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In the dawn of the 20th century, signs literally pointed the way for quickly growing number of car owners to the forerunner of the modern gas station. America was jumping on this self-propelling buggy they called automobile to the delight of car manufacturers and oil and gas companies.

Before fuel advertisements swung into full force, gasoline companies like Gulf, Polly, Esso, Shell, and others made use of signs to direct motorist to their supposedly superior products. They reassured commuters as well. During the time when filling and service stations were still a rarity, seeing a sign pointing to the next filling station after many miles of country driving brought a veritable sigh of relief to the weary driver.

Vintage Signs – Trademarking the Brand

Signs, brands, and trademarks, of course, became an industry of its own long before the first filling stations. Brand names, trademarks, and the promise of in-demand consumer products were carved onto wood, stone, marble, and later on paper and packaging.

Eventually, industry leaders would brought more robust and durable materials into production. The production of the classic one-signed plate or placard thus began. These earliest signs were often convex, and letters or designs were slightly raised, especially on the lithographed tin. These signs came in all shapes and sizes, though the most common are also those that endure down to this day: circles, squares, and rectangles. And with the rise of car ownership, signs would eventually change the face and color of cities and towns.

Interestingly, the idea of a sign supported by a stand or pole was particular to the US. They would then be placed in strategic spaces around a gas station to attract customers further.

Old Collectible Signs – A Competitive Market

In the 19-teens, signs on the lithographed tin, screen-printed sheet steel, or the more durable baked enamel became the symbol of American Oil, Gas, and Petroleum consumerism and competition. Signs would eventually become more forward, distinct, and striking (pin-up welcome) to better attract motorists and beat rivals. It is also for this reason why vintage signs are a particular favorite among petroliana and automobilia collectors.  Signs were witty, always appealing, and back then, surprisingly specific. Whereas now we have signs that only say “Get gas,” signs back then might read “Trust your car to the man who wears the star – Texaco.” Gas companies, the more unique and distinct it was, the better

As gas stations in the country increased in number, the demand for signs grew exponentially. Companies like the Burdick Enamel Sign Company would also make a name for themselves. Established Chicago, IL. in ’85, the company rose to fame producing signs for a variety of companies and industries nationwide. For vintage sign collectors, the Burdick Enamel Sign Company is synonymous to the pump shield or pump plate. These signs, often emblazoned with a brand were attached to gas pumps to make them more attractive and to protect from dings and scratches.

Collectors would typically hunt for pump shields to either complete their pump and globe set or as a set of places of similar brands. Major brands such as Standard Oil, Union 76, Pennzoil, and Valvoline have large followings and are the most common plates and signs you’ll encounter. However, the signs collectors are really out to find are from smaller regional brands, which makes them extremely rare. Polly branded signs, for example, are one of a kind and very expensive.

In the years following World War II, the production and use of signs saw a decline. Many tin and enamel signs were melted down to support the war effort. If used at all, signs became more straightforward and less specific to prolong their relevance and reduce costs. Metal and steel supports would then be replaced by plastic while baked enamel would be abandoned in favor of hard plastic, sheet steel, and synthetics.

Despite the decline during the 40’s and 50’s, signs that have become vintage are experiencing a surge in popularity. Collectors would often go out of their way to find specific signs from historical eras and even restore signs that have become worse for wear.

Vintage Signs for Sale

As you begin or continue your hunt for that rare antique sign or a piece that would complete your Union 76 collection, you’ll want to consider the following factors:


Tin Signs

Before enamel signs arrived in the US, signs were made of the same material as canned food: tin. Tin replaced paper posters as the ideal sign material. Gas companies would then imprint their brands, logos, and slogans onto Tin plates via a process called lithography, despite the high cost of producing tin signs. Tin signs in mint condition are typically harder to find as the material is prone to rust.

Enamel and Porcelain Signs

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.

Neon Signs

Collecting vintage neon signs can be challenging, as these signs are often fragile and can be difficult to find in good condition. Many signs have been damaged over time or have been lost or discarded. It can take a lot of time and effort to locate and acquire a good quality vintage neon sign, but the sense of accomplishment and the beauty of the finished product can make it all worth it.

One way to find vintage neon signs is to visit antique shops, flea markets, and online marketplaces. It can also be helpful to join collector groups or forums, where you can connect with other collectors and learn about new finds and resources.

In addition to being a unique and visually appealing addition to a home or business, vintage neon signs can also be a valuable investment. As the popularity of these signs has grown, so has their value. A well-preserved and rare neon sign can be worth thousands of dollars.


