The Disappearing Art of Porcelain Signs

January 19th, 2009

Michael Bruner talks about collecting vintage 20th Century porcelain advertising signs, including country store and automobile-related examples. Mike’s latest book, Signs of Our Past: Porcelain Enamel Advertising in America, is now available from Schiffer Publishing.

Prof Morse Perfector 10c cigar sign c. 1915

I liked to collect things even as a child. Things that didn’t cost anything, like different colors of stones. By the time I was 13, I had collected enough stamps and coins to say that I had a good collection for a kid that age. But at some point I lost interest in them, and wound up with an interest in insulators. I went to some of the insulator shows, and a fair amount of advertising material showed up, mostly from telegraph and telephone companies. That’s a sideline to insulator collectors, not mainstream, but it perked my interest.

There was something about the advertising that I liked, so in the mid-1970s, I started to pick up porcelain signs. I got heavier and heavier into that, and by the 1980s, I had a fairly substantial collection.

As a result of collecting telephone signs, I would run into other advertising specialists, and I started seeing the kind of stuff that other people were buying and looking for and I started diversifying.

I picked up country store signs and petrol-related signs. Eventually those just overpowered the telephone signs. Most telephone signs have limited color and graphics. I saw all the huge diversity that was available in the other type of advertising, and started to focus more on that.

By the mid-1980s, I pretty much converted over to country store and petrol porcelain signs. I sold most of my telephone signs in the late 1980s. I only kept about eight of my favorites, and I still have them.

I have a new book that was released a month ago by Schiffer called Signs of Our Past: Porcelain Enamel Advertising in America. It’s a hardbound edition with about 700 photographs, all different from any of my previous books. I also did a book on insulators called The Definitive Guide to Colorful Insulators.

Collectors Weekly: You’ve traveled around the country and visited with porcelain sign collectors. When did that start?

Bruner: Way back in the ‘70s. I’ve always liked to travel. I’ve been fortunate that I have been able to travel a lot in my life. It’s not all to do with signs. I also play in a band, so lot of the travel has to do with that. I’ve always traveled a lot. Back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, it was mostly by car. We didn’t have the Internet then, and I like to say we did it the old-fashioned way. We had to earn everything that was in our collection by burning miles in our car. I ran into a lot of people and got to see a lot of collections.

I networked myself fairly well back then and got to know people. I saw that there weren’t any books available, so that’s how I got interested in doing a book on petrol signs. I’d done a book on telephone and telegraph signs in the mid-1980s with another friend of mine. The next thing you know, I’m doing these porcelain sign books for Schiffer. I’ve written seven books with them, including my new release, and I did probably four or six books previous to that with private publishing. I’m going to be co-authoring the next book that I do for them, on lightning protection items: the ornaments, the balls, wind vanes, hardware, ephemera, that kind of stuff.

Collectors Weekly: Could you tell us a bit about the history of porcelain signs?

Bruner: Porcelain advertising is a relatively recent art. I don’t even think it goes back 200 years, probably the earliest would be around 1880. None of that was done in the United States; it was done in Germany and some places in Europe, possibly England too. In the U.S., tin-painted and sand-painted signs were popular. Sand painting is wood with a powder coat with a gritty material on it.

Porcelain didn’t come to the United States until the 1890s. The first manufacturer was Enameled Iron Company in Pennsylvania, and then a couple others started to branch off at the turn of the century. We had Ingram-Richardson, which was the huge one in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, and we had Baltimore Enamel & Novelty, which was also a huge company. There were a lot of other companies, but none as large as Ingram-Richardson or Baltimore Enamel.

The United States had to actually import all these techniques from Europe, including some of the labor force. They would solicit people that were versed in this from England and elsewhere, and I have seen several examples of porcelain enamel advertising used to promote manufacturing porcelain enamel. I saw one from around 1890 at a World’s Fair exposition, and it was in German, from a German company trying to get business in United States.

Collectors Weekly: Tell us about the sign-making process itself.

Columbia Records two-sided sign, hung from bracket

Bruner: In the early days, it started with what was called rolled iron. Not steel initially; but rolled iron. Porcelain enamel is nothing but powdered glass that gets fused onto the iron. To get different colors, they would fire a base coat of one color. The stenciling they then did would represent different colored areas, and they would just fire one on top of another until they’d pieced together the entire graphic.

You’d have several layers of firing to make several different colors. The bumpy feel that you would have from one color to another was called shelving, and the powder was called frit. It was like a spray-on glass, and it just got fused.

It really took off because it could be produced relatively cost-effectively if they made a huge quantity. Advertisers were interested in keeping the cost down. Most importantly, the stuff is almost eternal in its longevity if you don’t expose it to an atmosphere where it can develop what we call sickness – acid etching, those types of things. If you took a porcelain sign manufactured a hundred years ago and kept it inside where all the air wasn’t around it, that sign would look just like the day it came off the production line. The qualities of porcelain enamel are just unbelievable.

Ultimately however the cost killed porcelain sign making. It’s labor intensive compared to paint or silkscreen on thin metal. You can’t take a piece of chintzy metal and put porcelain enamel on it. You’ve got to have something substantial or it’ll just fall apart when it’s being fired.

There are still porcelain manufacturers in the United States, about a half dozen of them, but mostly they’re limited to mundane advertising. They do city signs, signs for farms or municipal things, maybe for the Park Service. Boring stuff. The regular advertising market is gone as far as porcelain goes. It’s history.

Collectors Weekly: How did porcelain signs change over the years?

Bruner: The biggest change in the manufacturing technique was changing over from stencils to silkscreens. That was a boom to the manufacturers, and gave them the ability to increase production and cut their costs. Silkscreens are a lot easier to manufacture than stencils as far as labor intensity.

Porcelain signs in this country, at least initially, were pretty boring, and then all of a sudden they started getting really graphic. In the 1890s, they were minimal as far as the coloring went, but right around 1900, they started to blossom into this colorful competition from one manufacturer to another.

Porcelain signs were only one segment of a huge advertising market. There were many other things being made to advertise, most of them paper or cardboard. All manufactured products came in packaging of some type that they would profusely illustrate with their company’s logo or some kind of graphic art. Porcelain signs were basically confined to the medium that had to be exposed to the elements. Whatever went outside wound up in porcelain.

Collectors Weekly: What are some of the most interesting signs from a collector standpoint?

Diecut Butter Krust Bread display sign c. 1925

Diecut Butter Krust Bread display sign c. 1925

Bruner: The list is endless. Every time I start to think I’ve seen it all, something else comes along. There’s no end to it.  The hobby of porcelain enamel advertising collecting is pretty much divided into two categories as far as interest goes: the automobile (which includes the petrol collectors and all that) and the country store collectors. My favorite is the country store stuff. Your telephone sign is a country store sign, and things that had to do with tobacco, which was hugely popular. Paints and varnishes, anything to do with the food industry, those all go under the country store category.

The other one is the petrol, which has to do with automobiles, gasoline and oil. That is a huge part of today’s marketplace. I would guess that the petrol sign collectors outnumber country store collectors two to one. If I had to do this all over again, I might even just collect petrol stuff as far as investment value goes, because those guys are big spenders. As opposed to the country store collectors, who are not quite as competitive.

The stove companies were huge users of porcelain enamel advertising. That was a big part of the American advertising scene. Peninsular was a big one. There’s National with the big stove. We have one right here in Michigan called Round Oak, which used an imaginary Indian chief named Doe-Wah-Jack, and that was a huge business. They did a gigantic amount of advertising and their stuff is just super collectible today because of that Indian chief. His picture is on everything.

Tennessee Enamel in Nashville made a lot of porcelain signs, but their biggest account holder was Coca-Cola. Coca-Cola was probably the most prolific producer of country store advertising. We’re still finding stuff that’s been tucked away in warehouses and is coming out of the woodwork today. Every now and then something fresh will come out that’s literally new old stock. That’s how much stuff they made. But it’s not like the old days. Back in the 1980s, I’d hear stories about somebody who got into a building and dug out 12 new old stock signs. Those kinds of stories are getting real few and far between today.

