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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Spring, nearby communities look to rebrand area, build economyHouston Chronicle, September 19th
Deep porches, colorful wooden store fronts and faded, vintage signs mark many of the western-style, century-old buildings in Old Town Spring. But the retail district's links to the past aren't always enough to draw customers to new shops that rely on...Read more
Ben Anderson's Grapeseed Nears Opening in Southampton [PHOTOS]Riverfront Times (blog), September 18th
paintings by St. Louis artists dot (or rather, splatter) the walls. Sangria master Todd Brutcher, formerly of Onesto is behind the bar. There's also a front patio and a rather charming back patio with soft lights strung up and an antique sign that...Read more
'American Pickers' star Fritz to be in Paxton Sept. 27Rantoul Press, September 16th
Paxton antique dealer Robin McNish poses with one of 50 posters that she had printed to promote Workshop Hero Day, an event that will feature a day-long appearance by “American Pickers” star Frank Fritz in Paxton. Behind McNish is a 1970s Air Stream ...Read more
Michigan's Best Neighborhood Bar: Day 4 takes us to Ludington, Muskegon and ...MLive.com, September 14th
We enjoyed visits to the Old Dog Tavern, a people's pub that works hard at preserving the Kalamazoo bar history with vintage signs and great food; O'Duffy's, a classic neighborhood bar with impressive cocktails and menu; and Louie's Trophy House Grill, ...Read more
Iconic eatery celebrating 30-year milestone on Sept. 25Herald Zeitung, September 14th
The historic building hosts a variety of antique signs, early tools, cast iron skillets and numerous washboards. Visitors also can view old music lineups from the dance hall's heydays in the 1970s and early 1980s, when the facility was named Clear...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
High demand for laid-back local duo's antiquesSaukValley.com, September 12th
“If the antique sign is out and stuff is outside, we are open.” Their limited schedule hasn't been a problem. “There is so much traffic on this road each day,” he said. “If we throw some junk outside, you can hear tires squealing because people are...Read more
Australian Vintage signs China wine distribution dealReuters, August 24th
SYDNEY Aug 25 (Reuters) - Australian Vintage Ltd, the maker of McGuigan Wines, said on Monday it had signed a distribution deal with a Chinese company aimed at boosting its sales in a rapidly growing market. Australian Vintage did not disclose the...Read more