Color ornaments from a century ago: The Modern Sign Writer

By Mike Jackson

Posted on Sunday, December 17th, 2023

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I was initially exposed to old sign painting books back in 1982, following my first Letterheads meeting in Boise, Idaho. I saw a few copies of pages from The Modern Sign Writer and Up to Date Ornamenter and wanted to find a copy. It turned out to be one of the more elusive vintage sign books to locate but eventually I did.

R. Henderson published the book in 1895. According to the introduction, the plates in the book were compiled with work by “leading experts in their respected lines.” They showed many ornaments that were used in sign writing and ornamenting at the time.

Acanthus leaves have always inspired decorative designs, including ornamentation found on safes, fire engines, carriages and wagons of the period. Gary Rhodes demonstrated how to recreate that look at many of the early Letterhead meetings in the early ’80s.

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Mike and Darla Jackson operate Golden Studios in Loveland, Colorado, and do a variety of sign-related projects. Mike’s website is His email address is You can see more of Mike’s photos at and