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.
Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)
Historical Marker Database
Falvo Collectables Gallery
Other Great Reference Sites
Most watched eBay auctions
Recent News: Signs
Source: Google News
Grind Kitchen + Watering Hole Will Open in Early March in Cherry CreekWestword, February 8th
Along with the beetle-kill pine on the exterior wall, barnwood siding and corrugated roof panels line the bar, vintage signs from long-gone Front Range restaurants add historic charm, and Southern specialties will share menu space with such...Read more
Business Spotlight: Chile Hedz Fiery Food StoreThe San Diego Union-Tribune, February 7th
“When you walk through the doors of our place, you'll be greeted by a fun '50s motif, with toolboxes as displays, old vintage signs and license plates from all over this great country,” Anthony said. As of last year, Chile Hedz has partnered with the...Read more
Utah Museum of Contemporary Art tackles politics, immigration in new exhibitsDeseret News, February 7th
Each disguised by masks, shadows and clutter, these figures possess troubling reminders of urban decay and abandonment marked by Brothers' blatant juxtaposition of haunting grey landscapes with brightly colored vintage signs and advertisements...Read more
Dance like a ballerina! Outrage over 'sexist' vintage signs in CanterburyCanterbury Times, February 4th
The vintage boards, at a store the Times has chosen not to name, appear to poke fun at the differences between boys and girls. Among the 'rules' for girls were to play dress up, paint your nails, and baking cupcakes. Meanwhile, boys were told to build...Read more
This Book of Beautiful Vintage Signs Offers a Graphic Design Tour of ItalyCurbed, January 27th
All images from Signs of Italy (Lazy Dog Press) by James Clough. All images courtesy Lazy Dog Press. In a nation that excels at beauty, aesthetics, and craft, it's no surprise high design can be found on seemingly every corner or side street in Italy...Read more
Vintage signs for saleBelmond Indepedent, January 27th
Need a Belmond-Klemme Broncos sign or flag for your home? Then show up at the basketball games January 29 for your chance to place the winning bid on one of these signs that graced a gymnasium in the old North Iowa Conference. The signs will be sold ...Read more
Back to the Future: Bringing Back the Vintage SignHuffington Post, January 11th
My love for the beauty and classic design of vintage signs goes back to my childhood memories of family road trips. Any kid that grew up in the 1950's would remember the thrill of setting out to explore our National Parks, seaside, lake or mountain...Read more
Tampa Bay man's colossal sign collection will amaze youWFLA, November 19th
They are collectors of vintage signs, driven in part by nostalgia for days gone by. There is nothing slight about Tommy Small's colossal collection. Step inside his 12,000-square-foot backyard museum and you stand in awe. Sign, sign, everywhere a sign...Read more