In France shop signs served as house numbers until the French Revolution. The first signs appeared in the early 13th century and were coat of arms. Carved above the main entrance door, they indicated private houses or mansions.

shop sign, teashop sign
Sign advertising a Salon de Thé - Tearoom

Inns and hostels soon followed the example so that their provincial and foreign customers could find them easily. The use of signs increased during the 14th century to become common a century later when every house, inn, restaurant, hostel and shop had its own.

Made of painted metal sheet, they were as large as possible to draw attention and advertise a specific trade and were hanging at the end of a metal or wooden pole.

Coat-of-arm carved above the entrance door France
Coat-of-arm carved above the entrance door

Shop and house signs became so popular that their overwhelming number eventually became a problem. Not only did they darken the narrow and busy alleys of our medieval towns, cities and villages, but they were also noisy and dangerous as they threatened to fall at the slightest gust of wind.

French potter shop sign
A Master Potter advertises his trade

It was not until the mid-18th century that these hanging signs were banned and were replaced with painted boards placed on the facades. House and shop signs then gradually disappeared with the numbering of the houses.

shoe shop sign
The Shoe shop!

But they reappeared in the last decades and shop keepers compete of ingenuity and creativity to produce the most original design. This series shows you some  contemporary signs that are largely inspired by the medieval ones and seem to revive a long gone tradition, they are fun yet elegant, draw attention and represent perfectly the trade they advertise.


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About the author

I am French Parisienne and lived in Asia for nearly 20 years before settling in the UK 3 years ago. I have an interest in everything and every culture and am an avid reader. French linguistics is my "specialty" but I have a passion for history and try to mingle them. Humour is very important to me, I love writing, talking, laughing, exchanging ideas, learning more from others... the world is full of fascinating people! I never leave my home without my camera, there is always something unusual, beautiful or strange to capture. I like to pay attention to details, to the world of the "small", a parallel world if you take the time to look for it...And above all, I love my country of birth, France.