Signage & Banners


With their colorful, snarky and humorous appeal, Keen is drawn to advertisements that span recent history in their many shapes and forms. The collection is peppered with a variety of commercially printed posters, hand-painted banners and miscellaneous other signage that complements not only the many other facets of his collection, but also the building itself.



“I got my job through The New York Times.”

A catchy slogan that found itself in subway stations and plastered all over the streets of New York City in the late 60s, it was an attempt to promote the paper’s classified ads section. Conceived by Louis Silverstein, then art director at The Times, the posters featured a variety of professionals ranging from curators to financial analysts who were essentially vouching for the paper’s ability to appeal to everyone.



A rare and unusual banner attributed to Nieman Eisman, a master of the Chicago style of banner painting from the 1920s through the mid-1950s, this circa 1930s-1940s banner conveys the danger of this sideshow act by depicting the performer downing multiple swords from his arsenal, as well as a glowing neon tube.

While sword swallowing is an ancient art, electricity is a potent symbol of the modern age. As soon as the neon tube was invented in 1936, neon-tube swallowing became a sideshow craze. When the stage is darkened, the eerie glow of the neon illuminates the performer’s neck and chest, making it convincingly clear that the sword swallower is not up to any tricks.


Although this banner was not painted for a specific performer, it reminds us of the story of Prince Neon – William Knoll – who claimed to be the world’s first neon-tube swallower. He was also presumably among the first to be injured when, in July of 1936, a two-foot-long neon tube broke inside him just before the electricity was turned on. SWORD SWALLOWER DOES IT TOO WELL, SURGEONS TAKE FOOT OF GLASS TUBING FROM STOMACH was the headline of an item that flashed across the wire. Later on, Knoll “put himself out of business” with neon as we say on the midway. “A Daring Exhibition” indeed.¹


¹ Amusing the Zillion, post dated 4/18/2012 by Tricia Vita.