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The Colorful History of Signage


When you drive down the street, visit the mall or even go to work you may not realize it at first, but your world is filled with signs. Signs ranging from business cards to billboards are constantly vying for your attention, so much that you probably tune them out unless they really capture your attention. How did it come to be that so many different signs are communicating with you day and night?

A sign can be thought of as any way of communicating information in a visual format, with a history stretching back as far as the Romans. Early signs were primarily made form stone or terra cotta and served as a method of mass communication.  The signs relied on pictures and diagrams, particularly most of the population at that time was illiterate. Another example of a sign usage from this period is early Christians using the Cross as an indicator of where they would meet.

Sign evolution slowed until the Middle Ages in Europe, when potable drinking water was scarce and people primarily relied on ale to supplement their hydration needs. In an effort to standardize quality control, King Richard II of England signed into law that a brewer must display a sign on the outside of his business if he was going to sell his ale. This allowed the ale to be inspected by the King’s Government, but also started a trend of ale makers and proprietors of public houses marking their unique business with visually-appealing, custom made signs.

As time went on and signs became more commonplace, they became larger and more elaborate. Often they were decorated with intricate artwork and the stands used to hang them were ornate wrought iron pieces. They became so large and distracting that both France and England put laws into place that limited sign sizes and required them to be affixed flat against a building’s façade.

The sign industry grew tremendously in size and capability with the start of the industrial revolution as large-scale printing, electricity and other new technologies allowed signs to be made bigger, faster and at a lower cost. This led into the beginning of the twentieth century, where electric and then neon signs dazzled viewers and transformed cities.

Today the sign industry is a multi-billion dollar a year venture, delivering hundreds of options to consumers and business owners alike for all varieties of signage. Despite the constant evolution of the materials and technologies used to make them, signs are still the best way for visual commercial communication.

Starfish Signs and Graphics can help you create the exact sign that you need for your home, business, or any other place that needs a creative touch. So whether you are serving ale, or leasing commercial real estate, contact us today to get started on your sign project.  From stone through aluminum, we will help you design and fabricate the perfect sign for your business and your audience.  Our signs will help you Stand Out. Be Noticed. Get Results.