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1930 Harold Middleton bought the Mack Sign Co. for $75. His son, Bob Middleton,
writes in 2004: "The owner of Mack Sign before 1930 didn't work outside the sign shop,
he was strictly a commercial sign painter. ( store front signs - paper signs - show cards
etc. ) The shop was in the Inwood section of Manhattan on Broadway & Academy St.
My father did everything but preferred outdoor sign painting better. (Better prices and
Mack Sign Co. (also at times called Mack Outdoor Advertising) produced 2 of the
most beautiful signs remaining in midtown New York. These are
Cutlery and Necchi Sewing Machine, both featured prominently on 14to42.net.
The Griffon Cutlery Sign was painted in the late 1930s or early 1940s.
The Necchi sign was painted in 1951.
The material on this page was provided by Bob Middleton, who took over
the company in 1971 when his father Harry Middleton retired.
The original owner of Mack Sign Co. appears to have been a man named Julius Senn.
earliest listing for a Mack Sign Co. appears in the Winter 1927 issue of the New York
Telephone Directory at 139 Dyckman St. (Julius Senn "signs" is listed at the same
address.) Why Senn chose this name is not clear, but the business now called Mack
Sign Co. moved in 1929 to 4844 Broadway (2 doors from Academy St.).
Julius Senn and Joseph J. Paladino had a sign painting business at 562 W. 168th St.
in the mid 1920s called Senn & Paladino. Paladino also ran the Art Sign Co. at the
same address. The Art Sign Co. on W. 181st St. from around 1912 had previously
been owned by Peter Radicchi (1892-?) at 502 W. 181st St. (from 1917 to 1925).
And it was this business that Harry Middleton bought for $75 in 1930.
Harold Sylvester Middleton (1902-1979) appears in the US Census for 1930, age 28,
"Sign Painter, Own Store," living at 57 Vermilyea Ave. with his wife Charlotte and two
children: Loraine age 4 and Harold age 2. Harry Middleton "started in the sign
business when he was 17 years old in a commercial sign shop in Harlem ... His
first outdoor shop was 'Thomas Cusack'. About 1920 he did some 'Road Work' for this
company up-state New York. This company would give you the addresses, mostly
sides of barns, a few road signs and some walls in small towns. The signs were for
Charles H. Fletcher's Castoria. They were painted with a black background
(Lampblack) and white lettering (White Lead)" (quoting Bob Middleton).
(Click for Castoria sign, ca 1920.)
In 1938 The New York Times announced that the Mack Sign Co. had leased
a 3-story commercial building at 315 W. 53rd St. (22 Sep 1938, p 40).
Sign Co. was located on the west side of Manhattan (mostly in the Chelsea area)
from 1938 until around 1970, when they moved to the Bronx.
The business thrived in the Bronx until 1993 when Bob Middleton, successor to his father,
Middleton (1931- )
Joseph Middleton (1931- ) was Harry Middleton's third child. He started working for
his father in 1950, spent 4 years in the Navy (1951-1955), then returned to spend
nearly 40 years (1955-1993) painting signs in New York City.
Click for image of Bob painting a sign on West 58th St. in 1980.
of Bob's first jobs was a sign for Bendix Washing Machines in 1955.
(Click for Bendix signs).
One of his last jobs was this sign in Hackensack, New Jersey for
Paragon Oil was painted in the East Bronx in 1961.
was even a sign for Mack Sign Co. itself
(Click for image).
This is painted on the side of the Mack Sign Co. shop (3rd Ave. near 136th St. in
the Bronx). The sign was painted approx. 1963. At that time there were "Blue
Laws" prohibiting working on Sunday. The two men on the scaffold are painted as
part of the sign. "A NYC Cop working on Sunday thought he had a couple of guys
breaking the law on Sunday. He walked down to the site from 138th St. to ticket
the two guys but had a good laugh when the two guys weren't moving" (Bob Middleton).
signs for Gibson were designed by Harry Middleton and painted by Bob in 1964.
This was located on the Gibson warehouse in Long Island City on Northern Blvd.
(Click for image).
many many more - like:
Fleischmann's Whiskey - Bowery at Canal St. & the Manhattan Bridge, 1975
Reggie Jackson - Major Deegan, 1978
Exxon (Tony the Tiger) - 7th Ave. just south of Greenwich Ave. Mack painted 20-some
walls for them every year.
Dewar's Scotch - 125th St. at Lexington Ave. 1968.
Tareyton Cigarettes (contract job for Marwin Outdoor Advertising) - approach to
Manhattan Mini Storage - beside Riverside Drive Viaduct at 134th St.
