A Very Short History of Signage
Merchants and tradespeople have used signs to advertise their services for at least 5,000 years. Symbols, rather than writing, was the preferred method to communicate to potential buyers before widespread literacy. In ancient Rome, a bush of ivy and vines engraved in stone or terra cotta indicated a tavern. Besides directing thirsty patrons to the nearest tap, the signs also allowed tax collectors and regulators to find the businesses. Pay unto Caesar indeed.
In the United States, the explosion of consumerism and brands around 1900, coupled with increasing literacy and urbanization, produced a golden age of signage that lasted until the metal scrapping drives of World War II.
Antique Metal Signs
Porcelain (aka enamel) signs were the most durable and most widely used until the 1950s, when plastic and vinyl offered a more durable and cost-effective altnernative. To make a porcelain sign, powdered glass is fused with heat on die-cut rolled iron, or later on steel. Each color on the sign is added one layer at a time. The technique was brought to the United States by European craftspeople recruited to work at early sign companies like Ingram-Richardson and Enameled Iron Company. Tin signs were also popular during this period, either hand-painted or screen printed.
Antique metal signs commonly advertised products ranging from oil and gas, cigarettes and beer, to automobiles and travel destinations. The signs might be designed to be viewed from one side only (wall signs), or from both sides (flange signs). Like most antiques, the sign market is volatile. The popularity of a particular brand or image might rise and fall dramatically over a few years, and the prices generally follow. However, there are four general factors that make a sign valuable: age, rarity, graphics, and condition.
Autheniticating an Antique Sign
Verifying the age of an antique metal sign can be difficult for consumers. Reproductions abound and are sometimes sold as the original article by unscrupulous merchants. This short guide from ebay can help consumers protect themselves from sign fraud.
At Eco Relics, we do our best to track down the exact age and context of the signs we offer. We will never knowingly misrepresent the authenticity of any of our antiques. Rest assured that our antique metal signs are the genuine article. There is no better location in Jacksonville for antique metal signs.