Down to the sea

Barbara Dyer: Past signs of the times

Wed, 03/28/2018 - 12:30pm

In the past, merchants deemed it necessary to identify their business by a sign over the door or nearby. Today, it is usually just a name on the store, but yesterday it was an object that illustrated their type of business. It was in the days when fewer people read, and needed a pictorial illustration. A few of these signs still exist, and today, if located, they may be considered antiques sold for a good price. 

The most popular one, at least around here, was the red and white striped barber pole. It is said that it started as symbolizing that the former practice of barbers was to act as first aid men, in the absence of one better qualified. The red for blood and the white for a bandage. Maybe that is only a story passed down, who knows? 

Another was a cigar store Indian. This often was a life size wooden Native American wearing a chief's headgear, holding a bunch of cigars in his left hand and a tomahawk in his right. Cigars were very popular until a few years ago, and maybe it showed how brave he was to smoke a cigar. We wish it was an advance warning of the bad effects of tobacco, but people did not realize it at that time. It is claimed that they first introduced tobacco to Sir Walter Raleigh, back in the early 17th Century. 

Some dressmakers would have a small form in their window, showing a miniature doll, with a handmade dress.

Cora Millay, Edna St Vincent Millay's mother, had one as she did sewing as well as practical nursing. The dress was beautifully made of small hand-made stitches, but the head left much to be desired. It can be seen at the Camden-Rockport Historical Society Museum.

A bootmaker would have a sign showing a boot. People could tell at a glance what the merchant offered.

Abner Dunton had quite a large building for his boot making, and it still stands today on the “Valley Farm” property in Hope. It is said that boot makers were only concerned with the length of the foot, but no difference in right or left foot. How comfortable was that? “History of Hope,” by Anna Hardy shows that building pictured on the cover.

For watchmakers, there was always a watch and some say that it didn't matter where the hands were pointed.

Others say the hands were pointed to 19 minutes past eight o'clock.

It might have been set that way for practical reasons, with the hands balanced in the lower half of the dial, so there was room for the owner's name in the upper half.

Older people have spoken about the one in Rockland owned by Daniels.

A jewelry store usually had an elaborate clock, sometimes hanging above the store door or on a post in front of the business. A dentist had a sign showing a tooth. 

When horses were used for hauling wagons, people or most everything, there were harness shops around. Camden had one located on what is now the Village Green. It was Hunt's Harness Shop. Some would use a horse collar as a sign, whereas the larger businesses would display a wooden horse. I was told many years ago that the Farnsworth Homestead stable acquired one from an antique dealer.

In some places, taverns had signs, but from what I had read, around this area they just had the name of the family, who owned it. After Camden was incorporated, the Town Meetings were held at Peter Ott's Tavern on Richard's Hill (Route 1) in Rockport.

Remember, Camden included Rockport at that time. 

Drug stores had signs of the mortar and pestle. The druggists had to grind the herbs or whatever to make medicine. It would go into a bowl (pestle) and ground by hand held object (mortar).

There are probably very few people living today, who remember all that were so popular, except I think the barber pole was the one most can remember today.

Well, it really was signs of the times long gone by. Neon signs were around here, down by the sea, but not plentiful. Today there is usually a wooden painted sign of the name of the store, and there are ordinances on how many are allowed and also the size they can be.


Barbara F. Dyer has lived in Camden all of her life, so far.


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