Signage advertising items for the home covers a broad range of subjects and manufacturers, from clothing and shoes to laundry products and medicine. Many of these brands are still familiar today, like Ivory Soap or Lee Jeans, while others which were once quite prominent are virtually unknown, like Ben Davis Work Wear or Wildroot Hair Tonic.
One of the most iconic mascots of the 20th century was the bright ruby-red bird featured on signs for Red Goose Shoes. The jolly character was printed on signs and novelty items of all kinds, including a countertop display goose that dispensed golden eggs after its neck was pulled. The connection between birds and footwear seems tenuous at best, but other companies also took to the idea, as seen on signs for manufacturers like Poll Parrot and Weather Bird Shoes.
In fact, sign graphics for household goods often seem preposterously disconnected from the products they are ostensibly promoting. For example, at a time when women were never seen in two-legged pantaloons, Old Woolen Mills Pants decided it would be enticing to use a coy Victorian lady in a long flowing skirt to sell its wares. Another eye-catcher was the Frog in Your Throat lozenge signs, whose gigantic green amphibian had its 10-cent price stamped right onto his yellow belly. Other companies, however, used imagery that was cleverly designed to help customers remember their products. For example, the signage for Benedict’s Dogskin Gloves featured a loyal retriever carefully offering a leather glove from his jaws.
Clothing signs ranged from Levi’s comical Western-themed ads to Munsingwear’s classy Beyond Compare signs, showing a model dramatically removing a red cape to reveal sleek white underwear. Before the era of mass-produced clothing, signs for home-dyeing kits made by RIT, Diamond, and Dy-o-la offered customers an easy way to customize their own fashions. When searching for long-lasting work clothes, none could forget the Sweet-Orr Overalls sign featuring two teams of grown men playing tug of war with a pair of the durable denim pants. Other companies specializing in heavy-duty workwear tended towards no-nonsense names connoting quality, like Union Made or Carter’s Dubbleware.
Particularly interesting are the household signs that featured fashionable trends or products that have now fallen out of favor, from liver tickler to powdered soap to the union suit. Around the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, a variety of snake-oil style remedies were advertised, including toothache gum and baldness preventers. And if you couldn’t find a specific remedy, there were always brands like Ayer’s Cathartic Pills, a cure-all good for any symptom.