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Collecting Vintage Porcelain Signs: A Guide to Values & Appraisals

Imagine owning a piece of history, an artifact that tells the story of a bygone era. Vintage porcelain signs are not only aesthetically pleasing, but they also hold historical significance and nostalgic charm, making them highly sought-after collectibles. In this blog post, we will explore the allure of these signs, their types, how to determine their value, and tips for buying and selling them. We will also discuss proper care and maintenance, as well as creative ways to showcase your vintage porcelain sign collection.

Key Takeaways

  • Vintage porcelain signs are a reminder of the past, evoking nostalgia and offering aesthetic appeal.
  • Determining their value requires considering factors such as age, rarity, condition and demand.
  • Caring for your collection involves regular cleaning, storage and inspections to ensure preservation.

The Allure of Vintage Porcelain Signs

Vintage porcelain signs are mirrors of the past, mirroring the advertising and design trends prevalent during their creation. These signs, also known as enamel signs, were made by fusing powdered glass onto a metal base, resulting in a durable and visually striking piece. Often displayed in gas stations, soda shops, and other commercial spaces, vintage porcelain signs are now highly coveted by collectors for their historical significance, nostalgic charm, and aesthetic qualities.

The historical significance of vintage porcelain signs lies in their representation of a bygone era, showcasing prevalent colors, fonts, and images from the time. Nostalgic charm is evident in the traditional and artistic approach to advertising found in many old signs. From an aesthetics standpoint, vibrant colors and unique designs that characterize vintage porcelain signs enhance their visual appeal, thereby attracting collectors.

Signs have been displayed in front of businesses for hundreds of years, making it one of the oldest methods of advertising. These signs were most often made of wood, but they weren’t very durable. The signs were damaged by the elements and became blurred. This led to the era of vintage porcelain signs becoming very popular. They were especially popular in cold and wet regions.

History Of Porcelain Signs

Vintage porcelain signs were first used in Europe in the late 1800s. These beautiful vintage porcelain signs were created by artisans from Germany, Italy, or other countries. They were weather-resistant and durable, making them very popular. They can withstand rain, snow, sun, dust and other weather conditions.

The porcelain sign finally made its way to America in 1890. These signs were also known as enamel or enamel porcelain signs. Most of them were imported from Germany.

They were created by artisans who carefully applied layers of powdered glass to a base made of rolled iron or steel. To make the signs stand out, they used vivid colors and intricate designs. Vintage porcelain signs in this size and color range are a great choice for businesses looking to establish their brand.

American manufacturers began to bring in European craftsmen to make these enamel signs in America. The designs eventually took on an American look. They were popular throughout the country in gas stations, oil companies, soda companies, door pushes, collectors, car companies and automobiles, tobacco companies, and remained American collectibles up until the 1950s. Their popularity declined due to miscreants and wars.

Because they were destroyed, it is very rare to find authentic vintage porcelain signs to buy or sell. These signs were popular because they could be used as targets. The delicate porcelain and enamel was destroyed by shooters who also damaged many vintage signs. Many advertising collectibles and vintage porcelain signs were damaged and the metal, iron, and steel bases were melted for military use in World War II.

Historical Significance

Vintage porcelain signs serve as a reminder of the past, offering insight into the advertising and design trends of their time. These antique signs, also known as vintage signs, were once an integral part of the commercial landscape, with businesses using them to advertise their products and services, including door pushes.

As time went on, these signs were replaced by modern alternatives, but their historical significance and visual appeal have only grown, making them valuable collectibles today.

Nostalgic Charm

The craftsmanship and design of vintage porcelain signs, as well as metal sign counterparts, can transport collectors to a more tranquil and sentimental period. Many of these signs feature iconic brands and logos that evoke memories of times gone by.

For some collectors, these signs are a connection to their past, while for others, they serve as an introduction to a fascinating era of advertising history and advertising collectibles.

Aesthetic Qualities

In addition to their historical significance and nostalgic charm, vintage porcelain signs are highly desired for their aesthetic qualities. The layers of porcelain and enamel on the steel sheet, referred to as shelving, create a visually appealing and durable surface.