Collectors Weekly: How many porcelain signs were made between 1900 and World War II?

Bruner: Thousands. But you also have to ask how many copies of a particular sign were made. I’ve got a little bit of a feel for scarcity and rarity. The Internet has given people a more realistic way of judging the scarcity of items. Years ago, before we had eBay, the only way you’d know something was common or not is if you saw another one in person or heard about it. You can just go on the Internet now, and over a period of months, you’ll know if it’s rare or not.

Because of the huge scrap drives, especially World War II scrap drives, most of the signs that were lying around were destroyed. World War I didn’t take as big of a toll on porcelain enamel advertising for two reasons: there was not as much of it up because our country was not growing as much in those days, and most of the products that were advertised on the porcelain signs were still being sold. There weren’t that many porcelain signs that were obsolete. By World War II, a lot of those products had become obsolete. The signs came down, and they would just sit in places. The scrap drive of World War II really took a lot of our heritage away. But, hey, what are you going to do? We won the war.

Collectors Weekly: Do you still see some porcelain signs up on buildings?

Bruner: Once in a while, yes. In my book that just came out, I took a picture of an old Pontiac sign and an old Buick sign at a dealership. The caption goes like this: “California Highway 16 is the main street in Woodland, California. Much to my surprise, these two porcelain neon advertisements were still giving service on a dealership downtown. We had all better enjoy these few remaining artifacts while we can, as this type of thing is almost extinct.” Well, guess what? I went through Woodland, California four days ago and the signs were gone. There’s stuff that’s still up, but it’s disappearing fast.

Collectors Weekly: You have a personal collection of signs, right?

Bruner: I do, probably about 150 porcelain signs. It’s mostly country store because that’s where the thrust of my interest has been over the years, but there is petrol in there, too. I have pretty much always favored graphics. You can have three or four colors on a sign, but if you don’t have a picture or some kind of graphic, it still might not interest me that much.

Harris Oils flanged sign from 1920s

Harris Oils flanged sign from 1920s

I’m more interested in seeing spectacular graphics than spectacular colors. For example, I have what’s called a Brennig’s paint sign, and it’s only two colors: blue and white. After all the years I collected telephone signs, I know what blue and white’s all about – that’s all you see – but this sign has got a graphic of a guy painting the steeple. He’s hanging in the top of the city steeple, upside down from the top of the steeple, because their slogan was on the top.

That sign to me is just killer because of the graphics. Graphics are paramount to me, which is why I got out of the telephone signs. They started to all look the same: same message, same color, same bell. But collecting those telephone signs all those years gave me the tools that I needed to collect the stuff, and they sparked my interest enough to keep going.

Porcelain railroad signs are not easy to come by. I have a couple. There’s a couple out there I sure would like to own, but they’re so doggone expensive and rare that it’s hard to get my hands on them. I have a Union Pacific Railroad shield. It’s about 11 inches tall and it’s made for their trucks. I have a Western Pacific Railroad sign, which is a black and gray and with a big red feather, with Feather River Route on it. Railroads, for some reason or another, were not prolific users of porcelain advertising. There are some, but it’s not like some of these paint companies and stove manufacturers and food companies. Those guys just went on and on.

I have very few highway signs because the only ones I would want are fairly graphic. But highway signs have become very popular. In the 1920s, the California Auto Club made directional signs that were diamond shaped, and those things are going insane right now. If you have one of those and it’s in mint condition, you’re going to look in excess of $2,000 for that sign. It’s nothing but a name of a town with a mile and an arrow, but collectors are going crazy on those. One sign I have is a Pikes Peak Ocean to Ocean Highway sign, which is real nice. It has a mountain scene on it. It’s only two colors, but again, it’s the graphics that make it attractive.

Farm signs are mostly feeds and that kind of stuff. I have a couple of those. Normally, when you see that Red Steer brand, it’s a feed sign that’s diecut with a bag on it and a picture of a steer. I have one that I hadn’t ever seen before that’s manufactured by the same company as the Red Steer sign. It’s the same shape with the bag, but instead of the steer on the bag, they’re selling Swift’s meat scraps, so one side’s got a hog on it and the other side’s got a chicken. It’s just amazing.

I have a few door pushes and pulls. I never made it a specialty of mine, but I know some guys that do have them as specialties. They’re pricey, because they’re rare and they’re cute.

I own one or two newspaper signs, including one from the Detroit Free Press. There aren’t a lot of newspaper signs. The Toronto Star had a lot of signs made for them. In our area here, we have the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press, and they both made porcelain signs. It would say something to the effect of “for sale here” or something like that.

Southern Bell brand diecut sign c. 1950s

Southern Bell brand diecut sign c. 1950s

What’s really caught on is stuff from out West. That’s just huge. If you’ve got something from California, you’ve got gold. There are a bunch of companies that specialized in the West. One of the signs that I’ve gotten recently is called Red Rooster Produce, from a company located in Sacramento. Those guys out West just love that stuff. I feel like I’m stealing it from the West because I’m out here in Michigan, and that sign’s heritage is really from out West. That’s where all its history came from.

I was in an antiquing area called Snohomish, Washington about a month ago, and I got a little flanged porcelain sign. It only has two colors and it says, “Approved and protected by Apartment, Hotel, and Motel Association of California.” As soon as I saw “of California,” I bought it, because those guys just love California stuff and this thing is about mint condition.

Insurance company signs are another area. The most desirable insurance company sign I’m aware of is the one that has the minuteman on it, by Continental Insurance. That was done with a decal process that was fired on, and those kind of images are very desirable. There’s a petrol sign by a company called Conoco that used a fired-on minuteman decal, too. Anytime you have that sign, you have a string of collectors who want it and a lot of dollars that are waiting to buy it. The graphics that are done with the decal process are the most sought-after.

Tobacco and cigar signs are very popular too.  One of the nicest ones that I’ve got is a cute little sign I bought three years ago. I just had to have it, so I traded mine. Anyway, it’s for Professor Morse’s 10-cent cigar. Ten cents doesn’t sound like a big deal, but back in the late ‘10s and 1920s, the going rate for cigars was 5 cents, so if you had a cigar that was 10 cents, you were out of the league. You better have a really good product in order to sell it for a dime. Professor Morse was a company back in the late ‘10s out of Troy, New York. The sign says, “10 cents. The best at any price.” I also have a curved tobacco sign, “Eight Brothers Long-Cut Tobacco, 5 cents.” This is another example of an early, rare sign.

Collectors Weekly: What do collectors look for in a porcelain sign, aside from graphics and the brand?

RCA Corporation sign manufactured c. 1930

RCA Corporation sign manufactured c. 1930

Bruner: There are two-sided flat, one-sided flat, and flanged signs. Then you’ve got round signs or ones that are curved, that kind of stuff. Condition is always nice. The hobby has evolved over a period of years. I’ve always believed in the necessity to preserve these historical artifacts for future generations, so I believe in restoration. I think we owe it to future generations to do that. So I’m looking for the graphics on a sign, number one. If the condition’s there, that’s great. If the condition isn’t there, I’ll have it restored. I’ve got quite a few restored signs in my collection.

If it’s small damage, I probably wouldn’t restore it, but if you have three or four silver-dollar-sized chips out of the sign, especially if it’s into the image area where the main graphics are, that’s when you start saying, “This thing would look a lot better on my wall if it didn’t have that problem.”

I use a grading system from one to 10, and I have my own idea of what number I would give a sign, but everybody’s different on how they interpret things. It’s better to caution on the side of being generous. You always get this paradox between buyers and sellers, too. The seller wants to think it’s great, and the buyer wants to think it’s bad. That’s how the world works, not just in porcelain signs. Make sure you see what you’re buying instead of being blind-sided.

