Vintage Snapshots

the wondrous world of vernacular photography

Category: Signs

Just Great


Pretty Good: Restaurant + Mustang, 1966 (click to enlarge)

Looking Out

Vintage snapshot photo taken from inside looking out to street

Inside the Piston Parts Co., c 1920s (click to enlarge)

The Girls at the End

Vintage snapshot photograph of 1950s girls with their bokes near a road sign saying "End"

circa 1950s (click to enlarge)

O.K. Tire Shop, Dickinson, North Dakota

Vintage snapshot of woman on the street in small town in North Dakota

Heating, tires and Texaco, Dickinson, ND (c 1940s)


Vintage snapshot of a baby who appears to have a halo and bottle sticking out of his head

Quite a kid (circa 1940s)

Another in the “background” series, I love how this baby’s head seems both to be surrounded by a halo and to have a bottle sticking out of it. This was found in the Bay Area and was likely taken somewhere in San Francisco or the East Bay. I wonder if any trace of the sign remains. There is something appealing about the old signs that were hand-painted on buildings (as this was one was; you can see the lines of the siding running through it), and there are several websites devoted to ones that remain, sometimes called “ghost signs.”

Here is a link to a 2005 New York Times article on them, and some nice examples can be found on this flickr page, titled “Vanishing Beauty.”

Here is a close-up of Coke baby.

Detail of baby with Coca-cola bottle 'emerging' from head

Drink Coca-Cola


City Views: Ogden, Utah

Vintage snapshot showing a street scene in Ogden, Utah in 1913

Making one’s way through downtown Ogden, Utah, 1913 (click to enlarge)

This photo is dated Sept. 1913 and is labeled “Fashion Show” at bottom right – and the streets do appear to have been decorated for an event. What I find intriguing, though – apart from the horse and buggy/automobile combination I talked about previously – are the signs you can just about make out. At far left there is a blurry one for “Shoes,” while the next door down is “Bar,” and across the street you find “Eat.” Nice and simple.

City Views: KFQD Radio in Anchorage, Alaska

Old photo of KFQD Radio in Anchorage, Alaska, circa 1940s

KFQD: “The Voice of the Golden North” (circa 1946)

This is a circa 1940s shot of the premises of KFQD Radio in Anchorage. KFQD still exists, and was, according to its website, the first radio station in Alaska, having begun broadcasting in 1924. Funnily enough, they actually have a similar photo on their “About Us” page, part of which I have reproduced below. In case you are dying to know, the window to the left sports a sign for Ed Coffey Insurance, and the one on the right says “Airways Office.”

Screenshot from the KFQD website, showing an old snapshot of the front of the station

A snowy day at KFQD, from the station’s website

City Views: Corpus Christi, Texas

Vintage photo of Corpus Christi, Texas in 1930

Peoples and Schatzel Streets, Corpus Christi, 1930 (click to enlarge)

This shot is dated February 11, 1930, notes the streets on the back and also mentions “Bay in background” – and you can indeed see it if you enlarge the photo enough. A quick check online reveals that unfortunately nothing in this photo seems to exist today. The block in the middle is open space, and the surrounding streets are occupied by the typical contemporary mishmash of larger buildings. Another step “forward” in American urban planning.

5-Cent Diner

Vintage photo of a city street with diner, dated 1937

Five-Cent Diner with Car, 1937

This photo is dated August 1937 on the stamp on the rear – the year the Great Depression deepened after actually having eased somewhat in the previous few years. By the following year unemployment would hit 19%. I don’t know if five cents was a great deal back then for what they were offering, but I would imagine it must have been a pretty good price or they would not have featured it so prominently. In any case I like the directness of the sign: what else, really, did you need to know?

Apart from that, though, the photo is just pretty stunning for a snapshot, I think: the lines, the angle, the light, the lone automobile, the hulking building looming over the hamburger stand, and where the 5-cent sign ended up being placed compositionally. But was the photographer perhaps actually making a photo of the large building, and the corner of the diner just ended up getting in the way?

Schlitz & Furnished Rooms

Vintage photograph of 1930s city scene with Schlitz sign

Car + signs, circa 1930s

I always like a good city scene, and this shot qualifies as one, I think. A lot of it comes down to those signs, of course…nicely framed against the sky.

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