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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Great sandwiches: Olive Branch Cafe opens downtown, DiLoreto's serves a ...TheNewsTribune.com (blog), December 9th
DiLoreto's Cafe opened in June 2012 as a tiny 11-seat diner. Owner Chris DiLoreto, with his fiance Jen, later bumped up the cafe to a half dozen tables. The airy cafe is outfitted with antique signs from neighboring Sanford and Sons. On a first visit...Read more
Go For the Food: Capitol Burgers in Los AngelesEast Valley Tribune, December 8th
With jail-like bars covering the windows and only a few outdoor picnic tables underneath Capitol's now-vintage sign, it's not really worth lingering. For that, the itty-bitty 66-year-old Apple Pan on the other side of town offers more atmosphere with...Read more
Shop shows signs of the timesGreat Falls Tribune, December 7th
Eye-catching vintage signs with rustic images and evocative titles like Virgin Snow and Camp Run-a-muck draw people in off the street at Whitefish's Bear Mountain Mercantile. For the past “He thought a vintage sign for Big Mountain would sell in my...Read more
25 ways Missoulians can buy gifts locally this holidayThe Missoulian, December 7th
Author Laura Budds' children's book shares bears' love of huckleberries. $16.95, Fact and Fiction. • Vintage signs: Personalize a wood or metal sign from Meissenburg Designs with a child's name or a favorite family pastime. $69-$189, Whippersnappers...Read more
A Dozen Creative Ideas For Decorating Blank WallsBusiness Insider Australia, December 5th
When you have a big, blank wall to fill, your first thought may be a gallery wall. There's nothing wrong with that, but sometimes it's nice to break up all of that flat framed artwork with something different. Enter baskets, brackets, paint-dipped...Read more
Charities continue to seek helpShelbyville Times-Gazette, December 5th
You may sign the cards or leave them blank for others to sign. Collection boxes are at First Community Bank, Peoples Bank and Dollar General Market. For more information, call 695-3131. * Christy's Cuddlies for Clera provides toiletries and other...Read more
The showgirl must go onReno News & Review, December 5th
Arrizabalaga points out that, with Burns' costume collection, Will Durham's neon sign collection, recently exhibited at the Nevada Museum of Art, archival information in the Nevada Historical Society, the artwork, historical drawings and old slot...Read more
What's the value of a sign?CL Charlotte, December 3rd
The vintage sign, albeit worn, represented the long-term staying power of the coop. For me, the sign at Does the removal of vintage signs or historical structures detract from the personality of an institution or from the personality of a city for...Read more