In addition to bullet holes, crazing is a problem with signs, as it is in a lot of hobbies, not just porcelain enamel. It’s common with glass, and porcelain is basically glass. “Crazing” probably isn’t as good of a word as “acid etching,” and that can happen in areas that have bad environments. It can happen from a sign that gets stored somewhere poorly or is dug from a dump. Or from something as simple as grounding. With signs up on steel poles coming out of the ground, because the sign was on the steel pole, it interacted with an electrolysis type of action, where the atmosphere would create acid etching because it was grounded.

It doesn’t get cracks in the porcelain, but it loses its gloss. You get these little specks that happen all over it, thousands of them. You can bring the gloss back if you’re willing to restore it. Just putting a clear coat on the sign a lot of times is all it takes.

Collectors Weekly: Do you collect any porcelain signs with neon?

Bruner: I have one: the United Motors oval sign with neon on it. They’re beautiful but you’ve got to be careful because you can bust the neon. It’s tough to ship, and it’s tough to handle. They’re not cheap. It’s really hard to be handling neon a lot, so I’ve shied away from those signs. Neon goes back to the 1920s. It came into vogue real fast and was hugely popular in the 1930s. It was expensive to make because you’ve got the expense of the porcelain and the neon too. But, boy, did they look great.

Collectors Weekly: Do collectors tend to focus specifically on porcelain signs or do they collect as an adjunct, to go with their other collections?

Diecut Coca-Cola Fountain Service sign manufactured in 1934

Bruner: The specialists in porcelain enamel advertising are the ones that got most of the stuff. I know a bunch of collectors at this point in my life, and some of these guys have hundreds of signs. It’s just amazing. All this is relative to money, unfortunately. It’s not just the want factor. You’ve got to want it, but then can you afford it? Some of these guys I know have bottomless checkbooks. I know one collector in Southern California who’s been doing this for less than 10 years, and he has an immense collection because he’s just had an immense amount of money to spend on this stuff.

I wish I could tell you it was younger people collecting signs, but the sad thing is, a lot of the hobbies that I’ve seen are having a hard time attracting younger people. And I’m involved with quite a few hobbies. Like the insulators. It’s not like the old days where you’d have a slew of teenagers coming in the door at a show. Things are getting pricey. Where’s a beginner going to start? It’s tough.

Some of the bigger porcelain signs can actually be cheaper than the smaller signs, because they’re harder to display. Bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better. Most people want the smaller things. The larger the sign gets, the less people are going to be interested in it. But some things aren’t made in a smaller size, so you’ve got to take what you can get. That’s why door pushes are so popular; you can put them right in the palm of your hand.

Collectors Weekly: What shows and other resources would you recommend for people interested in porcelain advertising signs?

Bruner: There are several really good shows on a regular basis every year. One is the annual Indianapolis Advertising Show, which is probably the oldest advertising show on the planet. A show that I used to go to regularly is the Iowa Gas Show. That’s been going on since the mid-1980s. It’s a wonderful show to pick up petrol advertisements and country store stuff. There are other big shows out West.

In terms of other resources, there’s the American Antique Advertising Association, but keep in mind they cover all facets of advertising. There is no organization that I am aware of that specializes in porcelain enamel advertising in the United States. In England, Christopher Baglee and Andrew Morley started an official club called the Street Jewelry Society, but we don’t have a club in the United States.

Collectors Weekly: Any other advice for new porcelain sign collectors?

Shell Petroleum Co. sign by Tennesee Enamel Manufacturing Co. Nashville, 1931

Bruner: It’s such a complex formula. People have to figure out what it is that they want – like petrol or country store. I don’t know what it is that makes certain collectors go certain ways. This country is infatuated with the automobile, and I think that’s what’s accounted for such a big yearning for petrol signs. If you go to Europe, that’s a whole different story. They don’t have the amount of petrol signs over there that we do. Everything is country store, selling soap, tobacco products, coffee, food products, etc.

Petrol is the largest division of signs, the most prolific in the United States. Maybe somebody would want to start collecting pump plates. In every gasoline pump, there’d usually be a little porcelain sign that would have the brand and the octane rating, and that’s a collectible upon itself. A lot of people collect just pump plates, and they cost a little bit less than some of the other signs in general. There are exceptions to that, but in general they can be bought a little bit less.

(All images courtesy Mike Bruner)

88 comments so far

  1. rajendra Says:

    hi there, I am indo/mughal art collector. Since last few years I am collecting enamel/tin signs. I got few very nice signs. regards rajendra

  2. Todd Cafferty Says:

    any chance i can email you a picture of a porcelain sign that i recently picked up i cannot identify what the advertising is for the sign is a porcelain parallelogram with blue white and red vertical stripes with an eagle bust graphic heavy shelving early piece i was hoping that you had seen or possibly would know i have a very large collection of advertising and cannot pinpoint this piece any help would be appreciated
    Regards,
    Todd Cafferty

  3. O J Thompto Says:

    Golly I’m nearly 80 and just found this site and wow read your story. Nice to find others that are interested in some of the things I love. After I finish reading this I’ll send a coment…Thanks… OJ PS…By the way back some 30 years or more ago I sold an old Phillips 66 sign that hung once on a pole at some Old Gas Station. I’ve collected many sings during my life but this one sort of has a special story. I got it from some gentleman that ran an Antique Shop. He had it outside his building in a back yard surronded by barb wire. I got to know him, would visit now and then and we’d sit on a couple of rocking chairs, visit, maybe telling a few lies etc. I’d always try to buy this old sign cheap since it had bullit holes and had some rust here and there. I really didn’t need it so I’d sort of lower the price. Finally he made me an offer quite low and I agreed. One day a gentleman who was a friend of a friend I was told was going to visit and look over some of my things that I decided to discard. Well he would find things, placed them all together in one spot, and we’d bargain. Well when he asked my price on the sign, I remained quiet for some time, thinking you know. Finally I said well I really guess I’d let it go for $500.00, he laughed. I said very softly, quiet, I know but I bought this sign up in Northern Wis and John Dillenger shot the holes in it. He quickly said, “I don’t want to know the truth, I’ll give you $250. for it. Well thats all for tonight. OJ

  4. Tracy Cook Says:

    I have an old highway sign my grandpa, who worked for the Nevada Highway Dept, had stashed in his garage. I don’t know how to find out what it is worth anyone out there have any ideas? I was told it’s from 1918-1920 its red/white/blue 18″Wx24″L it is porcelain enamel. I can email a picture but heres a written description:
    Line 1: (Red background w/white lettering); Midland Trail
    Line 2: (White Background w/blue lettering); To
    Line 3: Lincoln Highway
    Line 4: (Symbol); a feathered arrow pointing left
    Line 5: Ely 93.6
    Line 6: (Symbol); a vertical line with a diamond shape in the middle
    Line 7: Tonopah 89.1
    Line 8: Los Angeles 476.0
    Line 9: (Symbol) a feathered arrow pointing right
    Line 10: (Blue background w/white letters) Auto Club of So. Cal.
    This sign is in good shape for an old highway sign The only rust is 1/2 of the letters MID in Midland, one bullet hole not effecting any letters, and the two bolt holes used to bolt it to a post. The colors are still vibrant. Any leads to finding out a value would be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks for the space and help.

  5. Ivan Danziger Says:

    Great interview!I’ve purchased one of your books a while back and have been collecting for almost 20 years and was wondering who you could recommend for porcelain restoration? if you could get back to me I would appreciate it.Thank You

  6. Jennifer Kirkland Says:

    I recently came across and purchased a sign and cannot find one like it on the internet. It has an “Ande Rooney’s Porcelain Enameled Advertising Signs” label on the back with information on it. The advertisement is Campbell’s Soups. It has an Indian Boy (baby) sitting on the front with a bow and arrow with a yellow circle behind him. The right hand corner has a Campbells Tomato Soup can and says 12 cent beside it. Background is dark blue. Any ideas about this sign?
    Thanks.

