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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Could the next arts enclave transform the suburbs?Asheville Citizen-Times, August 3rd
Sarver and his partners do favor local tenants over chains, he said, but they won't make major changes to the property beyond upgrading the bowling alley equipment, re-striping the parking lot and refurbishing the vintage sign for the bowling alley...Read more
Keeping Arizona's Neon Lights AglowCityLab, August 3rd
That's why you can still see many vintage signs along anything that used to be a highway or state route, she adds. But many are worn and defunct; only a few still light up. Instead of taking them down, Levstik and her team want to restore what's left...Read more
Treasures, anyone? Las Vegas auction offers pieces of historyLas Vegas Review-Journal, August 1st
Henderson resident Steven Zamiar was hoping to take home antique signs and trains. "It's Americana and something from the past," he said of his love for signs. "It's stuff you can't get anymore." Zamiar said he visits garage sales, estate sales and...Read more
Petroliana, Vintage Signs, Toys, Extensive Collection of Decorative Porcelian ...Benzinga, July 29th
A 1956 Mercury Montclair Phaeton previously shown by Bob Leslie of Lexington, Massachusetts, along with his extensive collection of vintage signs, oil cans, gas pumps and hood ornaments will feature at Kaminski's August 9th auction. The sale will also ...Read more
Orpheum wins approval to restore vintage signMadison.com, July 20th
The Madison Landmarks Commission on Monday approved the restoration of the Orpheum Theater sign, right, to its original 1926 design, left, featuring point lights along the perimeter and within individual letters. The $200,000 restoration could begin...Read more
Reward offered in theft of antique signinForney.com, July 16th
FORNEY, Texas — De Ridder Antiques is offering a reward for information leading to the arrest of the person or persons who stole an antique sign from their business earlier this week. Allstate. Between Sunday, July 12, 2015, and Monday, July 13, 2015, ...Read more
Vintage signs, oil cans and more in man's bric-a-brac collectionLas Vegas Review-Journal, July 9th
Bob Grant's home on the foothills of Frenchman Mountain has five buildings and a yard full of primarily automotive and gas station memorabilia. (F. Andrew Taylor/View). Vintage signs, oil cans and more in man's bric-a-brac collection...Read more
Vintage sign removed for rebranding of Fagiani's bar siteNapa Valley Register, July 8th
Three years ago, on a July night, the neon sign at Fagiani's bar was lit for the first time in decades in advance of the opening of Fagiani's Bar at The Thomas Restaurant. On Wednesday morning the sign came down permanently as part of the restaurant's...Read more