You may have heard about or seen the colourful advertising sign for Peapes Menswear store that was revealed recently down at Wynyard (285-287 George Street) after the Menzies Hotel and Thakral House were demolished.
This large painted advertisement was on the side of the Peapes building and is a great example of the outdoor advertising which business owners often had painted on the side of their business premises.
Today on 2SER Breakfast, Lisa talked to Nic about the sign and the business behind it.
Sign writers and poster makers were among the earliest forms of advertising in the street and public domain. The very first producer of posters for commercial purposes in Sydney were Issac and Joseph Roff, who established their business in 1854.
Bill posters stuck to buildings, pillars, and hoardings became so ubiquitous on Sydney’s streets in the following decade that the practice was lampooned in cartoons.
Small specialist firms of signwriters offered their expertise, with varying degrees of sophistication, to businesses that could not afford their own advertising departments.
Signwriting and advertising posters made a dramatic impact on the streetscape, drawing attention to people, products and events.
Photographer Olive Cotton captured the sheer number of painted advertising signs painted on the sides of buildings in her 1942 photograph City Skyline, which was taken from Max Dupain’s studio window. You can see the photograph on the National Library of Australia’s catalogue here.
These forgotten painted signs – sometimes referred to as “ghost signs” – are revealed in the city with surprising regularity as buildings are demolished to expose the sides of the buildings next door. The changing city skyline often protects these ephemeral advertising signs from fading and decay, and there is always a sense of wonder and curiosity when a new “ghost sign” is uncovered.
But let’s get back to Peapes.
The menswear store was a Sydney institution. It was established in 1866 (known as Peapes & Shaw back then) and traded on George Street for over 100 years, finally closing down in 1971. The Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW, holds some of their business records, including correspondence, advertising scrap books, pictorial material and pattern books.
They also hold a few of their trade catalogues – this 1897 one at left has been digitised, so you can view and download images of the latest fashion trends available at Peapes.
The firm had a distinctive Australian flavour and had their own inhouse registered trade mark Warrigal. This branding identified their Australian-made products and was their “guarantee of worth and wear”. The trade mark included a dingo and the southern cross.
The building where the sign is located was built for Peapes in 1922 and it was occupied by the store from 1923 through to 1971. It was a classy establishment, fitted out with marble and jarrah, and with mezzanine floors encircling a central light well. There was even a room for clients where they could relax, write letters, smoke or conduct business meetings – almost like a club room.
There were ready-wear and tailoring departments, and all the requisites for male society – hats, tobacco, footwear, neckwear, sportswear and travel wear.
With their new building came a new slogan – ‘Peapes The Men’s and Boys’ Outfitters’. The painted sign dates from at least 1935; you can see the bottom of the border in the photograph below which was taken by Sam Hood before the Plaza Hotel was built. The centre image may have changed over time as we know that advertisers would use these locations in different ways over a period of time.
The Peapes building, also known as Beneficial House, is on the local heritage register (there’s a link to it at the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage here) so the sign will remain, although it will be once again covered up – being preserved for another 50 years or more, no doubt when it might peep out again!
To find out more about the development of the advertising industry in Sydney, take a look at the article by Robert Crawford on the Dictionary: https://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/advertising
Dr Lisa Murray is the Historian of the City of Sydney and the former chair of the Dictionary of Sydney Trust. She is the author of several books, including Sydney Cemeteries: a field guide. She appears on 2SER on behalf of the Dictionary of Sydney in a voluntary capacity.
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