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Buying Lighted Advertising Signs: What to look for to spot fakes and how to protect yourself

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    Posted 5 years ago

    (3 items)

    This backlit lighted sign sold at auction on February 22, 2018 for $1,000, plus the buyer’s premium (23%), for a hammer price of $1,230. This item was described by the auctioneer as follows: "The glass face is in excellent condition". That is true. The sign face was in excellent condition, but only because in my opinion it is a contemporary sign face, not an original vintage advertising glass dating to pre-1940 - which is when this sign was made.

    Learning how to spot a fake can be fairly straightforward and collectors can protect themselves IF they take the time to learn as much as they can about everything they are interested in collecting and educating themselves on what to look for. Unless you have taken the time to know what a genuine, original sign is supposed to look like, you could be fooled by a forged sign.

    I’ll explain how a cursory glance at this sign concludes that it is a fantasy piece and will also share a few tips that may help you if you ever decide to buy a Price Brothers sign, or a similarly lighted sign from this same era, that may help you confirm if what you are considering buying is legitimate or not:

    TAKE TIME TO DO YOUR HOMEWORK – The first step that collectors should take when buying is to take the time to research what they are buying. While that may sound obvious to state that, in this day and age where buyers feel they have to act quickly to get a good deal, a time-pressured sale can force buyers to act carelessly, versus taking time to deliberate and scrutinize the object.

    Do not let a high pressured sale or time-sensitive sale happen to you. Take the time to educate yourself about the antique and the original manufacturer. If you cannot find information, reach out to your network of collecting friends and ask for their advice or help.

    EDUCATE YOURSELF ABOUT THE SIGN AND THE MANUFACTURER – This particular illuminated sign was made by Price Brothers (from Chicago, Illinois) and is called a ‘Half-Round Halo Sign’. On the back of the canister is water glass decal clearly showing the patent (No. 20106891). A quick search confirms that the patent was filed in 1937 and further research indicates that these signs were made up until 1940, but not much later than that date.

    Why is this information important? Knowing what period in time these signs were made will establish a baseline for what kind of advertising should exist. A quick study of this sign confirms that both the font and logo on this graphics could not have originated from the period in which these Halo signs were manufactured (1937-1940) because they date to a much later time, some 20 years later.

    Having knowledge of when a sign was made is extremely important to dating the graphics of advertising. If the graphics are from another era, then one can quickly conclude something is wrong.

    Armed with information about when this sign was originally manufactured we can now more closely scrutinize the sign in greater detail. Let’s begin with the most obvious red flag that confirms that this sign is a new creation as well as some other things to look for:

    USE OF MODERN FONTS - The glyphic serif typeface (lettering) that appears in this artwork is a font called ‘Friz Quadrata’. That font was designed by Ernst Friz and Victor Caruso for Visual Graphics Corporation in 1965. Therefore, it is impossible for this sign face to have been created prior to 1940. This use of a modern font confirms that this is a reproduced glass panel.

    USE OF LOGO FROM WRONG ERA – Quick research with Mack Truck experts confirmed that the graphics of the Mack Trucks logo were taken from an emblem that was used on the front of the B-Model trucks, which were built from 1953 to 1966. Therefore it is not possible for this graphic to have been used on a pre-1940 piece of advertising.

    Buyers need to be familiar with the brand and the body of advertising they produced. Closely examine the lettering (font), the logo and colors that are used to determine if they were used or available in the past. Savvy buyers will learn to spot what was or was not possible during the era the sign was made.

    While we are on the subject of lettering and graphics, it is wise for prospective buyers to take a close examination of signs to look for inconsistent spacing in the lettering, blurry images or graphics where the art has bleed through one layer into another which indicate a cheap printing method.

    SILVER MIRRORING GLASS - Nearly all known examples of Price Brothers ‘Halo’ sign faces were made on silver-mirrored glass. This particular sign face has no silver mirroring. Price Bros prided itself in differentiating their product from competitors through the use of mirrored glass, which gave their backlit advertising an elegant appearance, particularly when not lit. While this in and of itself is not the sole indicator that the sign is contemporary since it is possible that there exists examples out there were not mirrored, the absence of mirrored glass should warn prospective buyers to more closely scrutinize their purchase.

    To help collectors visualize what kind of mirroring was used, Price Brothers extensive use of mirroring around the borders of art and in two distinctive styles around the perimeter signs, which are shown here:

    PATINA AND WEAR – A cursory examination of this sign clearly shows a patina and wear on the curved back (called a ‘Reflector’), but the ad glass appears in excellent condition. This does not add up. How could one part of the sign show wear, but the most fragile part of the sign show no wear whatsoever?

    The process by which Price Brothers made their reverse-on-glass (ROG) art was to screen-print inks (paint) onto the backside of mirrored glass. Because these signs were backlit by a light source the heat generated from the light bulbs and the age of the signs being 80 years old, they are notorious for having graphics with brittle, flaking paint that has delaminated from the glass or is lifting and/or where the mirroring and graphics have oxidized, discolored or have faded over time. As a result, very few examples of these signs survive today in excellent condition and it is more common to see signs that have flaking paint that is very difficult to be repaired easily or economically.

    If you examine a sign canister that clearly shows patina and age, but the sign face appears new and is not similarly aged, consideration of these details will help you avoid paying too much for a copycat or in this case, a fantasy sign that never existed.


    REPUTATION OF SELLER – Properly vetting a seller and buying your advertising only from knowledgeable and reputable dealers is the safest approach to collecting. Doing your due diligence to research sellers, their online reputation, rating with the Better Business Bureau or seller rating (such as eBay) is extremely important before making a purchase.

    Every dealer or auctioneer, no matter how reputable, like have unknowingly handled questionable pieces of advertising that simply slip by them. It is the legitimate dealers who will stand behind their sale and refund your money if you can confirm that you purchased a fake, fantasy or forgery. If you bought an item at auction, nearly all states license and/or regulate auctioneers with rules that protect consumers should you have a concern that you have been sold an illegitimately described piece.

    LEARN ABOUT THE ADVERTISING YOU COLLECT – The best safeguard of all is taking the time to educate yourself about what you are purchasing. Read collecting books and price guides. Conduct research online. Handle as many original signs as possible so you know what they look like. Join collecting organizations and attend shows. Talk with other collectors who are well informed in the hobby and, if given the opportunity, visit their collections. Ask for their advice and opinions. Reputable sellers want their buyers to be informed of what they are purchasing, so do not be afraid to ask them questions. If you find a seller reluctant to answer your questions or standoffish, move on.

    TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE – If a piece of advertising seems too good to be true, then it probably is. Trust your gut instincts and your dealer (if they have a strong reputation).

    As a passionate collector of reverse-on-glass (ROG) lighted adverting signs from Price Brothers, if you have any questions about this post or these signs you are most welcome to at:

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    1. buckethead, 5 years ago
      Good info....Thanks for the post

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