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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Electronic Patient Surveillance Cuts Mortality Rate 15%Health IT Outcomes (press release), September 30th
“The processes involved with vital sign collection and charting; their integration, interpretation and analysis; and the delivery of decision support regarding subsequent clinical care are subject to potential error and/or failure.” The Mirror reports...Read more
Car-crazy brothers restore vintage Gulf station downtownWaco Tribune-Herald, September 29th
And along the way, they began dressing it up with Gulf memorabilia, including vintage signs from Pennsylvania and Maine and some gas pumps from around 1950 that had been stored in a barn in West. “We're also getting a Gulf neon sign to go on top of the ...Read more
North East barn reborn as wine shop, brewery, pubGoErie.com, September 27th
Even the original cider mill and other vintage signs can be found throughout as décor. Guests who want a taste of Arundel right now have plenty from which to choose. The front of the barn, which once was a fruit stand, also has been completely...Read more
Paxton to celebrate pickerChampaign/Urbana News-Gazette, September 27th
PAXTON — Paxton antique dealer Robin McNish and "American Pickers" co-star Frank Fritz will hunt for "rusty gold" today at two undisclosed properties north of Paxton. With barns and sheds full of vintage signs, gas pumps and "boxes and boxes of old ...Read more
Sign of the times: eulogy for the El MoToronto Star, September 25th
Like the fake street signs, news boxes and yellow cabs hauled out when a movie set in New York is shot here, our antique signs could be permanent set dressing — props from a film about life set in the past, one that plays constantly in the minds of...Read more
Keeping the vintage feel of a Route 66 landmarkLos Angeles Register, September 22nd
“It's a classic vintage sign, a part of Eagle Rock, a part of that history and it's fallen in disrepair,” Rosenbluh said. “We want to restore its tradition, preserve its original feel and vibe of the diner, keep its '50s vintage feel without being a...Read more
Big Fresno Fair looks to conserve waterABC30.com, September 22nd
Alkire said, "There's only been a few fairs to take this on but I think in our area it's very important we stay cognizant there is a water shortage and we need to address that." With vintage signs and tractor parts grabbing your attention, the Big...Read more
MBTA Gifts Range From Flip Flops to $800 Vintage SignsBoston.com, September 13th
If you're looking for a one-of-a-kind gift for someone who really enjoys Boston public transit, look no further. MBTAgifts has it all: flip flops, furniture, shower curtains, iPad covers— even (as redditor wack1 pointed out) authentic Government...Read more