It isn't often that I can present such an iconic piece of Americana as this authentic painted Burma Shave sign. Immediately recognizable to people of a certain age, Burma Shave signs hold a special place in America's cultural consciousness. These signs were immortalized in the 1970's book 'Verses by the Side of the Road.' A true piece of Americana.
Sometime around 1925 - 1927, Clinton Odell, owner of the Burma-Vita Company, was trying to market a new brushless shaving cream he had come up with due to sagging sales of his Burma-Vita liniment. His whole family pitched in to market the new product, but it was his son Allan who came up with the marketing scheme that was destined to change not just his family's fortunes, but the American landscape. Allan had seen series' of signs posted along the road advertising 'gas,' 'oil,' 'restrooms,' etc. with the last one pointing to the 'service station,' and he pitched the idea of posting series' of signs, each with one line of a short poem along the side of a road about 100 feet apart, the last of which would be the Burma Shave company logo. The text generally had something to do with shaving or auto safety, but it was often amusing and always engaging, The signs were painted on both sides so they would read by drivers traveling in either direction, and the idea was wildly successful, a real cultural phenomenon during that time when America's two lane highways were the main routes of travel. I believe there are still a few signs on Route 66 in Arizona. The campaign was discontinued in 1963 when the company was sold to Proctor and Gamble, a victim not just of a change in ownership, but the burgeoning interstate highway system.
This particular board has the Burma Shave name on one side with the appropriate 'Reg. U.S. Pat. Office' visible in red on the streamlined understroke. .. this would have been the final board seen after the poem. The verso displays the words 'Stay Awake,' which would have been the first line of the poem seen when traveling in the opposite direction. Cool.
CONDITION is fairly represented in the photos. This is an old, original Burma Shave sign painted on a board, somewhere between 50 and 85 or so years old, and appropriately weathered,. You can see the holes where it was attached to its stake. There is a sliver broken off the bottom along the length of this sign. Measures 40" long, 9 3/4" on one end and 8 1/2" on the other. Measures 3/4" thick, not a modern milling standard.
An engaging piece of our collective past, these original Burma Shave signs are so very scarce, yes, but also a wonderfully graphic piece of history for display. The Smithsonian owns some Burma Shave signs... here's your chance. Enjoy!
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