Collecting Antique Vintage Signs

Thanks to popular TV shows like American Pickers, Antiques Roadshow and even Pawn Stars, more people are discovering how valuable many vintage items can be. One of the most popular categories of vintage collectibles is signs and advertisements. Vintage signs are a fantastic way to stroll down memory lane and are fascinating conversation pieces. They can also provide historic value and decorative beauty. Vintage signs were primarily made of materials such as tin, wood and porcelain. However, neon signs became popular in the 1920’s and can be quite valuable because of their fragile nature.

Neon Signs once ruled American highways
Neon Signs once ruled American highways
Porcelain Esso signs are highly collectible
Porcelain Esso signs are highly collectible
A porcelain Coca-Cola advertisement
A porcelain Coca-Cola advertisement
A tin Squirt sign from 1958
A tin Squirt sign from 1958

Types of Vintage Signs

Vintage Porcelain Signs

Porcelain signs were first manufactured in Europe in the 1800’s and made their way to the United States in the 1890’s. Porcelain signs were made by fusing powdered glass onto rolled iron. Different colors were stenciled on and fired, creating a different layer for each color. In the U.S. sign makers began using silkscreened designs and steel instead of iron. Porcelain signs proved to be very durable and were perfect for withstanding the weather, so they became the advertising standard around the country. Around 1950, porcelain sign materials and labor became too costly, so the advertising industry began shifting more toward tin signs. It is very difficult to find porcelain signs in original condition, so they can command a high value.

Vintage Tin Signs

Tin signs have been around since the turn of the century, but were most popular during the 1920’s. They were easy to manufacturer and were generally painted with enamel colors. During World War II, there was a dire need for metal to produce military equipment, so the majority of tin advertising signs were melted down. This is why pre-war vintage metal signs are so valuable. Tin signs had a small resurgence in the 1950’s, but they never regained the popularity they once had among advertisers. It can be difficult to find good tin signs because of their vulnerability to rust and vandalism.

Neon Signs

Neon signs were a French invention in the early 1900’s. The first business in the U.S. to use a neon sign for advertisement purposes was a Packard auto dealer in Los Angeles, CA in 1923. Their ability to grab attention assured their popularity among advertisers. A vintage neon sign’s high value can be attributed to several factors. Neon signs had to be handmade so that the small glass tubes could be bent and turned and the inert gas filled and locked in. Most early neon signs were also very large and difficult to move around. The 1950’s were the heyday for neon signage. All along Route 66, as well as entertainment meccas like Las Vegas, NV, the neon sign was a staple of Americana. However, the 1960’s saw many cities pass laws that regulated the used on neon signs along their highways which eventually led to their decline.

Value and Caution

When it comes to vintage signs, several factors need to be considered when determining value. As with any vintage item, age is a prerequisite, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that older is more valuable. Generally, vintage signs were manufactured from about 1900 to 1960. Scarcity is another factor. The war years took a heavy toll on advertising signs and most were melted down to aid the war effort. A sign from the early 1940’s, regardless of condition, is usually considered quite valuable. A sign’s condition is also a major factor for most collectors. These signs spent the majority of their time outside and were abused by the weather and the public. This makes flawless signs an extremely rare find, so the better the condition, the higher the value.

Collecting Vintage signs can be fun and profitable. The Internet has made it easy to find a ton of information on the subject before buying or selling, but always be alert for scams. Vintage signs are relatively easy to reproduce, so doing research and knowing what to look for on original signs is the only way not to get burned on a deal. Many vintage were stamped with a manufacture date and knowledge about antique signs is the best way to spot counterfeits.

An Avid Sign Collector

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Comments 15 comments

rmcrayne profile image

rmcrayne 5 years ago from San Antonio Texas

Another great topic!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 5 years ago from Western New York

This is a great hub! I don't know how I missed this one when the hubmob was running that week. Vintage signs could make really cool wall art (especially the old tin signs - I'm not sure I'd want a neon sign in the living room, lol)!


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 5 years ago from North America

Wonderful topic, text, and images. Rated Up and others.


WoodsmensPost profile image

WoodsmensPost 5 years ago from Arizona

Great hub on vintage signs. I love the American pickers show. Congrats on your nomination on this hub voted :)


GAbaptist profile image

GAbaptist 5 years ago from Alaska Author

Thanks so much for the kind comments. I really like watching American Pickers too, woodsmenspost... It gets me looking around whenever I am travelling, wondering what's behind those old barn and shed doors!


gypsumgirl profile image

gypsumgirl 5 years ago from Vail Valley, Colorado

Nice hub! I really like vintage signs! We have a few in our garage. I have found that people often try to get rid of their vintage signs at garage sales, at least around my neck of the woods. Thanks for a great read!


GAbaptist profile image

GAbaptist 5 years ago from Alaska Author

Your welcome gypsumgirl, and I have a few too... They go great in a mancave!


ripplemaker profile image

ripplemaker 5 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

GABaptist, if I need to make a sign right now, it would read Congratulations! Your hub has been nominated on the Hubnuggets! Yes, cool right? Let me lead you down the trail as you hop on the Hubnuggets forum thread this week as Simone will point you to the Hubnuggets land! http://hubpages.com/forum/topic/68638#post1499889 Enjoy the Hubnuggets!


chantelg4 profile image

chantelg4 5 years ago from Northern Ontario

I really enjoyed this article. I've always loved the look of the 50's and hope to have a room dedicated to that era. I will certainly look for a vintage tin sign, but if I can't a replica will have to do. Thanks again for the article.


CYBERSUPE profile image

CYBERSUPE 5 years ago from MALVERN, PENNSYLVANIA, U.S.A.

Good idea, thanks for this information. I need a new item to collect. Great


jim 4 years ago

I found 2 plastic BP signs 5' x 5' the strange thing is they are orange with red letters? Not yellow with green letters, thay are not a pint-over, Anybody ever seen these? frogman2003ja at yahoo.


GAbaptist profile image

GAbaptist 4 years ago from Alaska Author

Jim, I have never seen a BP sign with those colors. The only colors I know of are the modern Yellow/Green and the Older Red/White/Blue UK colors. That's interesting...


angie ashbourne profile image

angie ashbourne 4 years ago

Hi! Awesome hub. Angie


RetailRich profile image

RetailRich 4 years ago

Great Hub. A Brief Story that really hurts! My dad was a Coca-Cola driver and he told me in the fifties and early sixties, Coca-Cola were giving the drivers tin signs to put up everywhere possible. That pushed so many signs on them, my dad told me many drivers were going out and dumping these signs because they didn't want to be accused of not doing their job! Being a Coca-Cola collector, it sure hurt me to hear that!


GAbaptist profile image

GAbaptist 4 years ago from Alaska Author

Thanks for visiting and reading angie! RetailRich, that is a sad tale indeed. Like they say, hindsight is always 20/20. I still kick myself for all the highly collectible things I'v had in my past that just seemed to slip away. I find myself always reminding my kids that the things they have could be very valuable someday if they would just take care of them. Thanks for the comment!

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