Vancouver Vehicle Signs: What’s Old Is New Again

Vancouver Vehicle Signs: What’s Old Is New Again

Vehicle graphics are not new. From the first days of company owned vehicles, vehicle signage was an obvious way to advertise your business. Of course, things were much simpler and often the hand-painted lettering simply displayed the company name upon a van or truck. Now we have vehicle wraps and vibrant full-color, large scale graphics, but, the intent was the same then as now: be seen.

The photo below shows the simple beauty of hand-crafted vehicle signs on Vancouver delivery trucks of yesteryear.

Old Vancouver Truck Graphics

Old Vancouver delivery truck sign

There is something elegant in the obviously hand-painted lines and lettering. Vehicle signage doesn’t get much simpler than this. The goal? Same as today, really. Brand the vehicle with at least your company’s name, address, and phone number. It’s likely that this delivery truck has the company name and address on its right side just as we see upon its sister vehicle on the right of the photo (below). From a visibility perspective, locating the main advertising on the truck’s right side means pedestrians will see it. If the sign was on the left side, there would be a lane of opposing traffic between the sign and sidewalk traffic.

On both vehicles, the main signs including the company and address name are on the right side of the truck facing pedestrians

Sign detail. You can see that each letter is hand-painted and therefore unique. A “drop-shadow” is painted around each letter.

It’s hard to say what the body colour of the painted letters are on these trucks but we’d guess gold, yellow or off-white. The lettering was given a 3-dimensional effect by painting a black faux shadow around each letter form. Imagine the time and care it took do this. There was no edit > undo. What gives these old vehicle signs their charm? It may be the peculiarity of each hand-painted letter. In our digital world, a font’s anatomy (arms, legs, stems, tails, descenders, cross strokes, and ears) has precise and consistent widths, heights and angles. The slight “imperfections” of these hand-rolled vehicle sign letters gives them character. The same letter will never look exactly the same twice.

We somehow think of advertising and marketing as something belonging to our time. Maybe it’s because we are inundated with marketing messages from all media. Signage though, is really the oldest form of display advertising there is. Signage is, and always will be, the purest form of the craft of marketing. Take away TVs, Internet, radio, phone books, and direct mail and what is left? Signs!

Take a look at this photo of a BC Electric trolley near the Stanley Park terminus in 1906. Two hand-painted signs are prominent…the company name below and the more prominent vehicle ad for “MORRIS The LEADING TOBACCONIST”. That’s how it’s done: now and then.

Vehicle graphic and sign 1906

BC Electric trolley near the Stanley Park terminus in 1906. Vehicle signs are not new.

Again, the basics are covered here. Give ’em the company name, what the company does and where the company is. Simple. You can bet that if BC Electric has our technology in 1906, this lovely trolley would use some spectacular vehicle graphics on the wide panels below the windows.

Vancouver trolley sign detail

Trolley sign detail. Notice how the adjacent Cs are not exactly alike.

Hand-painted sign details

A lot of care and attention went into details like the filigree around “The”.

As with the Standard Produce truck signs, these letters were hand painted. Each unique. Compare the adjacent Cs in the word “TOBOCCONIST”. In modern graphic design, these letters would be exactly the same. In the sign above, they are ever so slightly different — brothers that look alike, but not twins. Look at the filigree around the “The” in the Morris ad. Not Photoshop folks. This was painted.

Interestingly, while the marketing people at BC Electric saw that they could earn revenue by selling ad space on trolley exteriors, in the 1943 photo below of a BCE bus there is no advertising at all. Maybe it’s on the other side.



A Vancouver bus with no signage

BC Electric bus 1943. No signage on this side. It’s likely on the right side of the bus facing sidewalk pedestrians.

Look at the postage-stamp sized ads on this old Brill trolley photo (below) taken in 1953 at the corner of Robson and Hornby.

Bus sign in 1953

Presumably, the small ads are meant for the drivers in the lane left of the bus because certainly from this vantage point — the sidewalk across the street — you cannot make out the vehicle signs. On the other side of the bus, the ad space was probably larger – meant to be read by pedestrian traffic and folks cueing up for the bus, like in this 1960 photo of a Brill trolley (below) on Howe Street near Georgia in Vancouver.

Vancouver bus ad in 1960

A brill trolley at Howe near Georgia in 1960. The larger ad is on the left side so passengers in the cue see it.

Looking at these old photos reminds us that we may think that everything we do is new and better, but as the saying goes “the more things change, the more they stay the same”. Vehicle signs are not new. Technology has changed the way vehicle signage is created and there are more options than ever before from simple decals to full-on vehicle wraps, but one thing remains the same: where there are company trucks, vans, cars, and buses, there will be signs.

If you are considering a vehicle graphics or wraps for your business, contact Sandbox Signs + Graphics for a free vehicle graphics consultation and estimate.