Ghost sign hunting

Experts have discussed the phenomenon of ghost sign hunting that has taken off in large cities around the world.

Dr Stefan Schutt from Victoria University's Centre for Cultural Diversity and Wellbeing said thousands of people worldwide were now capturing old hand-painted advertising signs on their cameras and mobile devices to share on social media and, increasingly, in books.

"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. "But we're also interested in 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."

A recent seminar at Victoria University's Flinders Street campus featured expert international and local perspectives, plus open discussion. Letterbox type studio founder Stephen Banham and London authority on hand-painted signs, Sam Roberts, joined Dr Schutt at the March 12 event.

"It's a rare privilege to have these experts in letterforms and old signs together in Melbourne," Dr Schutt said.

Mr Roberts has recorded advertising on walls from across the UK and Ireland and last year published Hand-Painted Signs of Kratie, about the street advertising of Cambodia. He also has a Ghostsigns blog.

Mr Banham's work focuses on the cultural aspects of letterforms. He has nearly 20 publications on typography, including his 2011 book, Characters: Cultural stories revealed through typography, focusing on Melbourne signs.

Dr Schutt is the creator of an online archive of 10,000 abandoned documents from the former Melbourne sign writing firm Lewis & Skinner, which operated from the early 1900s to the 1960s. He also writes a blog about Melbourne ghost signs. Dr Schutt is a Berry Family Fellow with the State Library of Victoria.

It was the first of The Centre for Cultural Diversity and Wellbeing's new 'pop-up' seminar series. 

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