Cobalt Blue Sign From the Dawn of Global Banking

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I bought this sign at the Alameda antiques market after noticing it a few months in a row. I’m into old cobalt blue signs, and the topic and typography of this one really caught my eye. “Telegraphic Transfers” sounds cool… like Telepathic Transfers.

Also, the sign tells the story of how global finance sprang from stagecoach companies. American Express was started in 1850 by Henry Wells and William G. Fargo to make express deliveries in and around New York State (when their third business partner objected to expanding westward, they launched  Wells Fargo in California).

On a trip to Europe around 1890, William’s brother J.C. Fargo got frustrated by how hard it was for Americans to get cash there via letters of credit while traveling. So American Express (J.C. was President) solved that problem by creating travelers checks in 1891, differentiating itself from its regional express-courier peers, and becoming a global financial company.¬†This sign is probably from the 1890s, or just around the turn of the century.

American Express was not the only company to go from express deliveries to financial services. The stagecoach companies’ most profitable customers were banks doing transfers. So they were able to learn about the banking business, and move into it.

crop bullet side tighter

I’m not sure which side of this sign I like better. The bullet-hole (or thrown rock) side has a beautiful glossy sheen on the enamel while the other side, though complete, is scratched and duller. It’s hard to photograph cobalt blue signs because in full sun you just get a dark blue, while in indirect light you get more glowing but uneven results. The above photos are in partial direct light to show the range of color.

At the bottom, the sign says “Made in England,” and also “Imperial Enamel Co., Ltd., New York.” This makes it one of the oldest porcelain signs, because Imperial Enamel of Birmingham England was one of the first companies to make porcelain signs in the 1880s. This one seems to have been imported to the U.S. by their local office, probably because American Manufacturers like Ingram and Baltimore Enamel hadn’t entered the market yet.

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