Thursday, 25 April 2013

Asahi Super Dry, North Kensington

Back in 2011 London street artist Don realized several pieces at the newly reopened Earl of Portobello in North Kensington, including a superb painted sign for Japanese beer Asahi Super Dry.

Founded in 1889, Asahi Breweries Ltd is one of Japan's leading brewers. In 1987 it introduced Asahi Super Dry, which rapidly became its best selling beer.

There are a few differences between the actual label on the bottles and the sign painted here.

Below are some of the other works by Don that decorate the walls of the public house, including portraits of Charles Dickens and Amy Winehouse.

Location: Golborne Grove / Pictures taken in December 2011

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Bois du nord et du pays, Etauliers

To conclude, temporarily, this series of ghost signs found along the former Nationale 137 in southwestern France, here is one I had missed last year but was able to photograph last week. It can be found on what was certainly the workshop of wood merchant Marcel Dupuy.

Dupuy sold wood (bois) produced both locally (du pays) and further north (du nord). It can be assumed that 'north' referred not so much to northern France but to Scandinavia, a region with a strong wood industry. Sweden in particular began developing its timber and wood industry in the 19th century. Since then the sector has been a major source of export earnings.

Bois du nord
et du pays
Marcel Dupuy

Location: D 137, Etauliers, Gironde / Pictures taken in April 2013

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Boulangerie, Etauliers

The bakery may not longer be there but its ghost sign, which includes on each side drawings of large round loaves, still adorns this building.

Boulangerie [Bakery]

There are two versions of this boulangerie ghost sign, the more recent one covering the earlier one. Traces of some more words can be seen next to the loaves but not enough to be able to decipher what was written there.

Location: D 137, Etauliers, Gironde / Pictures taken in May 2012

Monday, 8 April 2013

Foire Internationale de Bordeaux, Saint-Aubin-de-Blaye

Like yesterday, we are looking at a palimpsest. The most recent, and obvious, sign promoted the Foire Internationale de Bordeaux (Bordeaux International Fair).

Even though this fair held every year around Ascension Day became 'international' only in 1921, its origins go back to 1214, the year John, King of England and Duke of Aquitaine, granted the city the power to organize a wine fair. This privilege was confirmed and extended by successive rulers, be they English or French. The fair, which had been taking place traditionally in the medieval part of the city, was held between 1853 and 1968 on Place des Quinconces, at 12 hectares one of the largest city squares in Europe. However in the 1960s, as part of the modernisation plans of the city designed by the team of mayor Jacques Chaban-Delmas, the decision was taken to transfer the fair to Bordeaux-Lac, an area seven kilometres to the north of the city centre. The move was quite controversial at the time but it made it possible to increase the size of the fair and to accomodate the growing number of visitors coming by car. In 1969 the Foire Internationale de Bordeaux opened in the brand new hall of the Parc des Expositions. When it opened, this impressive building, 847 m long and with a surface area of 50,400 square metres, was the largest exhibition hall in Europe. Nowadays the international fair is only one of many events that take place throughout the year in the Parc des Expositions.

Was this sign painted before or after the move to Bordeaux-Lac? This is hard to say but should it have been painted in 1969 or later, one might have expected a bolder design, matching the modern image projected by the design of the new exhibition hall.

Of the earlier ghost sign written with very high letters, only a few of these can been seen in the lower part of the wall. The upper part of the word was covered by "Bordeaux" and, to make things more difficult, part of it disappeared when a small window was opened through the wall.

Internationale de
Bordeaux / L..on [Lafon?]

This wall was rented by Avenir Publicité, one of France's leading advertising agencies.

Location: D 137, lieu-dit Roubisque, Saint-Aubin-de-Blaye, Gironde / Pictures taken in May 2012

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Cognac Martell, Saint-Aubin-de-Blaye

Here is a real palimpsest and identifying the different ghost signs was made even trickier when part of this building was demolished. Indeed it extended originally further towards the right (the lower part of the wall can still be seen).

The easiest sign to read, with white letters on a blue background, is for Martell, a brand of Cognac. This Cognac house was founded in 1715 by Jean Martell, a native from Jersey. This makes it one of the oldest ones. It is also one of the largest and, historically, the main competitor of Hennessy.

Cuisines, salles d'eau modernes

St Raphaël

Also visible against the blue background are the words "cuisines, salles d'eau modernes" ("Modern kitchens and bathrooms"). Whether this was for a specific brand or a store remains unknown. Someone may be able to identify what was certainly the logo, a slightly tilting square, to the left of "cuisines."

The part painted in black on the left is equally a mystery.

Less of a problem to identify is a ghost sign for another French alcohol, St Raphaël. Only "St" can still be seen but the style of the letters is characteristic enough to recognise this cinchona-based aperitif.

