A Wonderful c.1940 Hand Painted Fairground Booth Sign; “Gipsy Smith Romany Palmist”


Origin: English
Period: Early/Mid Twentieth Century
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1920-50
Width: 14.75 inches
Height: 30 inches   

The thin board ebony ground sign with gold hand painted script advertising the palmist and clairvoyant Gipsy Smith, an original Romany gipsy, survives from the second quarter of the twentieth century, the sign reading “Gipsy Smith Romany Palmist, Your Councillor & Friend ~ if you are not afriad (sic) to face facts reading will enlighten you on matters which at present may seem to be dark and ~ doubtfull ~.

The condition of the artwork proves delicate but stable. There are sections of loss to the left flank but 90% of the writing is still readable and has survived with some natural green patination to the gilt lettering. There is the old, probably original, wire hanger to the reverse for display. She remains in as found order therefore un-cleaned and untouched.

An extract from “Worktowners at Blackpool: Mass-Observation and Popular Leisure in the 1930s” reads “There are two Gypsy Smiths in Blackpool and both claim to be the real Gypst Smith….the first age about 55, untidy short brown curly hair and wearing a bright orange knitted jumper with an enourmous blue enamel silver brooch. She has her booth behind a shop window… and Gypsy smith no 2 has a booth on central beach  behind a mass of stalls hidden away, a dirty blue striped beach tent. Outside a notice saying “Step inside and consult the real Gypsy Smith, Romany Palmist”…Inside two chairs and an orange box. This Gypsy Smith is a tall dark woman, 50, very black eyes, brown dress and black coat, shabby, red silk hankerchief round neck. A gild necklace,  very thick gold wedding ring.. she said after I gave her a shilling ‘Cross your hand that way to take away bad luck, cross your hand this way to bring good luck. Now you didn’t wish for anyone else’s wishes, did you, love? Well, what you wished for will come tru and sooner than expected. You make up your mid very quickly and act accordingly. Well, next time you have to make up your mind it will be a very important decision. Do just what your heart tells you. That will be the right thing and don’t let nobody interfere. There’s a man a shade darker than you, and you’ve had a lot of difficulties to contend with to bring you to him. But you’ll be together sooner than you expect. There’s a small amount of money coming to you. You’ll have to sign papers for it. You’re never going to want and you’re going to live till a ripe old age’.

There is of course no guarantee that this sign is from one of these booths but it is quite likely. There is also a photograph that can be found online by Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972) of a palmist named Gipsy Smith taken in 1966.

Romanies come with a rich cultural heritage, and with a language of their own. The language stems from Sanskrit, an Indian language spoken on the Indian subcontinent in the 9th Century. Anglo-Roma Gypsies are now recognised as an ethnic minority under the Race Relations Act. The traveller identity centres on the nomadic lifestyle, living on traveller sites around the country. Traditionally, Gypsies worked at seasonal farm work, picking fruit, flowers or hops. One element of Romany education centres on teaching the girls palmistry and fortune telling, many following in their ancestors' footsteps, working in the booths that their grandparents worked in.

This is an important survival within that rich history and not only proves to be hugely decorative artwork but also a welcome nod to the eccentricity of the English in their leisure time.