Eagle Signboard

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  • Artist: Unidentified
  • America, New England (prob)
  • 1821-1841
  • Oil on panel
  • Gift of Juli Grainger
  • 2008.707.1

Nineteenth century signboards usually combined symbols and texts, but many lacked wording altogether. Strictly pictorial signage was far more effective than present day travelers and shoppers might imagine. Inns, taverns, and other businesses depended heavily on word of mouth. Anyone who needed this proprietor's services or goods would have been directed quickly and readily to "the sign of the eagle." Business owners' names usually appeared in broadsides and newspaper notices but often ran last, in small size typeface, almost as afterthoughts, with primary focus being given to the businesses' symbols. Wordless signage had a distinct advantage, too: when the business changed hands, costly re-lettering was unnecessary. The eagle sign does bear an alteration, however. The date at the bottom once read "1821." For whatever reason, the operation's 1841 owner must have wished to signal a new beginning.

Obviously, the owner of the eagle sign was a patriot, proud of that fact, and eager to attract a like-minded clientele. A spread eagle bearing a striped shield on its chest was the central motif of the Great Seal of the United States of America adopted in 1782; rapidly thereafter, the image gained recognition as a symbol of the new nation. As in many other cases, the eagle here is surrounded by thirteen stars standing for the original thirteen colonies.

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