  7. John Rogers Says:

    I have a 16×24 CALOL/ZEROLENE sign, blue, orange, yellow, & white. It says: “MODERN CRANKCASE CLEANING SERVICE” with 2 bears in two circles at the bottom.
    On a scale of 1 to 10 I’d give this double sided porcelain sign an 8. I assume it is rare, as it does not appear on most sites. Does anyone know what this is worth?

  8. William Marsh Says:

    I have an old porcelain sign, It is curved to fit a telephone pole and on top it has a fist with lightning bolts coming out of it underneath it has the word ELECTRIKA and under that it has a skull and cross bones. Any idea where I can find out anything about it or what it is worth. Thank you

  9. Bob Porter Says:

    Gee.I wonder who the guy in southern california could be? Not Dennis G.? But of course it is. Newman is the king of Coca-cola though. Uncle Roy holds his own too, with gas and oil stuff. Even after his massive auction. Lots of other strong collectors out here on the west coast.

  10. Stu Neyland Says:

    I have a large porcelain on steel sign that is comprised of a white, heavy embossed/sculpted frame with 12 small electric bulbs around it. The insert which is bolted on is white lettering in a cobalt blue background reads “NEW YORK CANDY KITCHEN” on the top line, and “LUNCH” in much larger type on the bottom line. The sign is about 5′ 9″ long, and the electrics still work, save one ceramic light bulb base that I can replace easily. It does show some wear, as do most outdoor signs, but is still in very good shape.
    I am going to follow your guides in trying to discern the manufacturer and the date of manufacture.
    If you have any ideas, or would be willing to see a photo, please feel free to email me. I did find “Original Candy Kitchen”; a still operating restaurant in Williamson, NY, and have contacted them also.
    Thank you so much.
    Yours,
    Stu Neyland

  11. Stu Neyland Says:

    I just rummaged through our storage and found the “New York Candy Kitchen Lunch” porcelain sign that I emailed about earlier.
    It is 5′ 10 1/2″ X 34″, and the maker’s name is partially scraped off the inset part.
    It reads: “——-IGN SYSTEM-ELECTRIC-ST. JOSEPH, MO PAT’D
    I cannot find any sign company from that era in St. Joseph, but since I purchased the sign in KC [45 miles south], perhaps the “LUNCH” was in KC.

    Stu Neyland

  12. Dave Childs Says:

    I have a porcelain advertising sign manufactured by Ingram-Richardson (Ing-Rich) which they used to market their signs. It is basically an 8-1/2 by 11 inch sign in Ing-Rich porcelain of a letter on Ing-Rich letter head to “Mr. Advertising Executive” which was sent out to various potential clients to show them the quality work that Ing-Rich could do as well as the benefits of using porcelain signs. It is also signed by Louis Ingram – President. A very detailed sign with fine lines in the letter head.

    It is in excellent shape and was protected from the elements since it was manufactured. It has no major flaws except a very small chip on the bottom right corner. Also, no cracks are present on the sign.

    I have absolutely no idea of the value of this but am pretty sure it is a rarity. No one I know that is familiar with Ing-Rich signs has seen this advertising sign before although they have heard of these porcelain letters being sent out in the 40′s and 50′s.

    I’ll be happy to send in a photo of the sign if you’re interested. Hopefully I can learn a bit more about the value and rarity.

    Dave C

  13. Gene H. Says:

    I have an old “National Trails/Calif. Auto Club sign denoting Northern NM pueblos direction and distance. It has a couple of bullet holes and one 4″X3″ corner of sign is missing, is there any way(besides Ebay), of determining value of it? Thx, Gene

  14. Humberto G. Says:

    I loved your interview. I use to work for CAMEO(California Metal Enamel Company) in the City of Commerce, in Los Angeles County. When I worked there, they were mainly working on making Cali. Freeway signs. But I got to see many beautiful old porcelain signs they produced in the past. I learned a great deal of the process of producing these works of art.

    Humberto G.

  15. john rolph Says:

    I RECENTLY BOUGHT A ROUTE 66 SIGN AND IT IS MADE OF WOOD WITH A MOTOR CYCLE AND THE MAP OF U.S. AND SAYS US ROUTE 66 THE MOTHER ROAD I HAVE SEEN THIS SIGN IN TIN BUT CANT FIND ONE LIKE THIS IN WOOD ANYWHARE ON THE NET. CAN ANYONE TELL ME SOMTHING I PAID $60.BUCKS WAS THAT TO MUCH?

  16. mike marenna Says:

    I really enjoyed this article. rehabbing an old building in new haven ct. I discovered several old porcelain enamel signs all reguarding koppers coke, large one sided 4ft. by 2ft. signs read koppers coke connecticut. smaller signs read koppers seaboard coke. various others. can anyone tell me about them? is this type of sign sought after? thanks in advance for any help

  17. mark cockrum Says:

    I enjoyed the interview! I have a 1 cent porcelain gum machine it is 6 in wide x 28 1/2 long x 4 in deep it has a girl holding a pack of gum at the top and says beech-nut gum 1 cent pepperment flavored always refreshing beech-nut brand chewing gum reg.us.pat.off it is red in color just wondering if you could tell me more about it? possiblely value. thanks!!

  18. Fran Says:

    Hello,
    I just dug out an old pepsi sign from a pool hall in Calif. that my brother purchased, up in the rafters I believe its from 1939 as it is all blue and white no red. how can I tell if this is an original sign and not a reproduction? I really havent seen any signs similar to this one? Thanks any help would be appreciated….
    FRAN

  19. Robert Vanelli Says:

    Wow! What a great article. I just visited your site for the first time and am impressed with the depth and detail of this article.
    I have an old enamel sign from the 40′s that was nailed to the wall inside a garage at my parents house that was purchased in the late 60′s.
    It’s 12″x30″ advertising a now defunct Italian motorcycle company “Moto Parilla” The sign is yellow with navy blue lettering and a red greyhound logo. The sign has some minor rust damage on the back, and some on the front around the holes that were part of the signs’ hanging assembly.
    Is there somewhere I can request an estimate for restoration? Any idea as to its value, for insurance purposes?
    Thanks, and keep up the good work!
    ROBERT

  20. bill royster Says:

    I have an old B+P Korrect shape – Komfort Shoes sign that is flanged for hanging on a building. How do I know if this is a porcelain sign, or just a painted tin or metal sign
    Thanks

  21. richard welch Says:

    I just bought an old Mobil Pegasus double-sided porcelain sign that has what appears to be paint on one side. I’d like to remove it but don’t want to ruin the sign. Any suggestions? Thank you.

    Richard

  22. Kitty Tiner Says:

    I have 2 9 ft doors out of an old grocery store….Royal Crown Cola pushers…many signs Salem cigarettes…Squirt…Kilpatricks bread…great hinges…I’m not a collecter. what would you do with them?

  23. Mike bruner Says:

    Hi Kitty.you can forward photos to me and I’ll try to evaluate what you have……….Thanks, Mike

  24. Mike bruner Says:

    As far as that Pegasus sign goes, dont worry about damage unless you take a chisel to it. You can use most non-acidic solvents, laquer thinner, paint strippers, etc, with no harm to the porcelain. Even SOS or Brillo pads are usually OK. Paint stripper is best to use first.

