Ask Torontoist: Signs of Another Time
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Ask Torontoist: Signs of Another Time

Ask Torontoist features questions posed by you, and answered by our elite team of specially trained investigative experts (also known as our staff). Send your questions to [email protected].

David Newland asks:

The August 12, 2010 Photoist shows the Seaton Butcher Shop. Does Seaton Butcher get their hand-painted signs from the Honest Ed’s sign painters? Or is there another source, and if so, what is it? I’m aware of at least one other butcher shop that uses such signs in Riverdale. Is this a Toronto thing, or a coincidence of sign suppliers?

Photo by Andrew Louis/Torontoist.

Torontoist answers:

The answer is no, and yes.
According to Dennis at the Seaton Butcher Shop, the butcher shop uses their own sign painter, not one employed at Honest Ed’s.The artist responsible for the Seaton Butcher Shop show cards (show card is the sign industry’s term for those window signs) displayed in the window is a transplanted Englishman named David Bolton.
And yes, when Ask Torontoist tracked down Mr. Bolton, he informed us that, he, in fact, had worked as an Honest Ed’s sign painter for a couple of years back in the nineties.
Since then, he has taken his brushes, mahl stick, and palette, and now canvases (get it?) for his own work. Today, the Seaton Butcher Shop is just one of Bolton’s regular customers. The hand-painted show cards change about once a month. Another area butcher shop using Bolton’s services is Sunnybrook Meats at 714 Queen Street East.
As far as this being a Toronto thing, assuming this thing you are referring to is hand-painted signs, once upon a time it was common for shop owners everywhere to hire artists to paint signs, sandwich boards, fleet vehicles, and show cards. Currently, a documentary is in production retelling the history of this trade.
With the advent of computer produced graphics, demand for hand-painted signs has diminished significantly. Nowadays, few artists make a full-time living as sign painters. In fact, Joe Alexander, a U.S.-based artist claiming to be one of the last sign painters in America, has written what amounts to be the industry’s obituary.
Coincidently, Joe Alexander got his start here in Toronto. On his website, he praises Toronto as having the “highest average standard of sign painting of any city in North America during the 70’s and 80’s.”
Interested in viewing other samples of David Bolton’s craft? His work can be seen in several locations throughout Toronto. He’s the preferred sign painter of several merchants at the Premier Bazaar. A number of antique vendors in the Roncesvalles community hire Bolton, as does The Fat Olive. Want to hire David Bolton to paint a sign? He can be contacted at 647-250-2741.
Ask Torontoist illustration by Sasha Plotnikova/Torontoist.