The introduction of the automobile around the turn of the 20th Century led to an urgent need to overhaul New York City street signage. Existing signs were difficult to read at the higher speeds of motor vehicles. New York County (which at the time included both Manhattan and The Bronx) started posting a new style of sign in the early 1910s.
This new type of porcelain sign is now commonly referred to as the “humpback” style due to its distinctive shape. It was dark blue with white text lettered by hand. The street the sign was mounted parallel to (facing traffic on the intersecting street) had its name painted in large letters across the main body of the sign. Above that, in smaller letters, was the name of the street the sign faced, showing traffic the name of the street they were currently on. A heavy iron bracket hung the sign from a lamppost. Cut-out holes in the bracket allowed the text to still be seen. Humpback-style signs were still being made through the 1950s. However, the advent of reflective signage and stricter highway sign standards made them obsolete. The humpback signs were soon displaced with more modern styles, like those seen today.
This particular humpback sign appeared at the corner of Broadway and West 43rd Street. When the first humpback signs went up, the large common area this intersection opened up into had recently been named Times Square, after the New York Times building that had just been built adjacent to it. Times Square quickly became a mecca for locals and visitors alike, the home of theaters and music halls, and the place of public celebrations like those for the World Series and the United States’s victory in World War II. However, the annual New Year’s Eve event is the most famous Times Square celebration. Every year since 1907 going into 1908, a large ball mounted on a pole atop the former New York Times building begins to lower at ten seconds to midnight. The ball reaches the bottom of the pole at midnight exactly.
The entrance to Times Square hasn’t been marked with a classic humpback sign in decades. With our replica, you can step back in time to the days when Times Square was young. We’ve printed our replica on heavy steel with a glossy, non-reflective finish that looks just like the original porcelain. Using photographs of surviving examples, we’ve accurately recreated the sign and the font used on the original, and have painstakingly laid it out to match historic photos of Times Square signage. You may not be able to visit the early days of Times Square itself, but with our replica sign, you can feel what it would be like to hold a small piece of it in your hands!
Our Times Square sign is available in two sizes: the 22-inch-long size (just like the real thing), and a 16½-inch version, scaled down for those on a space or financial budget. Pick your choice of right-facing (mounting holes on the left), left-facing (mounting holes on the right), or double-sided versions. All versions include four mounting holes. Two have been placed along the edge for the traditional lamppost-style mounting, and two between the lines of text for flat mounting against a wall. (Want a size other than those listed here? Or a classic street sign, from elsewhere in New York, or even another city? We can make it happen! All you have to do is contact Jake to get started on your custom order.)