  25. Mike Collins Says:

    Mike Bruner,

    I have an old goodyear sign from the 50′s. It is very large though. Letters are 42″ high and probably 50 feet in total length. The letters are individual and the winged foot is a two piece design more than six feet across and in excellent shape. I know the larger signs go for less, but I have not seen anything like this anywhere. I live in Wisconsin and would like to find a way of determining its value. Thanks in advance for any of your help!

    mcollins100@centurytel.net

  26. Mike Bruner Says:

    Hi Mike……Well, you figured correctly on this piece. Too bad its value cant be determained by the pound. Anything this size will have limited appeal – and, a limited market. However, their are some folks out there that have large buildings that have an automotive theme. This would be your market. Its tough to figure what this item value is, as I’ve never been involved in the sale of anything this big. It might be worth $10,000 to someone that has a huge display room full of cars, pumps, etc. This type of person will usually have the big bucks to support their hobby. Conversely, it might be worth just hauling it away, as there would be a huge liability in the hauling, preperation, manpower, etc involved in getting this piece displayed. If you can shop it around, you might find that right buyer. Good luck with it…..Mike

  27. Tyler Says:

    I am a young man of 26. I have been struggling to find a line of profession that I love and want to spend my ambitious mind on and signs just happened to be it. I am finding that some of the “Coolest” older men are involved in the world of advertisement and every aspect of collecting it is right up my alley. I have run across a few signs so far but am just opening my eyes to all of the possibilities. I am just about to buy a large amount of porcelain railroad signs and am much more excited about it after reading this article. I am of course from the great state of Iowa and have to deal with the American Picker Craze since they live 20 minutes from me. Enough about me, about the super rare (I believe anyway) Eason Oil Co. sign that I have. Was there many of these made that you know of?

  28. Mike bruner Says:

    Hello Tyler………… Have not heard of the Eason Oil Company to the best my memory, but there are tons of independents throughout the United States. The Value will be determined by the graphics and rarity. Hope its a colorful one, as that’s what gets us collectors wound up. Glad you think us ‘older’ guyz collect cool stuff. My life has been centered around porcelain enamel advertising and the classic rock band I play in. (Rare Earth) Not sure which I cherish more. Anyway, the Pickers show is great to watch, but I’m not sure how much is ‘staged’. I haveseen some great stuff go through their hands, obviously the lost my phone number……………Mike bruner

  29. Tyler Says:

    Thanks for your reply Mike. I have the opportunity to buy one side of the cookie cuter pegasus sign for $1500. I am in this only to resell and make a profit. It is about a 6 1/2 on a scale to ten. Do you think this is a good investment? Approximately what would my capitol be on this sign with the market in eastern Iowa.

  30. Katy Crandall Says:

    My husband found an approximately 4″x6″ Swift’s Pride Washing Powder sign in relatively good shape. Haven’t found as much info as I would like on my own, could you help point me in the best direction? Thanks, Katy

  31. Mike bruner Says:

    Tyler….Might be a good idea to pass on that Pegasus sign. If you are in it for profit only, and it is a 6 to 7 on the condition scale, it seems your already getting up there, but hey, what do I know?

  32. Mike bruner Says:

    Katy…..Thanks for your email. Swifts Pride has indeed been around a long time. The item you have is small….4 by 6 inches. I need to see it to get a feel for what it is, but it sounds like a door push. Also, I’m assuming that it is made of porcelain enamel. Sounds like a fairly scarce item, as I dont recall ever coming across one. Send alond a photo if you have one…I’m always looking to see the rare stuff. Thanks

  33. chuck Says:

    On the American Railway Agency porclean signs I was wondering just how rare they are. I found on the internet that the American Railway Agency merged with another company in 1929. Would $500.00 be a reawsonable value asthey are in good shape with maybe two quarter size dings on them

  34. Mike bruner Says:

    Hello Chuck. I think you have found some gold with your American Railway Agency sign. I have not seen this particular piece, and would think its quite rare. Would love to see a picture of it. Without looking at the piece I would guess that $500 would have you doing just fine even considering the damage you described. I tried to locate any information on this company on the internet, but not much luck. Anyway, glad to see new rarities are still out there. Thans for writing………Mike Bruner

  35. Charles Burrell Says:

    Is there a company who continues to make custom Porcelain Signs as advetised by Ande Rooney?

  36. Paul Ericson Says:

    Hello Mike….what a wonderful and informative site you have! I have found what may be a rare sign while working on a delivery truck a few years ago in Southern Illinois. It is a Feeds From Falstaff sign with the registered Falstaff Beer trademark on it twice. The only research I can come up with I got at a 55 acre swap meet in rural Missouri where I was told Falstaff Beer was going to get into the feed market and ended up selling it to Purina. The sign it-self measures 11 3/4 by 23 3/4 inches and is in very good shape considering it’s age. I am wondering if I have found something that is rare, what it might be worth and if how to find a suitabel collector who would value it…..Thanks for an excellent site…..Paul
    and

  37. Rodney Cook Says:

    Hi, I’m trying to find an Evangelical United Brethren Church roadside sign. This sign was used from 1940s until 1068. The sign was posted at the entrance of the town next to the road along with other church and civic organizations signs. The sign had the following information on them:
    1) The name of the demomination: Evangelical United Brethren
    2) Symbol of the demomination
    3) The name of the church such as First Church, Grace Church or Christ church
    4) The street name that the church building is located on
    Been trying to buy one of these signs. I grewup in this demomination.
    Email: landr00@verizon.net

  38. Linnea Davidson Says:

    I have a Continental Fire Insurance porcelain sign I have had for years. Depicts minute man. There is a chip between the “E” and the “W” on the word New York on the bottom and chip at lower left of sign..about 1 1/2 and 1’2 inches. Dimensions: 12 x 18 inches. White background with dark blue printing.

  39. Mike Bruner Says:

    Hi Charles…….There are several porcelain enamel sign manufacturers throughout North America. These companies are producing mostly agricultual, industrial and municipal signs, so don’t get too excited that you might find much in the way of old time graphics. Take a look on the internet to locate some of them…….Thanks, Mike Bruner

  40. Mike Bruner Says:

    Hello Paul. Sounds like an interesting find on that Falstaff Sign. I can’t say that I remember seeing one of these. If you can send along a photo to my email address, I’ll try to let you know a guess as to its age, rarity and value. Contact me at : abbott4girl@sbcglobal.net Thanks, Mike Bruner

  41. Charlie Thompson Says:

    Mike! I have an Red and White EL ROCCO Cigar sign that I dug up! Unfortunately I punched 5 holes in it with my digging iron! Dime size holes and 2 small rust spots and rusty on the edges! Iss it a Rare sign! And is there any value??? Thanks! Charlie T.

  42. Mike Bruner Says:

    Hi Charlie……….Like to see it, as I can’t do too much in the way of value unless I know what that piece looks like. Send me an email with the photo attatched at: abbott4girl@sbcglobal.net Thanks……..Mike

  43. ned wigley Says:

    mike,
    I have a porcelin sign advertising Kelvinator appliances. It is 6 foot wide by 2 foot. It has an indigo blue back ground with yellow letters. Mfg. by artkraft. transformer made by SOLA ELECTRIC. can you tell me when these signs were made? Thanks Ned

  44. Jim Jordan Says:

    Hi, been into antiques since early ’90′s but only recently focused on advertising signs and have been trying to find out how to detect reproduction easily and have observed that the newer looking signs have the grommets in the corner holes and the defintely old signs don’t, what time period did the grommets become popular and is this one thing to look for ?? Ebay is chuck full of NOS descriptions, can there possibly still be that many NOS signs available or are alot of them reproduction ?? Many thanks and good luck to you. Jim

  45. Mike bruner Says:

    Hi Jim….OK……..In response to the question about Grommets, this is certainly one of several criteria that I would use to authenticate a porcelain enamel sign. They have been produced for over a century to help protect the porcelain against chipping from someone that can’t tell when to quit turning a fastener. The grommets are normally found in a grey color metal, with signs of discoloring and age. The large two sided hanging signs will normally have large holes, only at the top, of course, but most of the time these will have brass grommets. Unless you are looking at an Ing-Rich Volcano Hole piece, every hole would normally have a grommet. This does not mean it’s going to still be there after 80 or more years. Use the appearance of the grommets to help you identify the age of the sign. If there are no grommets to check out, the just move along down the road to another feature that might help. Now, concerning reproductions…..we could be here all night. This is a field that is still evolving – unfortunately, and I’m not able (or is anyone else for that matter) to keep up with what is being produced. Although there is still a limited amount of NOS (new old stock) items still surfaceing today, I believe most of the ones that come to market today are ‘has beens’ that were discovered years ago and have been in a collection that is being dispersed. You can always ask the seller for some ‘lineage’ (history) behind the piece. Good luck to you & happy collecting Jim…………………Mike Bruner

  46. Warren Williams Says:

    Mike , I have a three pc. PPG. Paint Sign black 2” border white back ground in very heavy porcelain with raised letters in colors -red , yellow , orange , green , dark green , blue , dark blue , and violet or purple , {{ Mfg.Porcelain Metal Products — Carnegie, Pa. }} size of panels two 56 ” one 42” with a height of 22” estimated weight 50 – 60 lb. I have had them inside covered about 50 years or so estimated Mfg. 1929 HELP !!!!!!!!!!

