In the early 1910s, a big change came to the streets of New York City. This, of course, was the automobile. But because motor vehicles could travel so much faster down city streets than anything that came before, there was suddenly an urgent need to revamp street signs in New York City. Reading the existing signs from a car was simply too difficult. Thus, New York County (at that time, comprising both Manhattan and The Bronx) introduced a new type of street sign in the early 1910s.
The new style of sign featured a distinctive shape that is now referred to as the “humpback” style. These hand-painted signs displayed the street names in white text on a dark blue background. The name of the street the sign was mounted parallel to (facing traffic on the intersecting street) appeared in large letters on the main body of the sign. The name of the street the sign faced was shown in smaller letters in the “hump” at the top of the sign. That way, motorists could see the name of the street they were currently on. Heavy iron brackets hung these signs from lampposts on each street corner. Two holes cut out of the bracket allowed the text to show through. From the 1910s to the 1950s, this style of sign enjoyed service throughout Manhattan and the Bronx. However, starting in the 1950s, there were new advances in signage technology that hand-painted signs just couldn’t keep up with. Reflective sheeting, together with stricter highway sign standards, ensured that the humpback sign would become a thing of the past. The streets of New York were soon home to with more modern signs, like those used today.
Amsterdam Avenue is a major thoroughfare on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. It is the continuation of what is called Tenth Avenue to the south of W. 59th Street. What is now Amsterdam Avenue was also called Tenth before 1890. In that year, property owners in the area requested the name of the street be changed. They were worried that the name “Tenth Avenue” was too heavily associated with frequent railroad accidents that took place farther south along the street. This was thought to be a negative impact on their property values. Other name changes on the area had been beneficial to the properties along them. The city concurred with the property owners; the name Amsterdam Avenue was chosen in honor of New York’s original colonization by the Dutch in the 1600s.
You haven’t been able to find a classic humpback street sign on Amsterdam Avenue for many decades. That’s why we recreated the humpback sign that appeared at the corner of Amsterdam Avenue and W. 60th Street for your enjoyment. Using photographs of actual surviving signs, we’ve precisely recreated the font and layout used on the old humpback signs. Original humpback signs like these do circulate on the collector’s market, where they inevitably cost a small fortune. Even so, you have to be pretty lucky to run across one for the exact intersection you’re looking for. Save money and eliminate the element of chance by choosing one of our humpback sign replicas.
Our replica Amsterdam Avenue humpback sign is printed on heavy 14-gauge steel. It has a glossy, non-reflective finish, much like that of the original porcelain. We’ve made it available in two sizes: 22-inches long, the same size as the original, and a scaled-down 16½-inch-long size. Choose from right-facing (mounting holes on the left), left-facing (mounting holes on the right), or double-sided versions. All versions have four mounting holes; two on the edge for the traditional lamppost-style mounting, and two between the lines of text, to attach it to a wall. (Looking for a different humpback street sign? Or any other style of street sign, from New York or some other city? Custom orders are no problem for us! Just contact Jake to get started today.)