Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Curious Ad

Cardui-WebOnce I saw the floating question mark next to the Mountain Dew and Pepsi logos, I had to know more about this wall. It's on the back of a building on the corner of 6th Avenue South and 27th Street South.

As you can see from the photo, there is an older fading ad here. It promotes Cardui, "The Woman's Tonic," a medicine for pain and "weakness"—in other words, menstrual cramps. The question mark comes from the probing, attention-grabbing headline that headlined most of Cardui's wall ads throughout many states: "Are You a Woman?" (now hidden under the soda ads).

The product was introduced around 1880 as "Dr. McElree's Wine of Cardui" by the Chattanooga Medicine Company. Through rumored to originate in a Cherokee recipe, Cardui included 19 percent alcohol. It's no wonder so many of Cardui's newspaper ads reprinted testimonials from delighted customers! One ad, from 1912, also noted that women "are subject to a large number of troubles and irregularities, peculiar to women, which, in time, often lead to more serious trouble." Cardui, it continued, "is needed to help you over the hard places, to relieve weakness, headache, and other unnecessary pains, the signs of weak nerves and over-work." Another ad claimed that Cardi acts "gently, yet surely, on the weakened womanly organs."

The 1912 ad used "Are You a Woman?"—which means that the Birmingham wall ad probably was originally painted around that time. According to fire insurance maps, this two-story building appeared on its corner by 1911; early on, it housed the East End Drug Company--a pharmacy that likely sold Cardui to women living in the surrounding residential neighborhood. The drugstore had morphed into a grocery by 1925, and over the decades, the space hosted a restaurant, tire company, upholsterer, and hardware seller.

Other faded signs on the 6th Avenue side of the building point to an automotive connection—perhaps from when Southern Rubber Company was located here in the 1940s, or from Automotive Industrial Supply, which moved in by 1963. The soda signs date from sometime after the mid-1970s, when Mountain Dew introduced this version of its logo. Currently, the building houses offices for a mental health services organization.
 
The Chattanooga Medicine Company still exists, under the name Chattem. It has a stable of well-known brands including Gold Bond, Coritzone-10, Icy Hot, Allegra, ACT, Selsun Blue, and Unisom. Cardui, however, disappeared from store shelves around the middle of the 20th century.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

High Fade

FirstNatlBankGhostSignNot long ago, I was driving through downtown Birmingham and caught a quick glimpse of the letter "F" atop one of the buildings. I finally got a chance to take another look, and lo and behold, a "new" ghost sign is emerging. Take a close look at the photo, at the top left corner of the building, and you'll see the faint outline of the word "First"—for First National Bank of Birmingham, which once had its headquarters in the Frank Nelson Building on the corner of 20th Street and 3rd Avenue North. (This sign is visible from 20th Street, facing the north side of the building.) According to Bhamwiki, First National Bank occupied this building from 1903 to 1940, meaning the sign dates from some point between those years. The bank, which could trace its lineage to 1872, when Charles Linn founded the city's first bank, went on to become AmSouth, now merged with Regions.

The sign probably featured white letters on a black background, which is reappearing from beneath the beige topcoat. Or else that wall was really dirty and sooty when it was repainted!



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Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Signs of the Past

This blog is meant to do several things—highlight news about my art and the book, for one. But I also want to continue what I started with Fading Ads of Birmingham by featuring some of the ads that didn't make it into the book, archival photos of long-gone painted ads, and other interesting sign-related items. I'll figure out some sort of tag for each post so that you can find them all easily.


The first extra feature offers a rare peek into a sign shop from the heyday of painted wall ads. Larry Rocks, one of the sign painters featured in my book, has shared some photos and memories from Art Sign Company, the shop his father founded and which he still owns today, dating from the 1930s to the 1960s. From them, you can see how the painters worked on much more than walls—everything from neon to vehicles. An ad in the background of several images promotes Art Sign Company as the place to go for wall ads, show cards, gold leaf, real estate signs, banners, silkscreened signs, and office doors. My favorite photo of the collection shows two sign painters adding the name "Howard" to the side of a large truck trailer. The job is half done, with the red outlines of the cursive letters spiraling gracefully off into the shiny silver background.

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