Ghost Signs

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 28 Nov 2019

Member Reviews

This review is courtesy of an ARC provided by the publisher and NetGalley, in return for an honest review.

I would love to see this expanded into more books covering Ghost Signs throughout New York City/New York State. This book is just a taste of what can be seen here.

There are loads of these signs throughout the five boroughs of NYC alone - Manhattan, Brooklyn, Staten Island, the Bronx and Queens. I love seeing these signs and frequently take pictures of them whenever I see one during my day-to-day errands and commuting. There are some very interesting ones in Queens that still remain, like an ad for Quasar, and a former Tuxedo and Costume Rental store, many with 7-digit business phone numbers from the days before local area codes were needed. (I'm old enough to remember these.)
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I put together the newspaper's Books section annual gift guide again this season and was delighted to include this book as a selection in The Globe and Mail's massive Best Holiday Gift Books package (in print December 7, 2019)
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If you ever wondered about some old faded murals on buildings and the history behind them, this is a book that will interest you.

Ghost Signs is a  heaping helping of gorgeous old building signs and a history lesson about New York’s fledgling businesses.  It was interesting to read about Wall  Dog painters from the 1920 era when safety precautions took a backseat. I placed a link in for current painters called Wall Dogs.

There is a triangular marker embedded in the sidewalk to mark it as part of the Hess property estate.  In 1910 there was a five story building called the Voorhis, owned by David Hess. It was seized by the city as eminent domain to place a subway through the area.  During a review of surveys it was determined there was one triangular portion hat still belonged to the Hess Estate. This ,marker was placed to show it was never intended to for public purposes.

Did you know Gold Medal Flour was originally named Washburn Crosby’s Superlative Flour? In 1880 their first entry into an international millers’ competition won a gold medal.

There are more stories to share but it's fun reading, educational too, learning how immigrants started small businesses, some of which became international.

Publication date is November 28, 2019. non-Fiction and Travel genre.

Much thanks to NetGalley for the advanced copy.
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Ghost Signs is a neat photography compilation of long vanished icons from earlier times in New York City which still exist on the walls and architecture downtown.  Due out 28th Nov 2019 from Schiffer, it's 128 pages and will be available in hardcover format.

This is a fascinating look at vanished markets, trades, businesses, and places in NYC. It also includes a lot of really interesting history about the working conditions, materials, and processes the 'wall dogs' used to  paint these icons in New Yorkers' vanished landscape.

The modern photographs are interspersed with historical photos from archives and public collections, giving an interesting in-situ contrast between the original and current. The photos are arranged roughly thematically: shopping, working, meeting, discoveries, make-believe, and going-going-going-almost gone.

Author/photographer Frank Mastropolo has a keen eye for composition and his photography is artistic and technically brilliant. Many of the photos are touching and nostalgic. There are signs not just for vanished businesses but for whole vanished swaths of culture and for items and services which don't even exist in any meaningful way in the the modern world (millinery, corsets, children's laxatives, patent medicines, etc).

The photographs, of course, are the main attraction, but the annotations are wonderful; small windows into the actual history of the people, many of them immigrants, whose businesses were literally building a new world in the New World.  The book includes an extensive bibliography which will keep armchair historians busy for hours. There is also a concise index with a listing of most (all?) of the businesses included in the book.

Wonderful book which would make a great gift for lovers of New York history, urban archaeologists, and fans of architecture.

Five stars.
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I love the whole concept of this book. It’s something I was vaguely aware of but had never attached a label to. Ghost Signs are the evidence a business leaves behind when it’s no longer there. Or to be more specific, it’s the sign displaying the name of the company and sometimes additional details of the enterprise. I’ve seen these locally, I’ve even worked in buildings where this has happened: old bank branches that are now shops or coffee houses. The signs may be carved into stone (as was often the case with old bank buildings in the UK – and similar to the Bowery Savings Bank featured in this book) or, more simply, a name painted directly on a wall adjacent to or above the business premises. Some are small and others cover vast areas of space. A number are barely visible and a few are are pretty well tucked away in dingy corners or below street level.

This book looks at Ghost Signs specifically in Manhattan. In fact, it doesn’t just look at the signs – and supply terrific photographs of the same – it also provides a potted history of each business featured. There’s some brilliant trivia too, interesting facts connecting some of the businesses with specific figures or events. And the book goes further, it sets the scene by running through what amounts to a history of the various neighbourhoods of New York, explaining how each district inherited its name and the way in which they have subsequently evolved. It’s an intriguing way of learning about the city.

