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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Bailey's Flea Market holds holiday open houseThe Licking News, November 28th
Some wonderful gift ideas include a guitar, religious books and Bibles, a wine cabinet, vintage signs, a saddle, cast iron pumps, and so on. Check out the large selection of cast iron cookware, novelty baking pans, decanters, cutting boards, small...Read more
GARDEN MAIDEN: Thanks to new, old friendsThe Times (subscription), November 27th
Butterfly weed, zinnia and blooming potted roses along with a low growing yarrow and blanket flower find their spots delicately between antique signs and old barn wood structures. I'm captivated by the antique plow that marries the house garden to a...Read more
Easy rustic holiday signTheChronicleHerald.ca, November 27th
The plan was to make a vintage sign with faded letters but without multiple coats of paint and stain and distressing. Because this is a really busy time of year, am I right? I dipped a clean sponge brush into a can of stain (Minwax's Red Mahogany) and...Read more
Hit the slopes, then take it easy in luxury in VermontThe Boston Globe, November 25th
“Ski” is complete with lift-ticket booth, original trail maps, vintage signs, ski memorabilia, and a steam shower with inlaid compass, while “Hayloft” is furnished with leather club chairs by the brick fireplace. Refuel at Pitcher's 275 Main, with its...Read more
Sign collector sought by policeBay Today, November 24th
Sign collector sought by police. Police are looking for information from the public in regards to the person responsible for the thefts. 0. November 24, 2015 by: Jeff Turl. 2015 10 19 opp graphic. On November 16 the West Parry Sound OPP were advised of...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
The Cupcake CowgirlsCommunity Impact Newspaper, November 18th
15 of last year. The shop's interior is decorated with vintage signs, old-fashioned stovetops and lots of Southern charm. “I wanted people to feel like they're walking into grandma's kitchen,” Clanton-Lewis said. Each morning, Clanton-Lewis whips up...Read more
Designer aims to save D's vintage signs, lettersDetroit Free Press, October 12th
The historic individuality of Detroit's faded neighborhoods is preserved in characters, literally — in the fonts lining the vintage signs and hand-painted advertisements of small businesses. That is, until decades-old signs for laundromats, bars, car...Read more