Antique and Vintage Signs

Antique and Vintage Signs: a brief history

Antique and vintage signs have quickly grown to become some of the most sought-after items collectors look for on their hunts for pre-loved gems.  However, not everyone knows the rich history behind these beloved advertisements. Finding vintage and antique signs can seem like a daunting task; however, if you learn about the particular historical periods and the materials used, you’ll be a step closer to finding something special, avoiding some costly mistakes.


Porcelain signs, also referred to as enamel signs, have been known to advertise a plethora of items, from oil and 5 and dime stores to farm equipment and tires. The Porcelain sign made its arrival to the United States in the 1890s.  Porcelain was attractive because of its durability and weather-resistance. The first United States manufacturer of porcelain signs was Pennsylvania-based business, Enameled Iron Company. The company was owned by two Englishmen, Louis Ingram and Ernest Richardson, whereas before all porcelain signs were manufactured in Germany and some other places in Europe.

Tin Signs

The successor to Porcelain was the Tin Sign. In the latter half of the 19th century metal signs  became a common sight inside and outside of grocery stores, gas stations, five-and-dimes, bowling alleys, and restaurants. Some of the most popular businesses to use tin signs included: Coca-Cola, Pepsi, John Deere, Ford, and Chevrolet.

Neon Signs 

Neon Signs was introduced to the United States in 1923, when George Claude and his French company Claude Neon, sold two neon gas signs to a Packard car dealership in Los Angeles. Neon fixtures was a poor choice for interior lighting, but, for signs—it was perfect.  Neon lights were versatile and impressive, despite their limited color range. It wasn’t until the 1970s, that Neon lights started to be phased out, due to the cheaper and less labor-intensive alternative: the fluorescent tube.

Fluorescent Tube 

The invention of the fluorescent tube in the mid 1930s improved the signage industry greatly. The fluorescent tube proved to be more powerful, it offered a much larger variety of colors, and they could be modeled into any shape imaginable. By the end of the 1940s, the fluorescent tube had completely transformed the outdoor sign.


Plastic and acrylic

During the second half of the 1900s, plastic and vinyl signs gained popularity due to improved manufacturing methods and better design ideas. Plastic signs could be used with both fluorescent tube and neon. A more affordable and practicable choice in signage. By the 1960s plastic and acrylic signs where everywhere.