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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Fundraising effort unveiled for Billboard MuseumPost-Bulletin, March 14th
Palmer was one of three artists who showcased his work at a recent workshop and demonstration to draw support for a proposed museum dedicated to billboards and vintage signs along Route 66 in Oklahoma. Posted: Friday, March 14, 2014 6:25 pm ...Read more
Woman walking across nation to urge passage of Equal Rghts AmendmentVallejo Times-Herald, March 14th
Holding a vintage sign from the Equal Rights Amendment rallies of the 1980s, Bay Area woman Helene Swanson (left) is walking across the United States to promote women's rights and passage of the ERA. Thursday she met with staff from the Mare Island ...Read more
Mandy's Salad Bar Ordered To Remove English-Language DecorationsHuffington Post Canada, March 13th
Mandy and Rebecca Wolfe, the sisters who own Mandy's Salad Bar on Sherbrooke Street in Westmount, told CJAD radio the Office quebecois de la langue francais (OQLF) is targeting the restaurant over small vintage signs in the store that read “Ice Cold...Read more
Photo gallery: Remembrance of things pastGazetteNET, March 13th
Photographers love private places, those not often seen by the public. While covering a recent snowstorm, I found this array of vintage signs hanging on a wall and piled on a cabinet at the Easthampton Department of Public Works. I like the yellow stop...Read more
Quebec language police makes enemies with saladNational Post, March 12th
The shop is a quaint little lunch spot with a charming aesthetic, which is reflected in a few vintage signs displayed around the space. Some of these signs offer words such as “Ice Cold Soda,” “Lunch” and “Sweet Sisters Strawberry Jam” — phrases that...Read more
OQLF targets Westmount salad shop because of vintage signCJAD, March 11th
A small Westmount salad shop is the latest to be hit by the language police, for vintage decorations in their shop that have a few English only words. Mandy's Salad Bar on Sherbrooke West is owned by two sisters, Mandy and Rebecca Wolfe, they have a ...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
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