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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New focus brings happiness back to farmWestern Producer (subscription), December 19th
By reclaiming old barn boards, window frames and hardware, she initially made vintage signs and then expanded to a variety of decorative pieces. “It comes back to seeing the value in what you have even if it is old, discontinued or dilapidated,” she said...Read more
Let's Go Retro: Skeeter's in Wytheville changes little through the yearsTriCities.com, December 18th
"With the changes that we make, we're all the time looking to make sure it's going to fit the decor," Rodgers said, pointing out vintage signs. "As much as you change things to modernize a little bit, you never, ever mess with the originality of the...Read more
The Best Places to Take Your Picture in NashvilleStyleBlueprint, December 17th
This famous Southern eatery has a vintage sign that can't be beat, and their biscuits aren't half bad, either! (Can you sense the sarcasm?) If you have a Saturday morning with time to spare, pull your family out of bed and head to The Loveless Cafe for...Read more
A Slice of ArizonaTucson Weekly, December 11th
Like Bianco's three other restaurants in Arizona, the space is decorated with antique and vintage signs and other trinkets that the restaurateur finds—kind of like a more well-curated take on kitschy sports bar décor. With rustic touches, the spot...Read more
Small-town shops and Santa sightings in northwest LouisianaChron.com, December 7th
Old farming tools and vintage signs line the walls. Aisles are crammed with hardware, gardening supplies and cooking tools. There also are contemporary little red wagons, fancy pet accessories and a dedicated space for holiday décor. And while most of...Read more
Ascension Parish Sheriff's Office looking to identify suspect accused of ...NOLA.com, December 5th
THe Ascension Parish Sheriff's Office Major Kevin Hanna is attempting to identify a male suspect who is accused of stealing an antique sign from the exterior of Tommy's Fish House on Nov. 16. The restaurant's video surveillance shows an older model...Read more
MBTA Gifts Range From Flip Flops to $800 Vintage SignsBoston.com, September 13th
If you're looking for a one-of-a-kind gift for someone who really enjoys Boston public transit, look no further. MBTAgifts has it all: flip flops, furniture, shower curtains, iPad covers— even (as redditor wack1 pointed out) authentic Government...Read more
Artist's massive homeless sign collection 'makes some people uncomfortable'Yahoo News, May 14th
DALLAS — A dozen pieces of cardboard are sprawled on an art gallery floor in a hopscotch pattern. It looks like child's play, but the situated squares also bear prominent passages penned by homeless people looking for assistance. “Anything Will Help”...Read more