The Painted Ad is a long time project of author Wm. Stage, who enlisted the help of his daughter Margaret to create the book. The site continues their work.

If you are interested in contributing images or stories, you can contact them at:

P.O. Box 4932  St. Louis MO 63108

Voicemail: 314-567-8697

You may email Wm. Stage at wm4932@yahoo.com or Margaret Stage at margaretstage@yahoo.com.

Unless otherwise noted, all images and photographs contained in these web pages are copyrighted by Wm. Stage. The low resolution jpeg images used on this site may be freely used for non-commercial purposes provided that photographic attribution is given. If you want to obtain larger versions of these pictures, please contact Wm. Stage at the addresses above.

Author Bios

In a checkered life, Wm. Stage has been a tree trimmer, ambulance driver, public health officer, process server and newspaper columnist. He is a Vietnam-era veteran of the U.S. Army Medical Corps, and in 1991 he was called to active duty with the U.S. Air Force Reserves during Operation Desert Storm. In 1972, he began natural history studies at Thomas Jefferson College, the now-defunct “hippie college,” located on the campus of then-Grand Valley State College in Allendale, Michigan; he graduated four years later with a Bachelor of Philosophy degree, the same degree awarded every student attending TJC. In 1978 he was recruited by The Center For Disease Control, Atlanta, and assigned to the St. Louis City Health Department as a public health officer. During daily forays into the old and “brickified” city neighborhoods, seeking those exposed to venereal disease, he became interested in wall signs. While in the field, he began carrying a 35 mm. Pentax, eventually compiling an impressive collection of images which led to the publication of his first book, Ghost Signs: Brick Wall Signs in America [1989]. Soon after arriving in St. Louis, he began to moonlight as a feature writer for local publications and, in 1982, he left his position with CDC to devote himself to journalism and photography. He has taught feature writing at the Defense Information School, Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana; and photojournalism at Saint Louis University School for Professional Studies. Presently his commentaries may be heard occasionally on KWMU-FM, the NPR affiliate in St. Louis. His other books include Mound City Chronicles [1991]; Litchfield: A Strange and Twisted Saga of Murder in the Midwest [1998]; Have A Weird Day: Reflections and Ruminations on the St. Louis Experience [2003]; Pictures of People [2006]; The Practical Guide To Process Serving [2007] ; Fool For Life [2009]; and The Painted Ad: A Postcard Book Of Vintage Brick Wall Signs [2011], co-authored with his daughter, Margaret. Wm. Stage lives in St. Louis with his wife, Mary, and their eight girls.


Margaret Stage is a Freshmen at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, majoring in Liberal Arts. From 2005 to 2008, under the instruction of her father, William, she helped write, edit, lay out, and distribute Black White & Read All Over, a monthly for-profit publication distributed in St. Louiss Lafayette Square neighborhood. For The Painted Ad she chose and assembled the many images vying for consideration. Her judgment was essential to the look and feel of this book.  Margaret’s interests include music, drawing, movies, and travel. She has sampled the beaches of Cape Breton Island, the Bahamas, and Lake Michigan; gone four-wheeling in the mountains of Idaho; and walked up and down the hills of San Francisco.


Review Excerpts from Ghost Signs: Brick Wall Signs in America –  Wm. Stage 1989

“The richness of this book lies in the quality and variety of images and the abundance of typographic solutions found within the painted signs … It should be required reading for those interested in the history of visual communications.”
Society For Commercial Archeology NewsJournal

“Stage has gone from St. Louis to Peoria, Portland to Philadelphia; he has consulted with such specialists as Harley E. Warrick, the sole remaining Mail Pouch sign painter; and he has gathered an impressive compilation of the fading relics.”
American Heritage

“ … a delightful focus on a slice of visual Americana.”
— Carl Rohrs, Editor, Friends of Calligraphy Newsletter

“His images capture the poetry of gentle decay; ruins in the making, source material for the commercial archaeologist.”
— Mike Jackson, President, Society for Commercial Archeology

“Fascinating insight into this facet of American history…”
— William J. Murtagh, former keeper, National Historic Register

“Stage not only photographed numerous fading (and almost new) brick wall signs, he also talked to the sign painters, a breed as hardy and colorful as the paint that’s withstood years of scouring weather.”
—  Fred D. Cavinder, “Main Street Indiana” column, The Indianapolis Star

“Ghost signs are the wall signs of a lost civilization — America’s early supergraphics.”
— Arthur Krim, founding member, Society for Commercial Archaeology