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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Museum owner plans old-time train ride for downtown BuffaloBuffalo News, March 7th
Even with all of that, he said, his museum displays less than 25 percent of his collection, which also includes fire engines, travel trailers made by Pierce-Arrow and a “gigantic” sign collection, with over 2,000 examples of road, neon and porcelain signs...Read more
Aunt HelenaNapa Valley Register, March 5th
Artifacts from the society's collection will be on display including historic farm equipment, vintage signs, family history exhibits and much more. Browse the Collectibles Sale for unique items beginning at 10 a.m. Sunday, March 23, at St. Helena...Read more
Valuable antique signs stolen in Spruce ViewInnisfail Province, March 4th
Mounties are seeking the public's help to locate the culprits who broke into the Spruce View Community Hall last month and stole more than 30 antique signs that were earmarked for a public auction. Innisfail RCMP said the hall was broken into between...Read more
Shine coffee house offers a venue for local artists and musiciansStateHornet.com, February 28th
On the corner of 14th and E streets in downtown Sacramento hangs a vintage sign declaring Shine coffee house, a place not only for food and drinks but an environment that welcomes local art and music. Shine features local musicians, poets and other...Read more
Portrait: The oldest barber in Belle Gladenewszap.com, February 27th
Looking around his shop, it seems as if time had stood still and yet passed all the same: vintage signs hung on the wall gathering dust and grime, juxtaposed with President Barack Obama's face that stood out on a 2008 campaign poster signaling a change...Read more
Antique signs stolen from rural auction siteCTV News, February 25th
Police in Innisfail are investigating after a number of vintage signs were stolen from the community hall in Spruce View and say the total value of the theft is between $30,000 and $40,000. Over 30 antique signs were taken from the community hall in...Read more
Port Clinton Council takes trip to WoosterThe Beacon, February 19th
little parks, one with a gazebo and one with an arbor with hand painted tiles. Every store front and building looked renovated. The buildings didn't look completely redone, as they still had some of the original pieces (wooden door frames, vintage...Read more
Vintage Tulsa features collectables from 14 stateskjrh.com, February 15th
TULSA - From clothing to vintage signs, the Vintage Tulsa show has just about everything you may want for your home. The indoor event features more than 250 booths and dealers from 14 different states. The show features an array of oddities preserved ...Read more