Having preserved its architectural heritage better than most Australian cities, Launceston has also retained, inadvertently or otherwise, some of its earliest outdoor advertising.
A leisurely stroll through Australia’s third oldest city will reveal some of our country’s best examples of pre-war architecture. Colonial Georgian, Victorian, Federation, Edwardian, Art Deco and Streamline Moderne: it’s all here within walking distance. And attached to some of these buildings are ‘ghost signs’.
Usually in the form of hand-painted lettering and art on brickwork, these ‘brickads’ – as they’re also known – carry the now-faded claims of another age.
Showcased below is a selection of photos depicting the advertising tone of this bygone era. They offer us a glimpse into, not only the types of products on the market all those years ago, but the way in which they were promoted. It’s also interesting to note the proportion of old signs around town touting some form of fermented (or distilled) beverage. But hey, some things never change. Lonnie does love a drink.
This one for James Boag (click for close up) is on the outer wall of what was once known as The Lame Dog Hotel (and later, The Tamar Hotel) on William Street. The restored Georgian-style building now houses Boag’s Centre for Beer Lovers. And I quite like the fact that this ale is: “GUARANTEED PURE & WHOLESOME”!
Directly across the road from Boag’s big silver fermentation tanks is a sign for a local wine and spirit merchant. The Black & White Scotch Whisky brand is now owned by Diageo.
Here’s an ad placed 80 years ago, by the same merchant, for another brand of Scotch.
Quoted from The Examiner, Wednesday, 14 October 1931:
Ainslie’s Celebrated Royal Edinburgh Whisky
AS SUPPLIED TO THE “ROYAL NAVY”
In Quarts, Pints, and Quarter Bottles.
Solo Agents: Irvine & McEachern Pty. Ltd.
Brisbane Street… Launceston.
…Well yes, nothing like a drunken navy to get the job done! No, really. Just ask the Vikings.
Off St. John Street, on the side of the Berkana Bookshop, is a set of three ads for yet another Importer/Merchant: John McKenzie & Co. Pty. Ltd. Established in 1842, they were agents for various whiskies, brandies and other ‘Groceries’.
This first one has a folksy charm. Apparently Apple Isle Sparkling was (and still is) a sweet cyder. And no, that’s not a misspelling of ‘cider’, just an archaic version of the word. Actually, I think the olde worlde spelling helps age this ad even more.
As for the illustration, you could say they really tapped into something here with the straight-from-the-fruit freshness idea. On the little guy’s shirt, you’ll also notice a ‘C’ for ‘Cascade’.
The artwork was produced by a company called MODERN SIGNS.
In old press ads for this cider, as a novel way of saying ‘Serve Chilled’, the distributor was known to use the slogan:
OFF THE ICE IT’S TWICE AS NICE.
Clearly, this site on Charles Street has seen better days. However, it would appear from what remains here, that the text in white capitals reads:
C.H. SMITH & CO. PTY LTD
SHIPPING & AGENTS BOOKINGS
Presumably, at a later stage, the text was redone in black capitals to read:
C.H. SMITH & CO. PTY LTD
WOOL & GRAIN STORES
And, below that, is an advertisement for one of the many products they carried – seen as white shadowed text on a blue background:
Reckitt’s Blue was a domestic bleaching agent or whitener sold as a solid block. An old print ad from 1881 boasted: “RECKITT’S BLUE IS USED IN THE ROYAL LAUNDRIES”. But, it seems, the British bluebloods were not the only ones to enjoy the benefits of this substance. It could also be used as a kind of blue colouring pigment. And you can see here how the product was adapted by Indigenous Australians for use in their own cultural practices.
Reckitt’s Blue was also somewhat of an Australian folk remedy “to relieve the itching of mosquito and sand fly bites.” And, in African-American folk magic, it was “sometimes used by hoodoo doctors to provide the blue colour needed for ‘mojo hands’ without having to use the toxic compound copper sulfate.” [Both quotes sourced from Wikipedia article: “Bluing (fabric)”]
It looks like this sign on Cimitiere Street has had a little TLC at some point. The original, century-old, Butter & Bacon Co-op still stands at Smithton, though it’s long been closed. And, ironically, the old ‘Duck’ River factory served as an indoor cricket centre for a while.
These days, the Duck River brand is owned by Kiwi multinational, Fonterra – the world’s largest dairy processor and exporter. At this year’s Sydney Royal Cheese and Dairy Show, Fonterra Duck River Premium Butter won Champion Butter. So, it just goes to show, no matter who owns the company…
…Tasmania is hard to top in the dairy department.
This brand is still around, too – 2011 marks its 100th anniversary. And, although the faded apples here look a lot more like peaches now, rest assured, they do use 100% Tasmanian apples to make Mercury Cider. However, that may all be under threat according to a recent article in the newspaper that shares its name.