  47. mike bruner Says:

    Hi Warren………….Not sure how you would like me to proceed with this response. You can contact me directly at abbott4girl@sbcglobal.net if you like. You need to get me a photo of these sections so I can get a better idea as to what you have.. Thanks………………….Mike Bruner

  48. Warren Williams Says:

    Mike , have sent photo og PPG Paint sign but wasnt sure if you received them . Thanks WARREN

  49. Mike bruner Says:

    Hi Warren……..Did not get any photos yet……….Mike

  50. Bob Seedhouse Says:

    Hi Mike, I have the old Cities Servise Aviation Products …Airplane mechanic on Duty with the US Mail plane, Pitcairn Mail Wing sign. I want to know if it is real – I did purchase a for-sure reproduction to see differences. Both are exactly same size, 10 x 14 with black border, 4 eyelets holes (missing gromets in the ‘original’). The one that I think is original has a bit more edge wear and small amounts of rust and the color of green is just a shade darker. I was told by one person that the way the porceline was poured on my ‘original is the key – Where the repro has a perfect porceline back, the original actually has faint lines showing the direction of the pour AND some small black specs where is was not a perfect mixture. What would be your opinion? I can send photos is you like. I know you cannot tell for sure unless it is in your hands. And IF it is original, what kind of value could it have? Thank you very much for your time ! Bob

  51. Mike Bruner Says:

    Hi Bob, Well, might be best to be in a sitting position before you read this. First, The Airplane sign sounds like the fantasy piece that is being made to this day. The size is about right for one of these, for sure. I can’t say with certainty , but just by your description it sounds like this fantasy sign. I’m not familiar with the Pitcarin sign, but because it is the same size as the Airplane sign, I’m guessing its another fantasy sign. I’d need front and especially back side photos of these signs to tell for sure, but I’d guess that the photos would only re-confirm my opinion. Your friend that was trying to be helpful is going down the right street – but the wrong direction. Yes, there are lots of little things that can help judge a signs authenticity, but not what you have been told. There id no ‘direction’ of pour for porcelain, and this business about black specks in the ‘mixture’ is not accurate as well. These ‘specks’ only show up as a result of ‘overspray’ and were not in the mix. I’m betting that both of these signs have their porcelain about as flat as an ice skating rink, and that there are nice brass gromets in the four corner holes. If you like, I’d still love to have some photo’s just so I can put my money where my mouth is. Hope this is not too bad of news. I was at an auction last week and watched some poor fools that thought they knew what they were bidding on was original, and they spent $1100 on a sign that can be bought today at one of the novelty stores for about $19.95. Keep your wallet shut unless you know what you are bidding on. Do not make the mistake that the auctioneer is going to ‘screen’ his items for authenticity. That’s a laugh. There are auctioneers that don’t sell repros, fantasy items, etc. but you need to knowyhis OR know your abilities to spot the garbage BEFORE your money comes out. Again, send some photos if you like. My email is abbott4girl@sbcglobal.net………..Thanks for listening. ………Mike Bruner

  52. Shirley Wendling Says:

    I have a sign 40″ x 28″ that, I believe to be porcelain. It is a 2 sided sign stating at the top radio tv hi-fi. The center states Service in large type with a box to the side that says RCA electon tubes. It is white with red & black lettering. Can you tell me anything about this sign and its value. Thank You

  53. James Abbott Says:

    Mike I have 2 signs I would love to have some help with. First is a Lawerence Barrett cigar sign curved porcelain. I have never seen another like it. Ihave learned Lawrence barrett was a NY stage actor early 1900s. THE second sign I just recently learned might be from mid to late 20s. It is feed sack shape ,porcelain 2 side featuring gold medal feeds. apx 22” x 36”. Barrett is 19×32 blue bkg oarnge and yellow convex letters and a portrait of barrett. Feed sign is orange and blue on white. Any help would be greatly appreciated!

  54. Mike Bruner Says:

    Hello Shirley…………. From your description, I don’t believe I’ve come across another of these Signs. The ‘box’ you speak of either means the words are in a boxed off area of the sign, or there is actually the graphics of an RCA box pictured. Not sure which you mean. As usual, without seeing this sign I’m not positive of what you have, so you need to send along its graphics to me in the way of an email photo. You can reach me at abbott4girl@sbcglobal.net. Also wanted to let you know that RCA did a HUGE amount of porcelain enamel advertising overseas, and its possible you might have acquired something not intended to be used in the United States. Again, I’d be able to make a call judgement on this if I see the graphics. Hope to see some pix come my way. Thanks for writing…………..Mike Bruner

  55. Warren Williams Says:

    Mike , Thanks for the help on the PPG Sign and I do understand where you are coming on the estimated price . Thanks again Warren Williams

  56. Robert A. Burnor Says:

    Hi, I found a large GOODRICH SILVERTOWN WARRENSBURG GARAGE sign and a white & blue PUBLIC TEL. LOCAL LONG DIST. sign while diving. The Warrensburg I believe is a one of a kind due to the name. Can you give me any info and prices for these? Thank you for any help, Robert

  57. Mike bruner Says:

    Hello Robert, The Goodrich Tire sign sounds unique. I have seen many Goodrich signs through the years, however the one you have apparently was able to have the local distributors name. I’m wondering if the sign was manufactured with an ‘open’ area so that the local business name could simply be added by using a stencil and some spray paint. This has been the case on many tin and some porcelain signs through the years. Without seeing any photo’s, I’m only guessing exactly what you might have. As far as the Local & Long distance sign is concerned, I just can’t imagine you were just ‘driving along’ and discovered one of these in service. Some of the more contemporary ‘independent’ telephone signs used printed wording, as such, with no logo or graphics, but to find one of these today, in 2011, would be quite amazing. I specialized in telephone signs years ago, and I pay particular attention to them, as they still hold a special place in my heart. This early collecting specialty gave me the foundation to go on to bigger and better things down the road. If you can, send along to my email address some photos of these signs. That would go a long way in helping me be able to give you a ballpark price in the marketplace. You can reach me at abbott4girl@sbcglobal.net Thanks, Mike bruner

  58. Jennifer Says:

    Hello, Mike:
    This article is really great- I’ve learned a lot about the advent of the porcelain signs. I’m researching the topic because I’m trying to help a friend restore a “very” worn out Flying “A” metal sign- he’s up here in Portland, OR, where it is very wet and rainy. It’s about 25 inches from what I can gather on similar ones on Ebay? At first I was sure it was paint since it has, for all intensive purposes, flaked off, and you can barely make out the design. But now I’m doubting removing all the paint and painting the design all over again in acrylic? If it were porcelain, I doubt it would have flaked apart, right? Anyhow, would you have any recommendation on restoring it? Any precautions or words from the wise are definitely appreciated- hopefully this great graphic will adorn the shop once more?

