Collecting Antique Signs

by Mark Astengo

Collecting antique signs is a captivating and fulfilling pastime that has garnered increasing interest over the years. The allure and nostalgia associated with these historical relics have attracted enthusiasts from all backgrounds, each sign recounting a unique tale of times gone by. This comprehensive article delves into the world of antique signs, exploring their history, importance, and the motives behind their collectability. Additionally, we will discuss popular types of signs among collectors, offer tips for starting your own collection, provide guidance on the optimal ways to preserve and display your prized possessions, and delve into the market trends and investment potential of antique signs.

Antique signs have been present for centuries, originally serving to advertise products, services, or businesses. From the inception of trade, artisans and merchants have utilized signs to attract attention to their offerings. The Industrial Revolution introduced new technologies and materials, enabling the creation of more sophisticated and eye-catching signs.

In the ancient world, signs were typically crafted from wood, stone, or terracotta. Egyptian, Greek, and Roman cultures all employed signs to advertise their businesses, often featuring hieroglyphs, images, and Latin inscriptions. The Industrial Revolution led to the mass production of goods, necessitating new advertising methods for businesses. Metal signs, particularly those made of tin, gained popularity during this time. These signs were durable, affordable, and easily mass-produced, making them the ideal advertising choice.

The early 20th century marked the golden age of signs, with businesses vying to create the most visually appealing and memorable displays. This period witnessed innovations such as porcelain enamel signs and neon signs, adding a new level of vibrancy and excitement to the advertising arena. Porcelain enamel signs, for example, were often used by gasoline and automobile companies, as well as other major brands, creating iconic imagery that resonates with collectors even today.

Collectors often seek out various types of antique signs, each with its own distinctive characteristics and appeal. Wooden signs, some of the earliest and most rudimentary advertising forms, are often hand-painted and highly sought after for their folk art appeal and historical significance. Porcelain enamel signs, made by fusing layers of colored powdered glass to a metal base (typically steel or iron), are known for their durability and vivid colors, making them very collectible. Tin signs, mass-produced during the Industrial Revolution, became a popular advertising form. Collectors often search for tin signs with original lithographic printing, as well as those showcasing well-known brands or eye-catching graphics. Neon signs, which debuted in the early 20th century, rapidly became a popular advertising method, particularly for nighttime businesses. The bright, radiant colors of neon signs make them highly coveted by collectors.

For those considering starting a collection of antique signs, a few helpful tips include determining a specific focus, such as signs from a particular era, industry, or material; setting a budget, as antique signs can range in price from a few dollars to thousands; conducting thorough research on the types of signs that interest you, including their history, rarity, and value, to make informed purchasing decisions; and joining collector groups to gain valuable insights, tips, and leads on where to find signs for your collection. Online forums, social media groups, and collector clubs can provide a wealth of information and resources for both novice and experienced collectors.

When it comes to preserving and displaying your antique sign collection, proper care is essential. Keep signs away from direct sunlight to prevent fading, and avoid extreme temperature fluctuations or humidity, which can cause damage to the materials. Regular cleaning and dusting will help maintain the appearance of your signs. For particularly delicate or valuable pieces, consider using UV-protective glass or Plexiglas when framing or displaying the items.

The market for antique signs has experienced considerable growth over the years, with many collectors viewing these historical pieces as valuable investments. As with any collectible market, trends and demand can fluctuate, so it is important to stay informed and knowledgeable about the specific niche you are interested in. Popular brands, iconic imagery, and signs with historical significance tend to retain or appreciate in value over time. However, it’s essential to note that the market can be unpredictable, and investing in antique signs should be approached with caution and thorough research.

One way to stay informed about the antique sign market is by attending collector events, auctions, and trade shows. These events not only offer opportunities to network with other collectors and experts in the field but also provide a chance to gain firsthand knowledge about current market trends and values. Additionally, reputable auction houses, such as Christie’s and Sotheby’s, occasionally feature antique signs in their sales, which can offer insights into the market’s high-end spectrum. Don’t forget that Pacific Antiques Mall has many hundreds of signs throughout the sizable store.

When purchasing antique signs for investment purposes, it’s crucial to consider factors such as rarity, condition, historical significance, and provenance. Signs with documented history or those that come from a well-known collection may hold a higher value. As with any collectible, be cautious of reproductions or forgeries. Learning how to authenticate antique signs is an invaluable skill, and seeking advice from experienced collectors or experts is always recommended before making a significant purchase.

In conclusion, collecting antique signs is a rewarding and fascinating hobby that allows enthusiasts to own a piece of history. The allure of these relics from the past transcends their advertising origins, transforming them into sought-after art pieces and valuable investments. By carefully selecting and preserving your collection, you can enjoy the nostalgic charm and beauty of antique signs while potentially reaping the financial benefits of their appreciation in value. As you embark on your journey into the world of antique signs, remember to stay informed, network with fellow collectors, and, most importantly, enjoy the process of discovering and acquiring these treasured artifacts from bygone eras.

Pacific Antiques Mall
10228 Pacific Ave S
Tacoma, Washington 98444
OPEN Daily 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM


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