I’ve got a few favourites here and they include a tiny sign on Seventh Avenue South on a spot where a five story building called the Voorhis once stood. After being purchased by the city and demolished, in the early 1900’s, it was later discovered that a minuscule triangle of land had been missed in the city survey. The family declined to donate this piece of land to the city and instead installed a sign which says ‘Property of the Hess Estate which has never been dedicated for public purposes’. I also loved some of the signs featuring neon tubing, such as the Rocco Restaurant sign in Greenwich Village, which has been repurposed to advertise a new eatery with a different name, though you can still clearly see the the chipped and peeling evidence of the old name below. 

What a great hobby. I know I’ll be looking out for ghost signs wherever I go now and I might even photograph them to start my own collection. I really, really enjoyed this book. It’s essentially a browser but I read the whole thing through in a couple of days, I was absolutely hooked from the start.
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Frank Mastropolo helps preserve a unique view into NYC's history through his detailed book, Ghost Signs: Clues to Downtown New York's Past. The signs themselves come from various periods and most aren't what you'd consider 'artistic endeavors'. What these signs may lack in artistry, they certainly make up in the rich history of the pockets of lower Manhattan they represent. As both a history buff and someone obsessed with New York City, I found this to be both entertaining and informative. Mastropolo records the histories of the these signs and their pasts; but he is not spinning poetic allegories here: Just the facts. Most of the these signs have survived only through the good graces of individuals with some deep feeling of affinity to the past. The fat that they are not protected by NY's historic commissions means they will eventually wear away. With this volume, they will not disappear completely, thanks to Mastropolo's work.

I received a copy from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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The wannabe archaeologist/historian in me absolutely loved this book!  Mastropolo uses what he refers to as ghost signs, faded ads and business signage on brick buildings in lower Manhattan, to take the reader back to a time when  immigrants to Manhattan set up shop and advertised in a 19th century manner.  
Pop up ads in the late 1800's and early 1900's  were painted with a long lasting lead paint or cut in stone and although the businesses themselves are gone their memory is not forgotten.  Often times, new businesses allowed the paint to remain and although sometimes covered with neon signs the originals can still be deciphered.  
The author includes pictures to go along with historical facts about the neighborhoods, businesses and the entrepreneurs who owned them making the book come to life. Fascinating factoids are quite interesting and pertain to companies in still in existence today.
With Mastropolo as my inspiration, I'll pay closer attention to older buildings in my city and wonder about their historical significance  with clues left behind by those who came before.
Thank you NetGalley, the author and publisher for advanced copy of the e-book in exchange for a honest review.
On sale in November, 2019
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This book looks at the ghost signs in downtown Manhattan .  Ghost signs are not just those painted on the sides of buildings by "walldogs", but also the moulded insignia's you may see, those painted on wood or ones made from steel.

The book is split into six main chapters looking at ghost signs including: Shopping, Working, Meeting, Discoveries, Make-Believe and Almost gone.

Each photograph of the ghost sign comes with a little history to its origin, location and it's current situation.  There are even ones that you thought genuine but were actually put there for a film backdrop.

It's a book for the coffee table that's for sure and would certainly encourage you to go hunting for your own or trying to spot the ones in this book if you are a New Yorker or visitor.

I love the idea of ghost signs sitting on the side of a building, showing its history for the world to see.  Around where I live there are not many, but I always check to see if the ones I know are still there as it would be such a shame for it to disappear.  I hadn't considered the moulded insignia's as a ghost sign, but I certainly will be looking for those too from now on in my town.  I'd recently seen a newsagent sign come down and behind was an old name painted on the wood, it made me wonder at it's history.

I received this book from Netgalley in return for a honest review.
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This absolutely delightful book showcases signs of closed businesses that linger on throughout Manhattan. From painted signs several stories to neon to signs carved into the buildings themselves, this book is a delightful window into the past.

And once you see theses, you'll start looking for them in your own town.
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Congratulations to Mr. Mastropolo on this amazing book. He obviously has a talent for viewing history through the weathered and worn signs that were left behind.

I am a lover of all things urban and especially get a kick out of social artifacts that are hidden in plain view. I can easily picture myself strolling down a business-filled street of Manhattan in the 20s and 30s when the lead paint was still wet.

I am very impressed by the amount of research, both written and photographed, that went into the making if this book. I highly recommend this book to any city explorer or purveyor of unusual history.
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Ghost Signs are the bits of white lead paint, forgotten signs, and other pieces of advertising from a bygone era. Frank Mastropolo takes readers on a historical tour of New York, showing us the evidence of stores and gathering places that are no longer in business. The historical aspect of this book was phenomenal. Ghost Signs is a quick read and a must have for New Yorkers or those interested in older advertising.
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I really enjoyed this book as a shallow dive into the neighborhoods' and industries' histories as well as that of the signs. I never knew it was the lead paint that allows some of the signage elements to linger. 

