Antique and vintage signs are highly sought after by collectors for their beauty, enduring historic value, and because they make great discussion pieces. Used to advertise everything from soda to farm equipment to household appliances, key genres include wood, porcelain (aka enamel), tin, and neon.
Porcelain enamel signs were first produced in Europe in the late 1800s, and became popular in the U.S. in the 1890s. Porcelain signs were made of powdered glass fused onto rolled iron. Different colors were stenciled on and fired, creating a different layer for each color; although later porcelain signs were silkscreened. Porcelain signs were durable and able to withstand exposure to the elements, so tens of thousands were made. But during the World War II scrap drives, many were melted down. Eventually high labor costs caused porcelain signs to fall out of favor in the 1950s.
Tin signs were also melted in WWII scrap drives, halting production almost permanently. Although some tin signs were made after the war, their reemergence was short lived. Tin signs reached their peak of popularity in the 1920s and were usually painted, screenprinted, or stamped. But they were not as durable as porcelain signs, and were prone to rust.
The first neon sign was introduced in 1912, for a Parisian barber. Neon signs contain tubes filled with neon or inert gasses that glow when a high voltage is applied. Though popular in the 1920s and 1930s, they were expensive to make and very fragile. In the 1940s and '50s, custom-made neon signs were produced in small quantities for businesses like restaurants, clubs, bars, hotels, and auto dealerships. More modern mass-produced neon signs for companies like Budweiser and Coca-Cola can also be collectible.
Some collectors also seek out vintage cardboard signs, which were popular in the mid-20th century and were used to advertise a broad range of consumer items (soda, beer, candy, etc.) and upcoming events, like the circus. Other sign formats, like and door pushes and pulls, are highly sought after as well.
Although some collectors focus exclusively on signs, many pursue the hobby as an adjunct to another collecting interest. Therefore antique and vintage signs related to these areas are in high demand, like automobile, oil and gas, travel, farm, food, smoking, beer, and railroad signs. Signs from the west coast are in especially high demand.
With antique and vintage signs, condition, visual appeal, and scarcity are important influences on value. Many signs have bullet holes from being shot at or rust or crazing from exposure to the elements. Do your homework before buying - many reproductions have been made and many signs have been restored.
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Recent News: Signs
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Waite Hill man builds on car collection started by his father in 1963News-Herald.com, October 7th
“I call this the showroom,” Ruple said, looking out at an exhibition space that also features an impressive array of vintage signs, gas pumps and automotive memorabilia. The showroom motif is fitting. Ruple said the collection was started in 1963 by...Read more
Camp Mi Casa wraps up first season as new RV park on Historic Route 66Carthage Press, October 7th
The next renovation projects include: a fenced in pet area, fire pit, a vintage sign and additional landscaping. “It's a business, we want it to thrive but we've already made a goal,” Stephanie said. “We've cleaned it up – we hated the way it looked...Read more
Mayer business block takes on new lifePrescott Valley Tribune, October 7th
The beautiful pressed tin ceiling is still there, as are vintage signs from businesses of the past. History still fairly spills off the walls, which contain photos of the Mayer family and other historic ephemera. Framed news articles about Mayer...Read more
Local business closing its doors; owner cites Business Personal Property taxLiberty Hill Independent, October 5th
Today, the store has a “guys' room” complete with fishing and hunting gear, tools, camping equipment, vintage signs and decor for the “man cave.” Legacy began attracting the “hipsters from Austin” when she added his album collection. In mint condition...Read more
Jericho Country Store keeps customers coming back after 208 yearsWCAX, October 4th
Look anywhere inside and you can see history in the form of vintage signs, boxes, coffee cans -- even a cash register! "I mean, the store is more than 200 years old, so even as owners have cleared it out and cleaned it out, there's always something...Read more
The Sheffield Collection Offers Custom Pillows, Restored FurnitureLitchfield County Times, September 30th
The shop has vintage signs, clocks, pottery, lamps, mirrors, pictures and kitchenware, tables, chairs, custom order pieces, antiques and one-of-a- kind pieces. It also has scented candles, perfumes, French soaps, lotions, bath scrubs and hair care...Read more
Paramount's vintage sign cuts a new look for historic Austin theater (Slideshow)Austin Business Journal (blog), September 14th
The Paramount Theatre will be almost impossible to miss in downtown Austin following Monday's installation of its historic vertical “blade” sign atop its marquee. The sign ceremony, which attracted more than 100 onlookers along Congress Avenue, serves ...Read more
Vintage sign removed for rebranding of Fagiani's bar siteNapa Valley Register, July 8th
Three years ago, on a July night, the neon sign at Fagiani's bar was lit for the first time in decades in advance of the opening of Fagiani's Bar at The Thomas Restaurant. On Wednesday morning the sign came down permanently as part of the restaurant's...Read more