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Offering You A Complete Choice Of Products

Large towns where many practiced the same trade, and especially, as was often the case, where these congregated mainly in the same street, simple signs of a trade signs did not provide sufficient distinction. Thus a variety of devices came into existence; sometimes the trader used a rebus on his own name (e.g. two cocks for the name of Cox); sometimes he adopted a figure of an animal or other object, or portrait of a well-known person, which he considered likely to attract attention.

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Other signs used the common association of two heterogeneous objects, which (apart from those representing a rebus) were in some cases merely a whimsical combination, but in others arose from a popular misconception of the sign itself (e.g. the combination of the leg and star may have originated in a representation of the insignia of the garter), or from corruption in popular speech (e.g. the combination goat and compasses is said by some to be a corruption of God encompasses).

Whereas the use of signs was generally optional, publicans were on a different footing from other traders in this respect. As early as the 14th century there was a law in England compelling them to exhibit signs, for in 1393 the prosecution of a publican for not doing so is recorded. In France edicts were directed to the same end in 1567 and 1577.

Since the object of sign boards was to attract the public, they were often of an elaborate character. Not only were the signs themselves large and sometimes of great artistic merit (especially in the 16th and 17th centuries, when they reached their greatest vogue) but the posts or metal supports protruding from the houses over the street, from which the signs were swung, were often elaborately worked, and many beautiful examples of wrought-iron supports survive both in England and continental Europe.

The signs were a prominent feature of the streets of London at this period. But here and in other large towns they became a danger and a nuisance in the narrow ways. Already in 1669 a royal order had been directed in France against the excessive size of sign boards and their projection too far over the streets. In Paris in 1761 and in London about 1762-1773, laws were introduced which gradually compelled sign boards to be removed or fixed flat against the wall.