Sign Language

These simple silk-screened signs from the late 1930s or early 1940s say a lot about the English language and American mores of the times. In just a few words one can guess what kind of establishment (cafe/bar) it was and even speculate as to the clientele. And questions are asked to: Why are ladies not allowed to sit at the bar? Why is dancing prohibited? What strata of establishment would hang such well branded signs? Why blue?

The quality of the signs are better than average – the lettering is pretty good, stylish and eye-catching. Even a little art moderne novelty makes a showing.

Linguists might do well to study common signs, not just for their pictorial or typographic traits, but also for the ways that the language – in just two or three words – is used so effectively.

4 thoughts on “Sign Language

  1. Michael King

    The answer to “Why is dancing prohibited?” is an easy one.  At the time of the signs, places serving alcohol were regulated by an intricate code of laws.  Any place that allowed dancing needed a special liqour license that was more expensive than the regular license.  The signs were up to show that the owners had no intention of allowing dancing.  The signs supposedly saved them from being fined for allowing dancing or a requirement to apply for the more expensive license.

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