Trade Signs and Dummy Boards Workshop for Kids


Signs are everywhere. They identify, direct, decorate, inform and promote. This workshop for children about trade signs and dummy boards will give them a look at historic signs. In Colonial America, trade signs, which featured a literal image of the tradesman’s craft, such as boots and shoes for a cobbler, or a mortar and pestle for an apothecary, hung on stores and workshops. They advertised the service or merchandise available, reaching those who could (and could not) read, with artistry, whimsy and humor.

Museum Educator Lola Chen will be talking with the children about the various trades and their symbols, and discuss dummy boards. Also known as “Silent Companions” they are two-dimensional wooden figures of people or pets painted to mimic the look of three-dimensional carvings, popular from the 17th through the 19th century. Kids will have an opportunity to create their own dummy board. A snack of sugar and spice muffins is included, which the children will help prepare.

Suggested for ages 6 – 12. Members: $10, maximum $25 per family; Non-members $15, maximum $35 per family. Space is limited — please register by contacting or call 203-762-7257. You can also sign up here:



Did You Know?
“American sign practices originated largely in Europe. The earliest commercial signs included symbols of the merchant’s goods or tradesman’s craft. Emblems were mounted on poles, suspended from buildings, or painted on hanging wooden boards. Such symbolic signs were necessary in a society where few could read, although verbal signs were not entirely unknown. A sheep signified a tailor, a tankard a tavern. . . . By the end of the eighteenth century, the hanging sign had declined in popularity. Flat or flush-mounted signs, on the other hand, had become standard.” – National Park Service Preservation Brief on Historic Signs, 1991