The main factor you’ll have to consider on the state of a vintage sign is the overall condition and possible restoration. Specifically, how much or how little restoration would be needed. Damage and wear on an enamel sign would be easier to fix, provided that the porcelain itself is not badly damaged. On the other hand, tin signs could be deformed or carry rust.


As mentioned above, vintage signs carrying the big brand of the era are the most common. However, their prevalence does not necessarily decrease their value. It would, though, make it easier for a collector to build his collection around a specific major brand.

On the other hand, if rarity and scarcity are what you’re looking for, then smaller, less popular, regional brands (like Polly or Sinclair) should be your target.


When it comes to vintage signs, size matters. You’ll find that the bigger the sign, the more coveted and more valuable it will be.  If you’re aiming for a giant antique sign, you might need to bring the truck.

Although gas station signs have become ubiquitous today, signs used to be a source of color, wonder, and excitement during the infancy of the automobile. For quiet routes and backwater towns, signs also meant business and trade. Today, antique and vintage signs bring a welcome helping of nostalgia and Americana to any yard, den, or showroom.

Discovering the Charm of Old Antique Signs

Vintage signs have a charm and allure that transcends time, capturing the essence of bygone eras while adding character to any space. Explore the fascinating world of vintage signs, from their timeless appeal and materials to incorporating them into your home or business decor. Let’s embark on a journey to uncover the captivating charm of vintage signs and how they can transform your space.

Short Summary

  • Discover the timeless charm of vintage signs for your home decor
  • Incorporate vibrant colors, iconic symbols and unique materials into your space
  • Collecting and caring for vintage signs is rewarding & a great way to support local history

A vintage sign with a timeless appeal

Diving into the world of vintage signs, one can’t help but be captivated by their unique charm. Spanning street signs, shop signs, gas station signs, traffic signs, road signs, and beyond, each sign offers a glimpse into a different time and place.

The process of creating a vintage wooden sign, for instance, is an art form in itself, involving:

  • precise measurements
  • cutting
  • painting
  • lettering

Early trade signs were beautifully crafted from three-dimensional symbols, such as art deco designs. As signs progressed during the 19th century, an array of exciting features were introduced, including:

  • Colors
  • Fonts
  • Pictorial representations
  • Road signs

Timeless Appeal

The enduring appeal of vintage signs lies in their nostalgic designs and connection to the past. Classic designs and colors evoke a sense of warmth and nostalgia, making them perfect for your antique sign collection or house decoration. Some iconic signs that invoke a feeling of nostalgia and add a special charm to any home include:

With so many great options to choose from, you can find vintage signs for sale through our auctions, in antique stores, flea markets, online stores, and other vintage sign retailers.

Material Matters

A sign made of wood and tin with a vintage look

Vintage signs come in various materials, each with its own unique characteristics and history. Expertly crafted from:

  • Enamel
  • Porcelain
  • Tin
  • Wood
  • Neon

These signs showcase the ingenuity and creativity of their creators.

Enamel is an incredibly durable material that is highly resistant to fading and corrosion, while porcelain is a beautiful glossy material that is also highly resistant to fading and corrosion. Tin is a lightweight material that is incredibly easy to shape and can be painted with a variety of vibrant colors. Wood is a timeless classic material that is simple to work with and can be painted or stained to your heart’s content.

Tin Signs

Tin signs are lightweight, durable, and often feature vibrant colors and graphics. With a solid black border, rolled edges, a weatherproof finish, and pre-punched holes for hanging, tin signs boast amazing features to suit a wide range of designs and themes. You can find tin signs in:

  • Antique stores
  • Flea markets
  • Online stores
  • Other vintage sign retailers

This offers countless options to choose from.

Caring for tin signs is a breeze – simply clean them with a soft cloth and mild soap and water, then store them in a dry, cool place away from direct sunlight.

Porcelain Signs

Porcelain signs are known for their glossy finish and long-lasting quality. Made from commercial quality steel and finished with high-gloss porcelain enamel, these signs were typically used for petrol and oil signs between 1900 and WWII. Their vibrant colors and lights make porcelain signs highly sought after by collectors and enthusiasts alike.

The fascinating history of porcelain signs is rooted in their use for petrol and oil signs between 1900 and WWII, making them a popular choice for gas and service stations.