  59. Mike bruner Says:

    Hi Jennifer……….OK…..Here’s what to do………….Don’t touch it! Unless you have the experience of a restoration specialist, you will lower the value of the sign. I’m not exactly sure which Flying A sign you have, but if it is not porcelain ANY messing around with abrasives, strippers, etc. will harm the finish. A couple of additional things………..You might want to check out exactly what sign your friend has and put a value on it. Not much sense shelling out a lot of time and money for a sign that is not worth the cost of restoration. I’m certainly not suggesting that your friend has a crappy sign, I’m just saying that you can restore anything, but if you’re looking for an investment that should go along with the restoration process, then check out the signs market value before you start. Secondly, if you decide to proceed with a restoration, make sure its done professionally. Nothing worse than an ‘alley’ job. And if the sign is tin, there’s no going back and starting over while protecting the original paint scheme. Good luck! …………. Mike

  60. Jason Howery Says:

    I have an old Interstate Trail sign 12 x 30 aprox white and cobalt one sided . I posted pics in the show and tell but have not heard any response. The only other I can find was found in Iowa in 1956 in fair condition any help ?

  61. Mike Bruner Says:

    Hi Jason…..I’m not familiar with the sign based on your description…..& my memory! I checked out ‘show & tell’ but did not find it. If you like, send some photos to me @ abbott4girl@sbcglobal.net…………….Thanks……..Mike

  62. Jeff S Says:

    Hello all-

    I just came across a Sunbeam procelain sign that is about 54″ tall and 19″ wide, that has the Sunbeam girl on it and is in fantastic condition. It was in my grandmother’s attic with some other ones. This one specifically was colorful and interesting, and says ‘A.A.W. 53′ on the bottom. Could this really be from 1953, and does anyone know anything about these and how much they might be worth? Thanks!

    J

  63. Mike Bruner Says:

    Hi J……..Yes, it looks like the sign is from 1953 based only on your description. However, I’m not so sure its a porcelain sign. Your description also gives me the impression it is painted tin. A good photo of the front and especially the back will settle that question. Funny you should ask about this Sunbeam sign………I just picked up a gorgeous die-cut Sunbeam sign. Apx. 5 feet wide by 3 feet tall. All color with the Sunbeam girl superimposed on a huge loaf of their bread. Too bad its not porcelain! If you have a photo of that sign.I’d be happy to take a guess as to its value. Abbott4girl@sbcglobal.net……..Thanks Mike Bruner

  64. Peter Says:

    Can you check out my Kent County Newspaper porcelain sign? It’s rough, and looks bent at the edge a bit. I read this and saw newspaper signs are rare, here it is http://www.collectorsweekly.com/stories/23975-kent-county-messenger-newspaper-porcelai?in=user if you could tell me if it’s rare and the possible date of orgin, it would be worth the 40 bucks I spent on it.

  65. Mike Bruner Says:

    Hi Peter……..Yes, your sign is made of porcelain, but has a few condition issues. Still a great piece of Kent County, Michigan history. It should date before the 1950′s from the looks of it. As a collectible, its best appeal would be in the area around Kent County. I would think that there would be lots of folks in the vicinity that would plop a $100 bill for it, so from that perspective, you did fine. Mike Bruner

  66. greg deanda Says:

    i have a very unique porcelian stop sign on a brass pedastoll pole and it has California state auto ass’n on it. There is a small brass tag that reads VETABLLE PHILLIPS CARTER TRAFFIC SAFTEY SIGNAL SAN FRANSISCO..it is lighted and a early piece.Stop on front and slotted with light inside and all one piece on back . Can anyone tell me what company this is as i cant find anything on it.

  67. Mike Bruner Says:

    Hi Greg…………Seems like the list of signs that were produced for the California Automobile Association never ends. They were responsible for hundreds of highway safety and directional signs starting in the early part of the 20th century until about the 1940′s. Yor item sounds unusual, to say the least. I can’t tell you much about its lineage, of course, as it is something that I have not run into previously. As far as a value, a photo to my email at abbott4girl@sbcglobal.net would be needed for me to take a shot at it. Thanks……..Mike Bruner

  68. Peter Says:

    Thanks Mike, could you look at another porcelain sign for me? If you go to my profile here on CW (cocacolakid97), you’ll find a “Whitman’s chocolates and confections” sign (I can post a link later if you want). I paid $50 dollars for it, someone told me $75, but I want your opinion. I belive it’s from the 30′s or the 40′s.

  69. Mike Bruner Says:

    Hi again Peter……..OK………I went over to your site and looked at the Whitman’s sign. The one you have is common, and dates to the 1930′s. I’d say you paid right about market, possibly a bit under market for it. Keep in mind that condition is super important on the more common items, as its the one criteria that will keep the price and desireability up there. Your piece is about a $200 item in like new condition. The damage really takes a whack out of its value. On the more common stuff, its really important to buy it in great condition. The more rare items, well, you might wait forever to get a nice example of certain signs, and thats where a good restoration artist should come into play. Mike Bruner

  70. Rich Henderson Says:

    I would like to strip paint from an old Rexall sign. I believe the older signs were porcelain. I cannot find any info on how I should do this and everyone I have asked does not want commit to how I should proceed. Any ideas?

  71. Mike Bruner Says:

    Hi Rich…..Well, most all the Rexall signs were larger size affairs that were made of porcelain enamel on sheet steel. If this sounds like what it might be, then go ahead and proceed with some paint stripper (like Zip Strip) on a very small area and see what happens. If it looks like the paint as well as orange color of the Rexall sign is coming off, then you have a painted sign….definitely not porcelain enamel and wash the stripper off immediately. If the old paint came a bubblin’ up, but not the orange color underneath, then it’s ok to proceed further. Porcelain enamel can stand up to most anything except sanding. Don’t ever go at it with that stuff unless you want to say bye-bye to the gloss. Wear protective clothing with the stripper, the stuff will eat everything – including your skin & lung tissue. Wash the sign off with water, and you should see decent results. Good luck with the project…………………Mike Bruner

  72. Mike Swain Says:

    Mike,
    I have the Flying A Service porcelain sign from my dad and gradfather’s auto repair shop. It was on the shop in Nyack, NY for many many years, and then hung in my dad’s garage. It is in incredible shape, and i was kind curious what they go for? I have never found another one. It is about a 3 or 4 foot wingspan on the A. And is red with white wings and white lettering. Any thoughts?

  73. Mike Bruner Says:

    Hello Mike….. Even though you may not have seen another, I can tell you this item is not exceedingly rare. However, its a highly desireable item to petroliana collectors, and this keeps it out of the view of the public, and into the view of those with sign collections. If it is the ‘normal’ Flying A, it might be valued at anywhere from two thousand dollars or more, depending on its exact condition, and who’s doing the buying. Makes no difference, as it certainly would be money in the bank no matter what you get. Great item to just have ‘laying around’!……………..Thanks for your inquery…………Mike Bruner

  74. Marian Kirby Says:

    Love porcelain signs, even have a couple of your books, wasn’t there quite a large quanity of reproductions signs about 20 years ago? That were made to look real. (not the cheapy repros) And how would “newbies” tell the difference between authentic old ones or those repros now that they a have a little age on them. I believe one of them was a Wrigleys Gum? Thanks

  75. Rick Says:

    Hey Mike. I Just posted pics of my LUNCH sign in the show and tell Gallery. It is two sided and advertizes Wrigleys Doublemint. Have you seen one of these before? Im trying to get a rough date and value on it. Thanks

