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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Detroit's faded history preserved in ABCsDetroit Free Press, October 12th
The historic individuality of Detroit's faded neighborhoods is preserved in characters, literally — in the fonts lining the vintage signs and hand-painted advertisements of small businesses. That is, until decades-old signs for laundromats, bars, car...Read more
Vintage treasures abound at new Pryor boutiquePryor Daily Times, October 12th
The aesthetic of Rust N' Lace is lovely, crafty-chic, with several booths where vendors display their goods - some of which include vintage signs, antique glass, art, and jewelry. They also have a large selection of cast-iron goods - from knobs, hooks...Read more
The Sheffield Collection Offers Custom Pillows, Restored FurnitureLitchfield County Times, October 11th
The shop has vintage signs, clocks, pottery, lamps, mirrors, pictures and kitchenware, tables, chairs, custom order pieces, antiques and one-of-a- kind pieces. It also has scented candles, perfumes, French soaps, lotions, bath scrubs and hair care...Read more
Junkstock Wraps UpWOWT, October 9th
From large vintage signs to smaller coin purses, she says she and most of the vendors have something for your budget. "We have a lot of people that come even to our own booth that will buy something small to say I was at Junkstock and I bought this at ...Read more
Arts In Context Shorts: The Neon JungleKLRU-TV (blog), October 9th
Voyles is the sovereign sign-maker of South Congress – he hand-created and repurposed vintage signs for Magnolia Cafe, Homeslice, Soul, Stag, Creatures, Turquoise Door, Lucy's Fried Chicken, Perla's, Wahoo's Fish Taco, Yard Dog and Uncommon Objects...Read more
Waite Hill man builds on car collection started by his father in 1963News-Herald.com, October 7th
“I call this the showroom,” Ruple said, looking out at an exhibition space that also features an impressive array of vintage signs, gas pumps and automotive memorabilia. The showroom motif is fitting. Ruple said the collection was started in 1963 by...Read more
Camp Mi Casa wraps up first season as new RV park on Historic Route 66Carthage Press, October 7th
The next renovation projects include: a fenced in pet area, fire pit, a vintage sign and additional landscaping. “It's a business, we want it to thrive but we've already made a goal,” Stephanie said. “We've cleaned it up – we hated the way it looked...Read more
Paramount's vintage sign cuts a new look for historic Austin theater (Slideshow)Austin Business Journal (blog), September 14th
The Paramount Theatre will be almost impossible to miss in downtown Austin following Monday's installation of its historic vertical “blade” sign atop its marquee. The sign ceremony, which attracted more than 100 onlookers along Congress Avenue, serves ...Read more