As with the more widely known Apple Isle Sparkling Apple Juice, mentioned earlier, Mercury Cider is also made at the Cascade factory in Hobart – and therefore falls under the Fosters banner these days.
At the corner of Charles and Paterson Streets stands the old ‘red brick’ National Theatre (right, click photo for closeup). The wording on the first of the three ads, below the theatre’s own sign, would have read:
‘Velvet’ is an old-fashioned brand of soap whose signage used to feature a distinctive, elongated Maltese cross. This is what the sign would have looked like with colour.
The bottom of the three ads is for ‘BROOKE’S Coffee Essence’. Here’s a press ad for the product from The Argus (Melbourne) dated Wednesday, 7 June, 1916. To add an historical context, the National Theatre had just opened its doors the year before.
[NOTE: It’s hard to deduce much from the middle ad other than the words ‘...ENJOY YOUR... something’, however, if anyone can shed some light on it, or any of the others included, let us know. Also, please feel free to post a comment on signs I may have overlooked. I’ve tended to focus more on the descriptive (product) ads rather than the purely directional (company) signs. There are others featuring nothing more than the business name. Among them are: D.RITCHIE & SON MILLERS; ALFRED HARRAP & SON PTY LTD; MOTORS PTY LTD SALES AND SERVICE; WELLINGTON BODY REPAIRS; and HART’S FOR HARDWARE has two - the larger sign visible from York Street and another one that can be seen from Charles Street.]
The heritage-listed Launceston Fire Station is included here mainly to illustrate a point about so-called “progress”. Whilst this isn’t a commercial sign like the others, its attractive lettering lay hidden for forty years – sharing the fate of many ghost ads still obscured on the sides of old buildings.
Whether it’s due to a large adjacent structure or major renovation work (as was once the case here) signs often disappear from view. Ostensibly, lost, behind a more recent layer of architecture.
For decades, the fire station featured a 1950s facade; until the 90s, when this elegant art deco design from 1938 was rediscovered underneath.
Also on Paterson Street, directly opposite the fire station, is this one. To fill in the blanks,
I refer to a small, type-only press ad from 60 years ago.
Quoted from The Examiner, Saturday, 19 May 1951:
PAINT WITH BUTEX
TAUBMAN’S BUTEX ENAMELISED PAINT is recognised as the best value paint money can buy. It provides the longest lasting gloss and most permanent paint retention – the two essentials in a thoroughly reliable paint. [Advt.]
Looks like the name (at least) kept its promise.
Van Diemen & Co. was a maker of cherry brandy (most likely advertised here), apricot brandy, curacao red, crème de menthe, and gin sling – along with various other wine liqueurs and cocktails.
The company was based in Hobart, though I’d like to point out, that it’s not to be confused with the more recently created Van Diemen Distillery who make vodka and also a raspberry liqueur; or Van Dieman (with an ‘a’) Brewing who produce an excellent range of craft beers over at Evandale.
Tucked away, down a dark little laneway off George Street, is this sign for a souvenir store from the 1940s. ‘Wonderland’ was accessed by a mysterious doorway and stairs – around the corner at 66A Brisbane Street – right next to the greengrocer.
Incidentally, the Chung Gon Greengrocer’s origins date back to 1879. And its old leadlight front windows even have a fruit and veg theme.
Also on George Street is The Old Umbrella Shop. Built from Tasmanian blackwood back in the 1860s, this iconic site was owned for three generations by the Shott family; and, like a kind of mini emporium, it still stocks an unusual mix of hand-crafted wooden gifts, keepsakes and curios. Oh, and umbrellas, of course.
The shop also houses the National Trust Gift Shop and Information Centre.
How’s this for permanent placement? At the long-retired Launceston Gas Works on Willis Street, medium and message became one when they built these words into the wall using void spaces in the brickwork. (It’s the same on both sides – look closely and you’ll see blue sky showing through different letters on the opposite wall.) It would’ve been a fairly bold and novel approach when it was first constructed in 1932.
Although an example such as this might be seen as nothing more than ‘a sign of its times’, has the language of advertising changed all that much? Take the statement “COOK WITH GAS” – a 1930s industry initiative which spawned the catchphrase “NOW you’re cooking with gas”– well, even 80 years later, whether you’re a serious chef or someone trying to save a few dollars on an electricity bill, that’s still pretty sound advice. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Hopefully, these old ghost signs will continue to haunt us for a little while longer. From a creative perspective, I believe there’s much to love about their character – especially the ‘fading ads’. The weathered paintwork, the textures, the typefaces, and the hand-drawn imperfection all hark back to an uncomplicated way of life in a city that said no to high-rise a long time ago.