Finally there was another sign, now to the extreme right, but most of it disappeared when part of the wall was demolished.

Location: D 137, Saint-Aubin-de-Blaye, Gironde / Pictures taken in May 2012

Friday, 5 April 2013

Kina Lilet, Saint-Aubin-de-Blaye

Elaborated c. 1887, and launched in 1895 (the delay being due to the phylloxera "plague" that decimated the vineyards of the Bordeaux region in the 1870s-1880s) Kina-Lillet rapidly became the leading product of Maison Lillet, a wine and spirit trading business founded by Raymond and Paul Lillet in 1872 in Podensac, a small town on the River Garonne 30 km south of Bordeaux. The demand for fortified wine was growing rapidly at the time and the Lillet brothers came up with a recipe that combined 15% liqueur, itself a mix of bark from the Peruvian cinchona (the tree the bark came from was believed to be called kina-kina in Quechua, hence the name of the new beverage), peels of sweet and bitter oranges from Spain and of green oranges from Haiti, and brandy, with 85% white wine from the Sauternes area.

The fame, and sales, of Kina-Lillet rose rapidly thanks to its pleasant refreshing taste and to the successful advertising and marketing campaigns that emphasized the high quality of wines used in its preparation. After a few years the two brothers decided to concentrate solely on their aperitif and stopped acting as agents for other chateaux and distillers. After the Second World War, contrary to many of its competitors, Lillet avoided decline by crossing the Atlantic and conquering the US market, in particularly with Lillet Rouge, a version of the drink prepared with red instead of white wine and developed especially for US customers in 1962.

Between 1986 and 1990 the recipe was slightly altered to cater for changing tastes. As a result Lillet is now less sweet and less bitter than it used to be.

'Kina-Lilet', 'Kina-Lillet', 'Lilet' or 'Lillet'? These are all the same. 'Kina' featured on the bottles sold in France and continental Europe. It was dropped at some point in the 1960s or 1970s. Because of customs regulations the word was never printed on the labels of bottles heading towards the UK or the US. With regards to the spelling of the name, it should always have been 'Lillet', as this was the surname of the two brothers. However these wanted people to pronounce it properly ([li'le] and not [li.jɛ]). Consequently they allowed advertising agencies and sign painters to spell it with only one 'l' if they thought it would be more appropriate. This explains why ghost signs with both spellings can be found around France.

Kina-Lilet was not the first ghost sign painted on this wall. Even if only two letters of the earlier sign can still be seen to the left of 'Kina-Lilet', it is easy to recognise this was a ghost sign for Dubonnet, one of Lillet's main competitors.

Dubonnet /

Location: D 137, Saint-Aubin-de-Blaye, Gironde / Pictures taken in May 2012

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Vichy Célestins, Saint-Aubin-de-Blaye

Even if only two letters of this ghost sign are visible to the left of the modern hoarding, their design and positions are characteristic enough to be able to identify the product advertised there: the naturally sparkling mineral water Vichy Célestins.

Les Célestins is one of nine natural springs found in Vichy, a spa town in central France. It owes its name to the former convent of the Celestines, a branch of the Benedictine monastic order, whose remains stand nearby. Before 1939 the water emerging from the spring was used almost exclusively for medical and pharmaceutical purposes but by the late 1940s-early 1950s bottles of Vichy Célestins started to appear on the tables of cafés and restaurants. Nowadays around 200 m bottles are sold each year.


The logo of the company that managed this advertising space appears underneath the modern hoarding (below the price): "SFAR." To find out more about the Société Française d'Affichage Routier (French Society of Road Displays), please check this earlier post.

Location: D 137, Saint-Aubin-de-Blaye, Gironde / Pictures taken in May 2012

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Elf, Saint-Aubin-de-Blaye

In 1966 three French public companies involved in the exploration, production and distribution phases of the petrol business, the Régie Autonome des Pétroles, the Société Nationale des Pétroles d'Aquitaine, and the Bureau de Recherches de Pétroles merged and formed the Entreprise de Recherches et d'Activités Pétrolières (ERAP). However the new company became rapidly better known as Elf, after the brand that appeared throughout France on 27 April 1967.

The Elf brand was the result of a five-year long process that aimed at bringing under one banner the different networks of petrol stations controlled by the Union Générale de Distribution, a subsidiary of ERAP originally created in 1960, as well as the company's wide range of products. This major project was kept secret until the directors of ERAP gave a press conference on 27 April 1967 at 18:00. Within a few hours, 4,500 petrol stations were rebranded, staff uniforms changed and products renamed. The next morning the Elf logo, a stylized representation of the drill bit used in oil wells with colours reminiscent of the French flag, was everywhere to be seen.

One of the networks that disappeared in the process was Caltex, a subsidiary originally of California Texas Oil Company (a joint venture between the Texas Company -now Texaco- and Standard Oil of California -now Chevron) that had been acquired by the UGD.

