Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Vintage advertising has been one area of antique collecting that has not lost momentum or value over the years. There is something about early American signage that intrigues people. In the antique world, finding that rare sign is a challenge and collectors who are interested in this genre love to play the game.
In the United States, most outdoor signs made between 1890 and 1950 were constructed of a base of heavy rolled iron, which was die cut into the desired shape, then coated with layers of colored powdered glass and fired in a kiln. This process made them durable and weather-resistant. Signs made this way were known as porcelain enamel signs or simply enamel signs.
Porcelain enamel signs originated in Germany and were imported into the United States. They quickly became a staple of outdoor advertising across the country. Around 1900, designers experimented with bold colors and graphics on the signs and they were used to advertise everything from cigarettes and beer to farm equipment and tires.
Early designs were stenciled but American designers switched to silkscreens and started using a steel base instead of iron. Later, when porcelain enamel became too costly, tin bases were used instead of steel. Now it is difficult to find antique porcelain enamel signs in excellent condition.
Collectors pay hundreds, even thousands, of dollars for each addition to their collections. Many of the signs were vandalized, discarded, or melted down for the metal during World War II. After the war, the signs were too expensive to manufacture, so we are left with only the pieces that remain from that era.
Signs were later made of tin and other materials and painted with enamel paint. More of these types of signs remain, but they are often rusted, scratched and distressed. After WWII, enamel signs were simply enamel paint on a metal, usually tin, base.
There is a huge market for vintage and antique signs and collectors must be wary of distressed reproductions. Often vintage signs are stamped with the date they were manufactured, while other times research and knowledge about antique signs may be required to discern a real antique from a knockoff.
Rare and Unusual Antique, Vintage and Retro Signs
Vintage Tin 7UP Display Sign
This vintage 7UP sign was made to be attached to the rods of a wire display inside a store. It is believed to have been manufactured in the 1950s or 1960s by the Indiana Wire and Specialty Company of Indianapolis, Indiana and measures 12” x 12”. Definitely a rare find, if found.
Chesterfield Cigarettes Sign
These cigarettes signs were once commonplace but are now very rare to find. The rare once are from the 1930s or 1940s. Chesterfield is a brand of cigarettes named after Chesterfield County, Virginia and began in 1896.
Antique Buick Dealership Sign
Dealership signs are extremely rare and hard to find. Many were manufactured in the 1950s and were even equipped with neon lighting. Buick is especially rare but many other brands can fetch a great amount of money.