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
Source: Google News
Art Thrives Again on Chung King RoadNeon Tommy, April 15th
On a recent Saturday night in Downtown L.A., six art galleries coordinated opening receptions drawing bustling, stylish crowds to a perfectly timeless pedestrian street. Through a brilliantly bright window display, under a vintage sign reading “Win Sun ...Read more
Local museums view artifacts as teaching toolQueen Anne News, April 15th
For example, MOHAI has an extensive neon-sign collection, and they're often offered new ones. They try to only take signs that have significance. “It's a balancing act of preserving what's important but also being able to stay alive to preserve what's...Read more
Old Belfast Restaurant to Become Bowling AlleyWABI, April 15th
The new facility will feature a few old relics from Jed's including booths, the old vintage sign, and of course, Jed himself watching over everyone. “Here in Belfast we know it's a growing community and we're trying to offer families a safe environment...Read more
What's in Store: Be a party to shopping outside of regular store hoursPost-Bulletin, April 14th
Jodee Gyenna and Suzie Spain opened the A Bird In The Hand in March with a collection of vintage signs, antiques, seasonal decor and repurposed items. Both women have experience selling vintage and repurposed items. Spain had a shop in Princeton, ...Read more
Carnegie ready to rockThe Turlock Journal, April 11th
A Marshall stack used by Steve Vai on David Lee Roth's "Eat Em and Smile" tour will be on view along with an original 1959 Telefunken microphone used by Les Paul, a Monteleone guitar, and memorabilia such as a vintage sign proclaiming "The Iridium ...Read more
Utah artist Darren Gygi visits Lodi's Antiquarium to sign collection of home ...Lodi News-Sentinel, April 11th
Utah artist Darren Gygi sketches new ideas before breaking out the oil paints for a final version. Utah artist Darren Gygi visits Lodi's Antiquarium to sign collection of home decor art prints. Darren Gygi/courtesy photograph ...Read more
'Scollay Under' sign uncovered at Government Center stationBoston Globe, April 7th
Clarke said that transit officials in the 1960s did a poor job of protecting artifacts during that renovation, and many vintage signs and pieces of bronze work vanished in the process. Few noteworthy features from the late 1800s remain. “I doubt they...Read more
Honest Ed's vintage sign sale raises more than $17000 for Victim Services TorontoNational Post, March 17th
The store originally said it would put 1,000 of its vintage signs on sale. But, seeing the demand, staff began rifling through all the stores' nooks and crannies and dragging out every old leftover sign they could find, he said. In the end the store...Read more