Neon Signs

Neon signs add a touch of retro flair and can be a striking focal point. Electric signs that use gases such as mercury, argon, and helium, shaped glass tubes, and electrodes at either end of the tube, create an unforgettable and captivating display. Characterized by their use of exciting gases, beautifully shaped glass tubes, electrodes, and a dazzling glow, neon signs are incredibly visible and energy-efficient.

To keep neon signs bright and attractive, regular inspection and prompt replacement of any damaged parts is crucial, as is cleaning the tubes regularly to maintain their brightness.

Gas Station Signs

Gas station signs showcase the history of the automotive industry and make great conversation pieces. These signs come in a multitude of shapes, sizes, and designs, including:

  • Price signs
  • Digital signs
  • Pump-top advertisements
  • Warning signs

Gas station signs are incredibly important for providing helpful information to customers, such as the cost of fuel, in-store promotions, and warnings.

They also provide a unique and exciting way to showcase the history of the automotive industry and make great conversation starters. Gas station signs can be used to create a stunning gallery wall, add a unique and practical touch to a room, or be used to blend different styles together.

Advertising Signs

A painting of a gallery wall with vintage signs hung in it

Advertising signs capture the essence of past marketing campaigns and popular brands. With attention-grabbing features, branding, and versatility, advertising signs come in various types, such as:

  • Tin signs
  • Porcelain signs
  • Neon signs
  • Gas station signs

All of these types of signs are sure to capture attention with their eye-catching print.

Advertising signs can be used to create a stunning gallery wall, add an exciting and practical element to a room, or combine styles for a one-of-a-kind look.

Incorporating Vintage Advertising Signs into Your Home Decor

Vintage signs can be seamlessly incorporated into your home decor, adding character and personality. With so many wonderful ways to use vintage signs in home decor, such as:

  • Using them as beautiful wall art
  • Making them the stunning focal point
  • Creating a gorgeous gallery wall
  • Using them as functional and stylish decor

You can mix and match with other decor styles for a unique look.

Hanging them on the wall or propping them up against a wall can be great ways to use vintage signs as wall art. You can also create a feature wall or add a pop of color to a room with vintage signs.

Creating a Gallery Wall

Create a gallery wall with a collection of vintage signs for a visually striking display. Think about the size, shape, and color of the vintage signs you want to include in your gallery wall, and how they will beautifully fit in with the rest of your home decor.

Take into account the size and shape of the wall and the vintage signs you have chosen, and visualize the overall look you want to achieve and the effect you want the gallery wall to have. Using a level will ensure the vintage signs are hung perfectly straight, and nails or screws can be used to hang the signs, depending on the weight of the sign and the type of wall.

Adding other elements to the gallery wall, such as plants, artwork, or other decorations, can be a great way to enhance it, and adding lighting to highlight vintage signs can create a stunning and dramatic effect.

Fun and Functional

Vintage signs can be used in various ways.

  • Functional pieces, such as coat racks or key holders, adding a unique touch to your home decor, garage, or store decor
  • Part of a fun and stylish gallery wall
  • Stylish hanging coat racks
  • Practical key holders
  • Decorative door signs, providing a unique and interesting touch to any space.

To ensure that your antique signs last for years, they should be regularly cleaned with a soft cloth and mild soap and water, and stored in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight.

Mixing Styles

people restoring an old porcelain sign in their home

Mix old signs with modern decor elements for an eclectic and unique look. Incorporating antique signs into different design styles by pairing them with modern furniture and decor elements can add a charming touch of nostalgia to a contemporary living room or a warm and inviting rustic feel to a modern kitchen.

Vintage signs can be beautifully blended with flea market accessories and antique furnishings by combining them with other vintage pieces, such as an antique mirror or a vintage rug, to create a unique and stylish look.

Collecting and Caring for Antique Signs

Collecting vintage signs can be a rewarding hobby, but proper care and knowledge are essential. Antique signs can be joyfully discovered at flea markets, antique shops, and online retailers, offering an abundance of material choices, including tin, porcelain, neon, gas station, and advertising signs.

With so many great options to choose from, you can use style filters to effortlessly find signs that fit your aesthetic, and color filters to find signs in your desired color.

Where to Find Them

Find old signs at flea markets, antique shops, and online retailers. Amazing antique signs can be made of tin, porcelain, neon, gas station, and advertising signs, offering a variety of options for any collector. Etsy, eBay, and Richmond Auctions are great places to find a fantastic selection of vintage signs, providing countless options to choose from.

When buying these signs, be sure to take into account the excellent condition, impressive size, and undeniable authenticity of the sign.

