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.
Interviews & Articles
I liked to collect things even as a child. Things that didn’t cost anything, like different colors of stones. There was somethin… [more]
How did I get started collecting advertising antiques? My dad was a lecturer and tutor in graphics and art from the 1960s onwards,… [more]
Signs have always furnished a vivid means of advertising wares and attracting the attention of prospective buyers. Pictorial desig… [more]
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Local artist shows off hex signs exhibit at Starry Nites CaféBrighton-Pittsford Post, May 15th
The Shoe Factory Art Co-op located in Rochester's Neighborhood of the Arts. Her business Moonblossom Signworks features her hand painted signs for home or business, and vintage style faux antique signs. She teaches drawing and painting for teens and...Read more
Menomonie Blue Caps to open second seasonChippewa Herald, May 12th
Corporate sponsors for the Menomonie Blue Caps are: the Dunn County Historical Society, Visit Eau Claire, Vintage Sign Shop, WEAU-TV 13 News, Lammer's Food Fest, Bill's Distributing, and the Vintage Base Ball Factory. For more information about...Read more
Love for music, friendship found at Moonshine Maggie's hair 'saloon'Gulf Coast News Today, May 6th
The walls of her single-chair salon are lined with framed, autographed pictures of singers and songwriters along with antique signs. A guitar sits on a chair, waiting to be played by a musician who might trade a haircut for a couple of songs. Margaret...Read more
Yummy Rummy's to open doors April 15 - The Belton JournalBelton Journal, May 6th
The walls are decorated with vintage signs. The most eye-catching piece of furniture in the shop is the spirit table, that has the Belton Tigers' face and the saying "Big Red, Nuff Said" on its table top. The shop is roughly a week out from opening and...Read more
Sackville Rod and Gun Club supper huge successSackville Tribune Post, May 5th
The live auction included an antique sign, four cords of firewood, a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey, several prints and a cake. Proceeds from the fundraiser are used to support events and projects in the Sackville area. The membership of the Sackville Rod...Read more
A new Kodak is set to emerge from bankruptcyBoston Globe, May 1st
film and cameras hung outside a Chicago store this week,. Scott Olson/Getty Images. A vintage sign advertising Kodak film and cameras hung outside a Chicago store this week, but the company has sold off almost all of the businesses that made it famous...Read more
Vacated senior center now Lansdale Music Factory record store, concert venueThe Reporter, April 29th
The corner snack bar sports large vintage signs. “It's the same, it's just decorated different,” Griffo said. Visitors to First Friday Lansdale were the first to check out the live music space with a soundtrack of live guitar music by Jeff Lohan. An...Read more
Sign collector's focus disturbingFort Wayne Journal Gazette, April 28th
Other interesting ones are the vintage signs, mostly from the United States, that have very creative and amusing graphics and messages. Also from the U.S., there are many attractive signs from the various casino hotels and Disney hotels. From a...Read more