Sign Writers

Category: Ph.D. Research


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.  The project has the following aims and objectives:

  1. To understand the emergence of sign-writing in England both as an art and an industry, whilst mapping its journey through the industrial revolution to its decline in the mid twentieth century;
  2. To provide analysis of the practice of sign-writing and explore its relationship with industry, commerce and public authorities;
  3. To provide new knowledge about the experiences of sign-writers in England, particularly those in the West Midlands;
  4. To undertake a survey of Birmingham’s hand painted signs and analysis to provide greater understanding about their design and what they tell us about sign-writing, as well as its wider links to trade, industry and popular culture in Birmingham;
  5. To explore the growth of sign-painting within the wider context of advertising 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 using Birmingham as a case study.
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Ph.D. Research Projects