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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Car Culture: Automotive fun for your Easter basketThe Detroit News, March 25th
catalog shows lots of vintage signs (from the marine engine realm, too) as well as some toys and models. Many other collector fields are represented too, from soda fountain collectibles to Art Deco pieces. For information, visit www...Read more
Council plans to introduce M'boro Story TrailFraser Coast Chronicle, March 25th
A large mural will feature in Kings Lane and there are plans to roll out street stencil art and traditional vintage sign writing artworks in other laneways throughout the CBD. Cr O'Connell said the plan did not include large murals on buildings within...Read more
The RemakePacific Northwest Inlander, March 25th
Local artists added to the décor with metalwork and a vintage sign painted on the brick. With all of the changes (the only thing kept was the tin ceiling), the owners made sure to get the previous owner's blessing to carry over the Globe name to the...Read more
Cool Spaces - Cahoots CaféAL.com, March 25th
Anywhere and everywhere the eye will land on vignettes incorporating vintage signs, lamps, retro shoes, 50's prom dresses, old photographs, old doors and much, much more. A lifelong collector, Rhonda once operated an antique store in Eva, AL and ...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
Joe R. Pyle Holds Round Two of Vintage Sign AuctionWBOY-TV, March 6th
The bad weather didn't stop hundreds of collectors from bidding on more than 600 vintage signs at the Grafton Auction House. Friday, Joe R. Pyle held Round 2 of the auction, which includes a collection of more than 2,500 signs. Owner Richard Rager was ...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
Search on for man who bought antique sign stolen from Prairieville restaurantThe Advocate, December 23rd
PRAIRIEVILLE — When Delaune family members opened a seafood restaurant in Prairieville seven years ago, they shopped for decor from antique stores and rural shops “to see what spoke to us,” said Chalin Delaune. The family was going for a vintage ...Read more