  76. Mike Bruner Says:

    Hi Marian……………I was wondering how long it would take before this subject came up. I’ll try to make this the condensed version. There have been porcelain sign ‘reproductions’ made for 50 years. Actually, almost all of these items are really what is known as ‘fantasy’ pieces, as there was never a true life original ever made of most any of the bogus signs on the market. About 20 years ago there was a major shake up in this hobby when it was discovered that a lot of the recently discovered signs that entered the hobby were of recent vintage. These items were entered into the hobby from one source, and were all fantasy pieces. These signs were being represented and sold as authentic original items, and their quality was as good as found on signs made 100 years ago. I was right in the middle of all this commotion, and i’ll tell you, it was a shocker for everyone when it was discovered that these pieces were made within the last couple of years. I had purchased at least a half dozen various pieces that were from this grouping. At any rate, the source was exposed, so the flow was cut off, and the individual responsible was no longer able to pass this stuff into the hobby. I believe that there is a fair amount of these items floating around, as every once in a while i’ll find one for sale on the internet. Along with this well made stuff from 20 years ago, there is also a constant flow of items that are currently being produced to fool collectors. These are not nearly as well made as those I spoke of above, but none the less these pieces might fool many amateurs. I wish there was some magic formula to give you so that you could distinguish between all these junk signs moving around in this hobby. Unfortunately, only the eye of experience will provide the tool to pass judgment. My recommendation would be for you to ask a a collector that has been doing this stuff for a long time – especially one that has gone through all that stuff that happened 20 years ago, and there are lots of us around. There is no one formula that the makers of these new signs use, so having the know how from years of being in a hobby is what works best. Ask if you are not sure. And, get a guarantee of authenticity if you can. Most reputable dealers, even those on the Internet will be happy to stand behind merchandise that is authentic. Hope this gets you on the right track……………Mike Bruner

  77. Mike Bruner Says:

    Hi Rick…………..OK………..I took a gander at the lunch sdign you posted on the ‘Show & Tell’ section. Yes’ I have seen this item before, but it certainly is not common. It would date freom the 1920′s or early 1930′s. I love reading comments from other collectors, and one of the folks that left a post was right there price wise with that two thousand dollar range. It possibly might even fetch more, as items that are exceedingly desireable can ‘go the distance’. Thanks for your inquery…………Mike Bruner

  78. ron baxter Says:

    Mike
    I posted a Franklin Fire Ins. steel sign in the Show and tell gallery. I wanted to know if you had seen one . If so what were the colors? I was thinking about restoration. Any info. would be appreciated. Thanks…..Ron

  79. Mike Bruner Says:

    Hi Ron………I see you ‘dug’ that one up! Nice digging. Well, anyway, I have not seen one like this example. Hartford was a huge American insurance company and this example appears to be apx. 70+ years old. Looks like the colors were cobalt blue with yellow letting. Restoration is always an option, but just a word on this one, don’t go too nutz unless you are not interested in making any money on it. I would think restoration might be $200 to $500, based on my experience with this kind of thing. The value of this sign might not make it worth the investment. Good luck with it no matter which way you decide & thanks for sharing…………Mike Bruner

  80. vincent kenyon Says:

    I have a Porcelain sign roughly 3ft by 4 ft from 1940 reads defence plant,part of the arsenal of democracy,made pre attack on pearl harbor,shows a picture all raised of an eagle,tank,boat, and airplain,blue and white background red eagle and red lettering, all raised lettering and raised pictures,in excellant condition. have photos if intrested.These signs are very rare because during ww2 most signs were melted down to help the war effort.And the signs were only issued to plants that dedicated 50% of manufracturing or resources to the war effort.And the sign was hanging in a building that was part of the war effort.

  81. Steve Says:

    After much thought, I’ve decided NOT to collect these signs. There are too many fakes, too many reproductions, too much garbage from India, too many charlatans, too much frustration . . . and the good stuff’s become too expensive. It’s too late to ride this train.

  82. Ken Says:

    Hi Mike, just discovered this nice article. Is there a specific name for the shape of a 3/4 round sign that mounts on a building corner?

  83. Mike Bruner Says:

    Hi Ken…………I believe you are refering to the curved signs that have a specific bracket used for support on a corner wall of a building. Many advertisements were produced through the early years this way, and they simply have become known as ‘corner signs’. Apparently, brewery advertising wound up on most of these, although plenty can be found with other subject matter as well. Getting the original corner brackets can be a challenge, as most appear on the market without their original support. Thanks for your inquiry……….Mike Bruner

  84. Jim Jordan Says:

    Hi, does a green back of a sign tell us anything as far as dating it or the era it came from ?? If it does have meaning does a white back say anything?? Many, many thanks and good luck, Jim

  85. Mike Bruner Says:

    Hi Jim………….OK, well once in a great while there is some variation in the color of the ‘back’ side of one-sided signs. However, green is just bizarre…….definitely not expected & I’m not sure if I can recall ever seeing anything like that. Normally you will get white, grey or black with some variation in shadings between these colors. A white back is mostly what the early signs (pre 1930) will have, but its important to remember that color is probably the least important factor in dating these signs. There are tell-tale features that will be evident in the porcelain & these will be your tool to make a call judgement on a signs age. I alway like to tell people that I don’t need to see the front of a sign to give a reasonable guess as to a signs age. Just let me see the back. You will need to be looking at many older signs to see just what it is that makes them old. Conversely, you will also need to look at many newer signs to see what it is that shows they are newer. The best suggestion is to hang with ‘seasoned’ collectors that hate fantasy items & reproductions (like me) and you will be getting the straight scoop on what to look for in vintage porcelain enamel advertising, older (pre 1930) or newer (1930 – 1960). Good luck to you & I’ll be happy to help you along with any additional issues………………Mike Bruner

  86. Rudy Luna Says:

    I currently work for a city in southern California and we are in the process of changing out some of our street name signs. We have found that we have some in one of our older communities that are made of porcelain, my question is: do these have any value? We been thinking of opening a City store in which we would sell such items and other signs that become outdated or are no longer up to standards. The signs are the box type with the green background and white lettering. Any assistance would be greatly appricated.

    Rudy

  87. Mike Bruner Says:

    Hi Rudy……….Well, base on your description you have some ‘relatively’ modern, but certainly mundane signs. The market is somewhat restricted for these as there is little eye appeal, which is mostly why people collect this stuff. However, there is an entirely different market that has opened up to you. Many people – many that do not even ‘collect’ porcelain signs, are looking for signs that just have a special meaning to themselves personally. As an example, if one of your street signs has their last name, I believe you could have a buyer. Same thing if the sign happens to have a city name. Anything at all might do the trick, and this could be your target market. There is also a fair sized group of people that are interested in these type of signs for their intrinsic folk art value. No matter how you slice it, NOTHING is throw-away, and there is a buyer for anything. I would imagine that California would be a great place to bring this stuff onto the market. Good luck…………………..Mike Bruner

  88. Matt Weber Says:

    Your name was given to me by a local man at a flea market that said he worked with you some 20 years ago. He told me if I need sign info, your the man to go to first. After about an hour searching online for any way to get ahold of you (as he’d long lost touch with you), this is where i have come to. So, hope you still get messages from here?

    My dad recently aquired 3 signs and after scouring the interenet and what local options I have, we have not been able to find any information to figure any real value to them. Two of the signs appear to be porcelain on steel, white background with “Mexihot Hamburgs” in bold black font. These are approximately 5′ long by about 8″ tall. The only results I can find online when looking for this dates to late 1930s and very few of those results show it spelt as hamburgs, instead using hamburgers, so I am assuming it was a german or polish heavy area as they held on to the “hamburg” spelling for longer? Any information would be helpful on these.
    The second sign is approximately 6′x3′. It is a double sided electric sign reading “Resturaunt” on the top line, “Booths for Ladies” on second line. It appears to be lit fully by bulbs and not neon so I was thinking pre-1920? Although I have been unable to find ANY information or even pictures of this sign in use with this specific wording. Can you point me in a direction to find its worth or someone that may specialize more in this style of sign? I have limited pictures of each sign until my dad brings them over at which point i can get more in depth pictures.


Leave a Comment or Ask a Question

If you want to identify an item, try posting it in our Show & Tell gallery.