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The Preservation of Historic Signs
Wednesday, November 20, 2013 • Posted November 22, 2013

Illuminated signs were not unknown before electricity. An advertisement printed about 1700 mentioned a night time sign lit by candles and in 1840 the legendary showman P.T. Barnum built a huge sign illuminated by gas. But electricity was safer and cheaper than candles, kerosene and gas.

"Signs" refers to a great number of verbal, symbolic or figural markers; posters, billboards, graffiti and traffic signals, corporate logos, flags, decals and bumper stickers, insignia on baseball caps and tee shirts are all "signs." Buildings themselves can be signs, as structures shaped like hot dogs or coffee pots can attest. The signs encountered each day are seemingly countless, for language itself is largely symbolic. This Brief, however, will limit its discussion of "signs" to lettered or symbolic messages affixed to historic buildings or associated with them. Source: U.S. Department of the Interior

Signs are everywhere. And everywhere they play an important role in human activity. They identify, direct, and decorate. They promote, inform, and advertise.

Yet historic signs pose problems for those who would save them. Buildings change uses. Businesses undergo change in ownership. New ownership or use normally brings change in signs. Signs are typically part of a business owner's sales strategy, and may be changed to reflect evolving business practices or to project a new image.

This Brief will attempt to answer some of the preservation questions raised by historic signs. It will discuss historic sign practices, and show examples of how historic signs have been preserved even when the business has changed hands or the building itself has been converted to a new use.

Pre-Nineteenth Century

The earliest commercial signs included symbols of the merchant's goods or tradesman's craft. The red and white striped pole signifying the barbershop and the three gold balls outside the pawnshop are two such emblems that can occasionally be seen today. (The barber's sign survives from an era when barbers were also surgeons; the emblem suggests bloody bandages associated with the craft. The pawnbroker's sign is a sign of a sign: it derives from the coat of arms of the Medici banking family.) By the end of the eighteenth century, the hanging sign had declined in popularity. Flat or flush-mounted signs, on the other hand, had become standard.

Nineteenth Century Signs and Sign Practices

Fascia signs, placed on the fascia or horizontal band between the storefront and the second floor, were among the most common. The fascia is often called the "signboard," and as the word implies, provided a perfect place for a sign—then as now. The narrowness of the fascia imposed strict limits on the sign maker, and such signs usually gave little more than the name of the business and perhaps a street number.

Similar to fascia signs were signs between the levels of windows across the upper facade. Such signs were mounted on horizontal boards or painted on the building. Signs of this type tended to use several "lines" of text; the name of business and short description, for example.

Signs in the form of plaques, shields, and ovals were used on many nineteenth-century buildings. Such signs had the advantage of being easily replaced as tenants came and went. They also easily incorporated images as well as lettering.

Information above was provided by the National Park Service. The next article will cover Twentieth Century Signs and Sign Practices and Sign Regulation.

Signs within the Historic District must have a Certificate of Appropriateness issued by the Blanco Historic Commission at the City Hall on Pecan St on the square.

For more information on the City of Blanco ordinance, amendment to sign regulations:

For a PDF copy, log on to:

On design guidelines, log on to: Design Guidelines help’s the Blanco Historic Preservation Commission (BHPC) with renovation/construction requests in the downtown historic district, which encompasses the 9 blocks that make up the square.

Rudy Nino a local resident is a builder member and advisor to the City of Blanco Historic Commission he is the owner of a successful residential and consulting company specializing in remodeling.

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