Description For Painting a Wall Sign (Bob Middleton, 2004)
is a rough idea of how some wall signs get painted: I receive the phone call and make
an appointment. I meet the customer and he usually takes me down to the street and
shows me where he wants the sign. The space is from the edge of the building in to
the first row of windows and from the top of the third window down from the roof to the
bottom of the fifth window down.
go to his office and he gives me the copy and logo if any. He calls the building super
who takes me to the roof to measure the space. I measure from the edge of the
building in and measure down to the top of the third window down. Then I measure
to the bottom of the fifth window down, and subtract the difference. I also check the
surface and the rigging, also what's under the sign. If the sign is over a parking lot, I
find out whether they will move the cars, or if I can cover them and if there is any charge
this case the area to be painted is 18' wide and 28' deep. It's important to have the right
dimensions because everything is done by scale. I draw a paper layout: 9 in. wide by
14 in. deep. This is 1/2" scale - i.e., one inch on the layout to two feet on the wall. On
the layout I draw with pencil the copy and/or logo, indicating the size and design of the
letters and shapes. I also indicate the colors.
(Examples of layouts, click image to see larger size)
make a copy of the layout, and type out a proposal for the customer's acceptance.
It usually reads like this:
entire area indicated on the layout will be scraped and wire-brushed to remove any
loose and chipping paint. The area will then be painted with a heavy coat of blocking-out
white and finished with a second coat of Ronan's Bulletin Enamel in colors indicated
on the layout or in other colors of your choice. All work is covered by Compensation,
Liability and Property Damage Insurance, covering the scaffold work. We are affiliated
with the A. F. of L. Local 230 - Sign Pictorial and Display Union. Complete $xxx.
(Click for example.)
the customer accepts the price, I arrive the first day with the following equipment:
1 set of 75 ft. Falls (Falls are the 3/8" Manila rope block & tackle)
(2) 1 set of Hooks (the Hooks are made of steel and fit over the coping to hold the
falls and scaffold)
(3) 2 Life Lines (they are 3/8" Manila rope and long enough to be tied to something
stationary on the roof and to play the end over the wall to the roof (or ground) below.
(4) 2 Tie Backs (also 3/8" Manila rope. One end is tied to the hooks and tied
back to something stationery on the roof for safety.
equipment goes to the roof. The hooks are bolted to the double block of the 75 ft. falls
and played over the coping and set in place for an 18 ft. scaffold. The hooks are then
tied back and secured, and the ends of the two life lines are also secured and played
over the coping and set approx. 6' in from each hook.
that we have been given access to a lower three-story building adjacent to the wall to be
painted, we unload the following equipment from the truck, and a man goes to the roof of
the lower building. From there with a pull line he pulls up:
One 18 ft. Scaffold to the lower roof. (My scaffolds were always made of wood.)
(2) One 18 ft. Wooden Guard Rail (looks like a 2"x4" and will be in back of the
(3) Kick Boards (1" x 5" x 18' long boards that are placed to keep any paint or
other objects from sliding off the scaffold.)
(4) One Center Iron. (The center iron is in the center of the scaffold and the
guard rail goes through it and is also bolted to the back bottom of the scaffold.)
(5) Two Iron Stirrups. (The stirrup slides onto the scaffold appox. 18 inches in
from both ends and secured to the scaffold. The single block of the 75 ft. fall is
shackled to the stirrup.)
are now ready to pull the scaffold up to the third window down from the roof where the
sign starts. After we pull the scaffold up to the window one man holds both King lines
(the King line is the single line you pull up or lower with), and a hitch is made in the stirrup
to hold you in place while you work. (Very important!)
man puts on his safety belt, ties off the scaffold (a hitch made at the stirrup that
will bind the falls in that position) and spreads the rig cloth (24" wide x 18" long) on the
scaffold flat up to the wall to catch any paint drops.
The second man passes out two 5-gallon cans of fast drying Blocking-Out white,
half full with two 9" rollers, a 3" brush, scrapers, wirebrush and a plumb bar.
paint the 18 ft. wide x 28 ft. deep panel with blocking-out white, and then pull the
scaffold back up to the window where we started and remove these cans of paint .
go to the truck and get our Layout, Colors, Brushes, Chalk, Charcoal Sticks, Snap Line,
Plumb Bob, Six Foot Extension Ruler, and proceed to layout the sign. The letters,
logos, etc. are first outlined with the charcoal sticks. This sign is all
white lettering and black background. The measurements for lettering, space between
lines or any logos you can get from the scaled layout. The Scale for this job is 1/2"
(1/2 inch on the layout = one foot on the wall). This job, depending on the weather
conditions is appox. two to three days. All bulletin enamels are made not to run into
one another. Also they set up fast, so after you layout your first line of lettering your
helper's job is to fill in the white letters and feather the white paint up to the charcoal
line. The Mechanic (chief painter) cuts in the letter with black and the helper fills in
the remaining black background.
you finish the job, you drop the scaffold to the lower roof, the helper goes
to the roof and lowers the falls and hooks and all tie backs to the lower roof. The
Mechanic coils up the falls and the helper returns to the lower roof. We get set to
lower everything to the street level except the paint and brushes. We carry them
down to the street.
- This is how it started out but work procedures changed in time.
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