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 thrift shop, longtime furniture store get in on colorful DIY trendFresno Bee, April 26th
Handmade crosses like this one from reclaimed materials are for sale at 3 Vintage Souls Boutique Palm and Olive avenues in Fresno's Tower District. Photographed Tuesday, April 21, 2015. BETHANY CLOUGH — THE FRESNO BEE |Buy Photo...Read more
Restoring the old Faber's Cyclery buildingSan Jose Mercury News, April 23rd
Jose Nguyen, right, helps Tom Colla of Vintage Signs paint a new Faber's sign on the building that once housed the venerable cycling business on S. First in San Jose, Calif., on Thursday, Jan. 29, 2015, The building had nearly been destroyed by a fire...Read more
Antiques for sale in old rail carsMarietta Times, April 22nd
Solid old trunks, vintage signs, end tables and chairs sprawl out through the two long passenger cars of an old B&O Railroad train parked along Maple Street in Harmar. Dubbed The Train Station, Harmar's newest antique store is right at home in the...Read more
Studio K Bar on RegalPacific Northwest Inlander, April 22nd
Add vintage signs and artifacts from the old Studio K and downtown's Midway Tavern, which her parents owned for 27 years, and the place feels fresh yet lived-in. Regulars from the original Studio K have followed, while new patrons have discovered the...Read more
Capsule Debuts Early Warning Scoring System For SmartLinx Chart Xpress®Virtual Press Office (press release), April 22nd
Following vital sign collection, the device immediately displays a patient's general health status score at the bedside, along with appropriate follow-up actions based on that score. Vital sign history and trends are also shown to provide clinical context...Read more
Vern Walker's Enormous Automotive Neon Sign Collection Sells For $4.65 MillionHot Rod Network, April 20th
It was the huge collection of vintage signs belonging to Vernon Walker. Walker is the man behind Walker Radiator as well as a co-founder of the National Street Rod Association. He was a relative young gun when he started collecting vintage signage from ...Read more
Collector Car Showcase displays memorabiliaNews 12 Long Island, April 17th
Collector Car Showcase displays memorabilia. April 17, 2015 11:49 AM. From beautifully restored classic cars to vintage signs to vintage gas pumps, the museum is a blast from the past. (April 17, 2015 11:52 AM) ...Read more
Joe R. Pyle Preparing to Auction Hundreds of Vintage SignsWBOY-TV, January 29th
If you're looking for a unique piece of local history, Joe R. Pyle Auctions will hold the first round of what may be several auctions for the first 600 pieces of a collection containing more than 2,000 vintage signs. It's a sign collection that's been...Read more