Saturday, August 8, 2015

Ghost Signs – Selz Royal Blue Shoes

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

A ghost sign is an old advertising sign that was hand-painted on the side of a building. Many of these signs are from the 1890’s to the 1960’s. If they have been exposed to the elements for the entire time, they are often very, very faded and hard to read. Painters of these signs were called “wall dogs.”

Some people might prefer today’s modern, digital signs, but Joann and I usually find them annoying and distracting. We much prefer the simpler, old-time painted signs. Future blogs will focus on some of the other ghost signs we have found in our travels.

Some towns also have these old painted wall signs that have been restored, as the sign below, in Iowa, was. It’s nice that the repainted sign is legible, but preservationists are now recommending that the original signs be preserved using new products rather than repainting the signs.

Selz Shoes was a Midwest brand of shoes which had its beginnings in Chicago. The company was founded by Morris Selz in 1871. By the beginning of the twentieth century, they had multiple factories around the Chicago area employing about 1,500 workers, and making 12,000 pairs of shoes per day.

Sometime in the history of the company, the word “Royal” was added to the brand name. Supposedly, this is because the company had been commissioned to make a pair of dancing shoes for Queen Elizabeth when she was young.

Several years ago, in Kahoka, MO., the brick of an old building failed, and the building was demolished. This demolition uncovered a pristine Selz Royal Blue Shoes ad. I planned this as a stop on our spring trip this year.

Unfortunately, shortly before we left, I stumbled on a new picture showing the sign and a new building that had been built just several feet from the old wall ad. Bummer!

Joann and I discussed it, and decided that we should still go and see what we could get for photographs. How often would we have the opportunity to see an original sign in pristine condition?

Selz Shoes had several slogans over the years. One was “The Sole of Honor” as shown on the close-up above, and another was “Selz Shoes Make Your Feet Glad”.

At the height of sales, Selz shoes were sold in almost 20,000 stores. The company was a leader in the shoe trade until the Great Depression. At that time, shoe sales fell, and they were forced to close the factories.

On our way home this spring, we came into a small town in Illinois and noticed a very faded $3.50 and $4.00 sign on the side of an old brick building. Now that we’ve seen multiple Selz Shoes ghost signs, we knew this was originally a complete Selz ad, and now was only a partial ghost sign.

In researching the company for these photos and this blog, we found that the old signs we had photographed in Illinois in 2012 had been repainted. We might travel through again on another trip and take pictures of the restored ads.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse into ghost signs. Look forward to more posts about other companies’ painted wall ads.

Happy Shunpiking!


  1. Thanks for sharing great find! Love those old signs also. :)

  2. My wife and I recently began chipping plaster from a wall in a building we bought to start a brewery in downtown Caddo, Ok and have uncovered a selz sign! Only downside is there were two door casing cut through the wall.

    1. Hi Drew, what a great find! I'm hoping you will also find a way to restore/preserve this historical sign. Thanks for the comment! It's really exciting when old signs are discovered hidden beneath or behind something.