762 in London decreed that hanging signs were a safety hazard and the majority were removed. Apart from those that remained over public houses, this type of sign suddenly disappeared and few examples are left today.


The preserving of historic signs and graphics has always presented many challenges. If the sign was painted on the wall of a building it would be at the mercy of the future of the building, whether it was going to be renovated or pulled down for example. The development of the area might lead to it being hidden or covered up. Then there are aesthetic challenges to the area in terms of planning and development of the district versus the preservation and conservation of the character of the town or city. Over the years an important record of trade and industry has disappeared and examples of ancient signs are only available in illustrations. Today, all over the world, the historic importance of iconic signs is understood and greater attention is paid to preserving them.

Signs that may be significant are those that reflect the history of the area in which they are located and those that indicate the history and function of a building’s former use. Signs and images that relate to events, places or famous figures with historic value would also need to be preserved. Not forgetting those signs that reflect a specific craft or technique related to a period in time when it was popular such as gold leafing or neon.

A Constant Eye

Historic signs need to be constantly watched and regular maintenance undertaken to aid their preservation. Regular inspections for signs of damage and deterioration are necessary as well as regular cleaning to prevent a build up of debris that will speed up the decay of the materials, lettering or images on the sign. For signs that require a particular craft, skill or knowledge to maintain them then expert craftsmen with skills such as gold leafing or enameling would have to be hired. If there is no preservation order on the building or sign and the new owners find they are not in the position to continue with the upkeep of the sign, it should be donated to a local museum in order to preserve its historic value for future generations.

Bio – Written by Karen James, prolific writer for business and marketing sectors including sign manufacturer Borney UK.