Restoring and Preserving

An image showing a collection of vintage signs being restored and preserved.

Learn how to restore and preserve vintage signs to maintain their value and appearance. Vintage signs are valuable pieces of history and art, and restoring and preserving them allows us to keep their value and beauty intact.

The most effective methods for restoring and preserving vintage signs include cleaning with a soft cloth, using a mild detergent, and avoiding harsh chemicals. To preserve the value and beauty of vintage signs, it is important to keep them away from direct sunlight, moisture, and in a cool, dry place.

Valuing and Authenticating

A business with a vintage sign in the front to set the tone

Understand the factors that determine the value and authenticity of vintage signs. The value of vintage signs is determined by an array of exciting factors, such as:

  • Age
  • Condition
  • Rarity
  • Popularity

Original signs provide an authentic and historical experience, while reproduction signs offer a unique and stylish aesthetic.

A vintage sign is one that was crafted during the time period in which it was meant to be used, while an antique sign is one that has been around for at least a century – a truly remarkable and fascinating item. Authenticating vintage signs can be done easily by looking for signs of wear and tear, checking for any damage, and researching the history of the sign.

If you think a sign is genuine, you should contact an expert in these signs to validate it.

Antique Signs for Business Settings

Incorporating vintage signs into a business setting can create a welcoming atmosphere and engage customers. With their unique charm and nostalgic designs, vintage signs can be employed to create a warm and inviting atmosphere, thereby engaging customers in a meaningful way.

Street signs and interior shop signage offer a unique opportunity to add branding, decor, advertising, merchandising, and seasonal/holiday decor to any business setting.

Setting the Tone

Vintage signs can:

  • Set the tone for your business
  • Convey a sense of history and authenticity
  • Foster a nostalgic and distinctive atmosphere
  • Captivate customers
  • Honor local history

Utilizing vintage signs in business settings can help achieve these effects.

Consider typography, color palette, and sign materials to create an eye-catching vintage look for your business sign, and incorporate vintage branding styles to reference the past while maintaining a stylish look for your business signage.

Engaging Customers

Engage customers with interesting and eye-catching vintage signs that spark conversation. Vintage signs can be used as stunning displays in your storefront or at trade shows to draw in customers and evoke a sense of nostalgia. Creating a themed display using vintage signs can help to tell a captivating story or evoke a desired mood, fostering a meaningful connection with customers.

Using vintage signs as props for photo opportunities can be an excellent way to engage customers and create a buzz about your business on social media.

Supporting Local History

Support local history by showcasing vintage signs from businesses in your community. Honoring the past and recognizing the businesses that have been part of the community for many years, vintage signs add a unique and interesting touch to your home decor. With an abundance of vintage signs that come in a variety of delightful materials, including:

  • tin
  • porcelain
  • neon
  • gas station
  • advertising signs

You can find amazing antique signs at our auctions, vintage stores, flea markets, online auctions, and even in your own community.

Examining the materials used, the age of the sign, and the condition of the sign can help you confidently authenticate a vintage sign.


Vintage signs offer a captivating charm and timeless appeal that can transform any space. Whether you’re incorporating them into your home decor, collecting them as a hobby, or using them in a business setting, these signs provide a unique connection to the past. By understanding the materials, history, and care involved in vintage signs, you can create a truly distinctive and memorable atmosphere that will captivate and inspire.

Frequently Asked Questions

What materials were vintage signs crafted from?

Vintage signs were masterfully created from enamel, porcelain, tin and wood, creating beautiful pieces of art.

These signs were often used to advertise products, services, and businesses, and were often seen in shop windows, on walls, and in other public places. They were also used to decorate homes and gardens.

How can I create a gallery wall with vintage signs?

Create a gallery wall with vintage signs by arranging them in a grid pattern or combining different sizes and shapes to make a unique statement.

This is a great way to add a touch of personality to any room. You can choose from a variety of signs, from classic metal signs to wooden signs with vintage-inspired designs. With a little creativity, you can create something beautiful.

What are some creative ways to use vintage signs to promote special promotions or sales?

Vintage signs are an effective way to draw attention and make customers excited to take advantage of special promotions or sales. Adding these signs to your business can be a great way to increase customer engagement and maximize profits.

How can I authenticate a vintage sign?

Examine the materials used, age, and condition of the sign to authenticate it confidently – this is the most common advice for assessing vintage signs.

How can I incorporate vintage signs into my business setting?

Incorporating vintage signs into your business setting is a great way to create an inviting atmosphere, engage customers, and honor local history.

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