While there are many types of attractive antique and vintage signs, porcelain signs foremost among them, lighted signs are in a class all their own. Some common varieties include lighted clock signs (perhaps the most widespread type of “practical” advertising), lighted beer signs (great for dark bars), and lighted gas-station signs (the illumination gave them better visibility from the road).
Within the family of lighted signs are neon signs, which were invented in 1910 by a French chemist named Georges Claude. By 1912, the first neon sign was advertising the services of a barber shop in Paris and by 1923 the first neon signs arrived in the United States—they were for a Packard dealership in Los Angeles.
Even during the glory decades of neon signs—the 1920s through the ’60s—the signs were produced in relatively small numbers, making them quite rare today. In addition to car dealerships and barbershops, neon signs were produced for diners, gas stations, and hotels. They were also embraced by major brands from Budweiser to Coca-Cola.
In fact, beverages are one of the most common products marketed with lighted signs. Beer companies in particular have claimed neon and other lighted signs as their own. Some of the most prized lighted beer signs are those made in the 1950s and ’60s, by Hamm’s Brewery. Its motorized, Scenorama signs (also spelled as Scene-o-Rama, Scenerama, and Scenarama) were manufactured by Lakeside Plastics of Minnesota and ranged in size from three to five feet across. In addition to a working clock, Scenorama signs included picturesque depictions of lakes and streams, which appeared to be flowing.
Schlitz’s signs have also achieved some measure of prominence, thanks to the company’s distinctive “Belted Globe” logo. Schlitz produced numerous lighted revolving globes designed for tavern walls; other, more two-dimensional signs simply featured a globe or half-globe in their design.
Lighted signs that doubled as clocks were another good way to attract eyeballs and, hence, spread brand awareness. Illuminated gas-and-service-station clocks advertised everything from brands of tires to spark plugs and oil. Lighted clocks for companies that made wristwatches and other timepieces are also popular with collectors.