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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The Indian Lodge: A scenic getaway just a short drive awayCoweta American (subscription), July 3rd
A vintage sign marks the location of this historic Indian Lodge on Highway 51 east of Wagoner. Click Here to Read Your Digital Paper. Posted: Friday, July 3, 2015 10:10 pm. The Indian Lodge: A scenic getaway just a short drive away By Julia Edwards ...Read more
Seasonal farm cafe offers blackberry breakfast and morning calmWichita Eagle, July 1st
Vintage signs and arrangements of fresh wildflowers from the farm provide ambiance, and a box fan attached to the ceiling provides a breeze. Before 9 a.m., the crowd is mostly groups of girlfriends or couples enjoying the peacefulness of the post...Read more
Around the metro: Minnesota Orchestra to headline music event in PlymouthMinneapolis Star Tribune, June 27th
Instructions for reserving a sign are on the site. Don't delay if you want one; the society says they're going fast. Vintage signs are especially popular as cabin, basement and garage art. But hey, there's nothing to prevent you from putting one in...Read more
Strictly Formals leaves Thompson Building, moves across the streetRepublican & Herald, June 26th
At the time, it was part of a chain of stores, called Strictly Formals Tuxedo Centers, according to a vintage sign on the window of 23 N. Centre St. “We were a chain store out of Lebanon and Harrisburg. I think we were the fourth store. Then we all...Read more
N.J.'s best burger: 4 burger joints to check out Down the ShoreNJ.com, June 26th
"Veno's Lightning Cough Cure,'' reads one of the many vintage signs decorating the bar/restaurant. I wonder if there is a lightning cure for the inevitable weight gain eating burgers nonstop for a month? Remember, I promised to lose 10 pounds while...Read more
'The Michelangelo of Muzzy Field' paints vintage signs for outfield fenceBristol Press, June 8th
The Bristol artist is painting billboards to line the outside field of the historic ballpark with advertising for sponsors of the Bristol Blues, the new Future Collegiate Baseball League team that kicked off its inaugural season last week. Rick Muntean...Read more
Joe R. Pyle Holds Third Vintage Sign AuctionWBOY-TV, May 25th
Monongalia County businesses are showing support for members of the National Guard. Representatives from those businesses signed statements of support during a ceremony at the Morgantown Chamber of Commerce building. Monongalia County ...Read more
Waynesboro man's sign collection much more than 'chicken bucket'The Augusta Chronicle, March 22nd
Out front, though, is what many in Burke County would probably consider the shining star of Taylor's 600-sign collection – a 30-foot-tall Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket that motorists along Highway 25 can see for miles at night. “It lights up bright...Read more