Despite the sexy that Mad Men brought back to the advertising game, most of us are jaded as hell about being sold to and targeted via infernal viral schemes and clever campaigns. It's not that ads are anything new, they just used to be... different.

For example: A little over a century ago, before posters and billboards became go-tos for mass-marketing, many businesses would sell themselves with a bold paint job right on the side of a building. No bells, no whistles—just a beautifully hand-lettered, x-marks-the-spot-style promo meant to stand the test of time.

For the past eight years, Londoner Sam Roberts has been documenting the faded remains of these Ghostsigns, which can still be seen on walls and brickwork in Britain (and around the world). In 2010, the History of Advertising Trust got in on the action, and now over 800 snaps have been submitted to the growing online archive.

Everything from tobacco to plumbers to beans to bread got the decorative treatment by skilled craftsfolk; and while the goods and services on offer are long gone, this weathered evidence is a somewhat lovely f-u to the frantic pace of today's incessant pop-ups.


Roberts has a lot more info over on his site, and if you're fans of the art, you should definitely seek out Faythe Levine and Sam Macon's fantastic Sign Painters book, which profiles American legends in the trade. [Ghostsigns]