A history of Melbourne through advertising

A new exhibition offers us a glimpse of 1950s Melbourne through advertising signs.

The exhibition by Victoria University researcher Dr Stefan Schutt features historical hand-painted signs from Melbourne suburbs, rescued from a Footscray demolition site in 2012.

It runs until Thursday April 17 on level 2 of the Footscray Park library and includes an aerial map of western Melbourne showing signs painted by the Lewis & Skinner sign writing firm, mostly in the 1950s. It also displays job sheets, contracts, agreements and drafts for advertising signs including one for Cadbury’s Bournville Cocoa.

Dr Schutt said that the hand-painted signs were reminders of lives long forgotten or destroyed by social and economic change.

"These signs tell us how old inner-urban communities used to live, shop, travel, eat and meet,” he said.

While this exhibition is particularly relevant to Melbourne’s western suburbs, Dr Schutt said the documenting of old hand-painted signs had taken off in cities all around the world.

"The ghost sign scene has so many fascinating aspects from pure nostalgia to making sense of urban change and of course the appeal of forgotten crafts," Dr Schutt said.

"It’s also interesting to consider what its growing popularity in major cities can tell us about our own sense of time and place, especially in the age of social media."

Dr Schutt is research program leader at Victoria University’s Centre for Cultural Diversity & Wellbeing. He received a State Library of Victoria Berry Family Fellowship for this research, which gave him full access to the collections of the State Library of Victoria.

Additionally, the Lewis & Skinner archive development was funded by the Telematics Trust.

See all news