The fact that this ghost sign includes a reference to the Caltex network would suggest it was painted shortly after the Elf brand was launched. The Elf logo is in its original colours, petrol blue, white and red. In 1985 the petrol blue colour was replaced by a cobalt blue, believed to be dynamic.

Relai Caltex

Location: D 137, Saint-Aubin-de-Blaye, Gironde / Pictures taken in May 2012

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Hennessy, Pleine-Selve

If yesterday's Simca sign is best seen when coming from the north, Pleine-Selve's second ghost sign can only be seen when approaching from the south. This is somehow logical as it targeted people heading potentially towards Cognac.

Over the years two signs have been painted on this building, both for Hennessy. The original one covered the whole wall while the more recent version only used the left half. The letters of the the former still emerge, even on the part of the wall that was later painted white. This original sign read:


Cognac house Hennessy was founded by Richard Hennessy in 1765, an Irish officer in the army of French king Louis XV. Nowadays, Hennessy is the world's largest producer of Coganc and part of LVMH - Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, the multinational luxury goods group. The website of the Cognac house includes several pages about its history illustrated with photos and documents.

The second version of this ghost sign did not promote Hennessy's cognac directly. Instead it invited people to go and visit the cellars (chais) where cognac is matured. These are located in Cognac, on the bank of the River Charente.

Visitez à
les chais

In the upper left corner the sign painter included the coat of arms of the Hennessy family, which is also since 1856 the symbol of the brand. It represents a fist clutching a hatchet, a reference to the military career of Richard Hennessy.

Location: D 137, Pleine-Selve, Gironde / Pictures taken in May 2012

Monday, 1 April 2013

Simca, Pleine-Selve

Pleine-Selve is a small town of barely more than 200 inhabitants but being along a former Route Nationale, it has its ghost signs too. Two to be precise. Although the one below for car manufacturer Simca is almost parallel to the road, it would still have been noticed by drivers coming from the north as it is located on a slight curve at the bottom of a small descent.

Founded in 1934, Simca (for Société Industrielle de Mécanique et Carrosserie Automobile - Industrial Society of Mechanical and Automotive Body) was the brainchild of Fiat, even if the Italian manufacturer remained hidded behind a façade of French shareholders to get round protectionist measures adopted by France during the Great Depression. High tariffs had made Fiat cars assembled in France using parts made in Italy too expensive and no longer able to compete with French-made vehicles. This was why the decision was taken to undertake the whole production process in France. The new company bought the factory of bankrupt car manufacturer Bonnet in Nanterre, on the outskirts of Paris, and the first cars bearing the name Simca on a Fiat logo emerged in mid-1935. The first two Simca-Fiat models, the 6CV and the 11CV were copies of the Fiat 508 Balilla and the Fiat 518 Ardita respectively. One year later Simca launched the Simca Cinq, again a copy of a Fiat model, the 500 Topolino. Within a few months Simca became France's fourth largest car manufacturer, thanks to the rapid renewal of its offer and to more economic models. In 1938, with the war looming, Simca dropped the Fiat logo and adopted the sparrow as its emblem to match its slogan: "Un appétit d'oiseau" ("A bird's appetite").

After the Second World War, Simca strengthened its position thanks to models like the Simca 9 Aronde launched in 1951 ("aronde" means "sparrow" in Olf French). While the mechanical parts were identical to those of the Fiat 1400, the body was slightly different. Thanks to the benefits generated by sales of the Aronde, Simca bought truck manufacturer Unic in 1951 and in 1954 the French subsidiary of Ford.

In 1958 US company Chrysler acquired 25% of Simca's share. At the end of the same year Simca took over Talbot-Lago. Thanks to an influx of US money Simca, still in cooperation with Fiat, was able to begin on a new project, the Simca 1000. Launched in 1961, this successful model remained in production until 1981. In 1962 Chrysler took control of 63% of Simca. No longer able to control the French company, Fiat decided it was time to withdraw from Simca and, taking advantage of the new rules of the Common Market, created its own subsidiary Fiat France SA in 1964. Under Chrysler ownership Simca's fortunes started to decline. Bad management, an unsuccessful merger with British car manufacturer Rootes under the name Chrysler Europe, and a lack of innovation, together with the growing difficulties of Chrysler in the US explain this downfall. In spite of the success of the Simca 1100, a project initially rejected by Chrysler, Chrysler was forced to sell its European operations in 1978 to avoid its collapse in the US. The French, British and Spanish plants and the Simca brand were bought by French company Peugeot SA. Peugeot kept the Simca brand until 1980, when it decided to replace it with the Talbot one. Simca models continued to be produced until 1986 but under the name Talbot.


Location: D 137, Pleine-Selve, Gironde / Picture taken in May 2012