Focusing mainly on the Lower East Side/East Village, Little Italy and Chinatown, the West Village, SoHo and Tribeca, the book explores the manufacturing, retail and dining histories that leave behind these relics of living history in their signs. While I am familiar with some, others I walk past regularly or recently (Beauty & Essex), yet I never noticed them. I was only slightly disappointed that he didn't include my favorite Dumbo dentist in Chinatown. I'm so glad some businesses keep these signs even though they're not required to.

To be honest, this book would probably be better as a coffee table or other hard copy book. Kindle format & layout can make it hard to truly appreciate these signs.
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This book is about a curious feature of most large cities that have kept their older buildings, that if a sign is painted into a wall in a certain way, the sign remnants remain, long after the original business has left the face of the earth.

The book is divided into different types of signs, as well as signs that were put up for movies shot int he area, and then kept despite the filming being over.

Some signs are more visible than others, and, as the author points out, sometimes they are just painted over. 







It is an interesting voyage around New York, with little tidbits about each sign.

Thanks to Netgalley for makng this book available for an honest review.
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Not only a great photography book, GHOST SIGNS is also really informative about the history of the "ghost signs" in and around New York City.  I have found in the past that photography books struggle with the writing when they attempt to do both, but that was not the case with this book.  If you know a history buff or photography buff who loves NYC, this is a great book as a gift.  It made me want to wander the streets looking for these relics.
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This book contains an intriguing collection of old signs - known as ghost signs - in New York City. These are the weathered signs painted on the side of buildings, the rusted signs for inoperable fallout shelters, and many more. 

The author infuses these signs with a lot of interesting facts about NYC’s history. You’ll gain a basic overview of various neighborhoods and which groups of immigrants moved to them. You’ll also learn about these old businesses and their owners. 

Anyone who is interested in this type of history should enjoy Ghost Signs. Keep in mind that this is going to be much better as a print book or for the Kindle Fire. The black & white rendering of the Paperwhite makes it difficult to see why these signs are such a special piece of NYC’s history. 

Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for providing an ARC. This review contains my honest, unbiased opinion.
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An interesting book encouraging us all to look for ghost sings of years gone by. I read this on a Kindle Oasis which is only in greyscale. I think it would be better read on a Kindle Fire or as a paper book to get the full sense of the colour schemes.
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Ghost Signs is a wonderful tour of New York City, as told from old business signs (most painted and now fading on the side of walls, but also plaques, marks, scrollwork, etc.).  Each sign's business/original owner is nicely researched, giving great perspective into the location as well as the changing landscape of the City's neighborhoods. Since the focus of the book is ghost signs, most signs are pre 1940s (when neon and plastic replaced painted walls and storefront entrances.

The book has six sections:  Chapter One has signs for shops. Chapter two has signs for industry. Chapter three has signs for hotels, bathhouses, YMCAs, etc. Chapter four has signs that were uncovered during renovations or demolitions. Chapter five has signs that were made for movies/filming but still remain, and chapter six has signs for business that are still in business.

The introduction has some perspective on the various NYC neighborhoods - from the origin of Wall street's name, the changing East Village, Tribeca's more modern roots, and more.  As well, the making of the painted signs and various madiums are briefly discussed. It makes for a quick read that puts the various signs into better perspective.

Each sign has one photograph (a few have two) and text describing the date of the sign, the purpose, and what happened to the owner (bankruptcy, moves, business transfers, etc.).  Signs as early as the 1840 and as contemporary as the 1980s are covered, and for all materials: tin, wood, paint, etching, cornices, etc.  The author researched quite a bit of the sign's owners and gives a bit of background on why that owner's business flourished or failed in the eras during and after the signs were created.

There are some very interesting revelations to be found.  For example, that signs/signage are not protected by the city's Landmarks Preservation Committee (painted signs are not considered a significant architectural feature).  So for many signs, they remain/exist long after the original business/owner left as a result of the current owner protecting and preserving that aspect of the city's history.  As well, the strong immigrant history (from Chinatown's to Little Germany) all contributed interesting aspects to the City through their businesses or business needs.

If I had a wish, it would be that there were more photos.  We are told of the dates the building was created with architectural details - but never get to see any of them beyond the sign's coverage.  The photographs for the book are all, for the most part, close ups of just the sign itself.  I found myself having/wanting to google several of the buildings to see what they looked like and where the sign was in relation to the rest of the building.

In all, I greatly enjoyed Ghost Signs.  It was a lovely journey through historical New York with interesting tidbits of such a dynamic city.  Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.
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