Signs made from enamel or porcelain were one of the most durable and robust. Also, their weather-resistance made them a favorite of gas and service stations whose signs are often exposed to the elements. It’s inherent strength also made it a perfect canvass for the often bold and colorful illustrations as it would age incredibly well. Today, enamel and porcelain signs are one of the most common and popular collectibles for both petroliana collectors and art-deco enthusiasts.
Signage is one of the oldest forms of advertising. Businesses owners have been hanging signs in front of their establishments for centuries now. Most of these signs were made from wood, but this material wasn’t very durable. Exposure to the elements wore it down and made the message indistinct. That led to the popularity of porcelain signs. These were particularly common in wet and cold regions of the world.
History of Porcelain Signs
Porcelain signs originated in Europe and were in widespread use by the late 1800s. Craftsmen from Germany, Italy, and other such countries created beautiful and carefully decorated signs for local businesses. These signs were popular because they were weather resistant. Rain, sun, dust, and snow couldn’t damage them in any way, and they didn't rust like classic tin signs, which meant the signs were ideal for placing outside the storefront.
By 1890, porcelain signs eventually found their way to the United States. These signs were often called enamel or enamel porcelain signs and most of them were imported from Germany.
Artisans created them by carefully applying layers of powdered glass to a base of rolled iron. They incorporated vivid colors and intricate designs into the sign to make them stand out. These signs came in a wide range of colors and sizes, making them an ideal choice for businesses that wanted to establish their identity.
American manufacturers started bringing in craftsmen from Europe to manufacture these signs in the US. Eventually, the designs took on a distinctly American aesthetic. They remained popular until the late 1950s. Unfortunately, miscreants and wars led to the decline in their popularity.
It is rare to find many authentic porcelain signs because they were destroyed. Many people found it entertaining to use these signs as target practice. They shot at the delicate porcelain and destroyed the sign. Many signs were broken and their metal bases were melted down for military use during World War II.
Types of Porcelain Signs for Sale
These signs come in a wide range of colors, sizes, and design combinations. Serious porcelain sign collectors often look for items in every category. Popular types of porcelains signs include:
- Single sided signs that were mounted on the wall.
- Two-sided signs that where hung from a bracket so passersby could read the information clearly.
The advertisements on these signs featured products like cigars, motor oils, lubricants, soda pops, automobile tires, and many more.
How to Collect Original Porcelain Signs
Porcelains signs are some of the most coveted items in this category. The most valuable of them are from old gas stations and gasoline brands. Collectors also value quirky and unique country store signs that market everything from candy and soda to bread and meat. The most passionate collectors are always on the hunt for the old railroad and highway signs.
Railroad signs from Union Pacific and Western Pacific lines and highway signs from California Auto Club are the most coveted. Smaller and more intricate signs are more valuable than bigger and bolder ones. These are rare and it is getting much more difficult to find authentic signs such as these in today's market.