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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70-mile sale a successElkin Jonesville Tribune, July 28th
Vintage sign and toy dealer Angie Swaim said that people really seemed to be enjoying the sale. At her booth, “Done Been,” they were able to reconnect with some old friends and memories of the past. She said that vintage toys were a popular item...Read more
10 of the best restaurants in Palma de Mallorca – on a budgetThe Guardian, July 26th
A little piece of Americana has landed in Santa Catalina – cue red vinyl booths, chrome counters, vintage signs, and the best burgers in Palma. Choose from a sensible-sized regular at €5.50 to a 300g double Texas at €11. There's also a branch near the...Read more
MyDoorSign.com gives all-gender restroom signage a makeoverLGBT Weekly, July 25th
NEW YORK – MyDoorSign.com redesigned its all-gender sign collection after receiving criticism for the old graphics. The new designs feature simple iconography and a clear “all-gender restroom” descriptor. The innovative look grew from social justice ...Read more
Man says deputies slow to arrest sign theft suspectLancaster Eagle Gazette, July 23rd
Brunney reported the break-in on July 12 and had a sheriff's deputy come out to the property, where he described the items stolen, including the sign collection, three guns and two antique oil lamps, which also had a lot of sentimental value to Brunney...Read more
Weekend Auto Calendar: Have Gasoline, Need Antique PumpNew York Times, July 18th
Maggie Valley Festival Grounds holds a meet celebrating all things petroleum, including gas pumps, vintage signs, toys and old license plates. Admission is $5, and children 12 and under get in free. More info. ? Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome British Car...Read more
Kitchens Hardware: Great food and vintage atmosphere since 1899KLTV, July 16th
I thought she was kidding, but sure enough, we ended up sitting at a table among hardware displays and vintage signs. According to texashistory.unt.edu, W.D. Kitchens was the man who started the store at the turn of the 20th century. He first was a...Read more
Chow down at the old-fashioned Westfield Main DinerGoErie.com, July 16th
Vintage signs and memorabilia hang on the walls. The wallpaper has an old Hollywood theme. As the waitresses hop from one table to the next, you can't help but hear snippets of their conversations with customers. It's as if they've known each other...Read more
WSDOT collecting political signs in rights-of-wayPort Townsend Leader, July 16th
He told the Leader July 11 that he had checked the WSDOT's political sign collection point at Discovery Bay and he said there are neat piles for the various candidates, but none of his missing signs were there. 4 Remaining Thanks for visiting ptleader.com...Read more