The vibrant colors and unique designs of these signs make them stand out, attracting the attention of collectors and enthusiasts alike.

Types of Vintage Porcelain Signs

A variety of vintage porcelain signs

There are various types of vintage porcelain signs, each with their own unique appeal and value. This section introduces a variety of vintage porcelain signs categories such as:

  • Gas and oil signs
  • Soda signs
  • Tobacco signs
  • Transportation signs

Each type of sign offers a glimpse into a specific aspect of history, making them fascinating collectibles for those interested in the past.

Gas and Oil Signs

Gas and oil signs are among the most popular and valuable vintage porcelain signs, featuring iconic brands and logos from the automotive industry. These signs were once a common sight at gas stations and automotive workshops, promoting the products and services of companies such as:

  • Shell
  • Standard Oil
  • Mobil
  • Exxon
  • Esso
  • Philips 66

Collectors are drawn to these signs due to their historical significance coupled with their striking designs and vibrant colors.

Soda Signs

Soda signs showcase the advertising efforts of popular beverage companies, often featuring eye-catching designs and slogans. These signs were typically displayed in various locations, promoting brands such as:

  • Coca-Cola
  • Pepsi
  • Dr. Pepper
  • 7-Up
  • Bubble Up

Soda signs are highly collectible and can be of great value, especially those featuring iconic logos and designs.

Tobacco Signs

Tobacco signs represent a time when tobacco products were heavily advertised, making them interesting collectibles for those interested in the history of advertising. These signs often featured the logos and slogans of popular tobacco brands, promoting their products to consumers.

As with other vintage porcelain signs, the value of tobacco signs is determined by factors such as age, rarity, condition, and demand.

Transportation Signs

Transportation signs, such as those for railways and airlines, are popular among collectors who appreciate the history and design of transportation-related memorabilia. These signs often featured the logos and branding of airlines like Northwest, TWA, United, and Southwest, as well as bus lines like Greyhound, Jefferson Lines, Trailways, and MTA.

Like other vintage porcelain signs, the value of transportation signs is influenced by factors such as age, rarity, condition, and demand.

Determining the Value of Vintage Porcelain Signs

An old porcelain sign with the words "Age, Rarity, Condition, Demand"

Several elements contribute to the value of a vintage porcelain sign including:

  • Age
  • Rarity
  • Condition
  • Demand

Older and rarer signs generally command higher prices due to their historical significance and scarcity, while signs in excellent condition are more valuable than those with damage or wear.

This section delves deeper into these factors, aiding in the understanding of the value of your vintage porcelain sign collection.


The age of a vintage porcelain sign is a key factor in determining its value, with older signs generally being more valuable due to their historical significance and scarcity. Vintage porcelain signs usually span from the late 19th century to the mid-20th century, so signs from earlier periods are often more valuable and sought-after by collectors.

By researching the history and production of a sign, you can gain insight into its age and potential value.


Rarity plays a significant role in the value of a vintage porcelain sign, as signs that were produced in limited quantities or are difficult to find are more desirable to collectors. Some vintage porcelain signs were mass-produced, while others were made in smaller batches or for specific promotional campaigns.

It’s crucial to take into account the rarity of your vintage porcelain sign and collector demand for that specific sign when assessing its value.


The condition of a vintage porcelain sign greatly impacts its value, with signs in excellent condition being more valuable than those with damage or wear. Factors that can influence the condition of a vintage porcelain sign include age, exposure to the elements, and inadequate storage.

When assessing the value of a sign, it’s important to carefully examine its surface, edges, and any markings or labels to determine its overall condition and potential value.


The demand for a particular vintage porcelain sign can also influence its value, with signs from popular brands or featuring sought-after designs commanding higher prices. For example, a rare sign from a well-known brand like Coca-Cola might be more valuable than a similar sign from a lesser-known brand.

Understanding the market for vintage porcelain signs and the preferences of collectors can help you better gauge the demand for a specific sign and its potential value.

Vintage Porcelain Signs For Sale

The most sought-after items in the petroliana or automobilia niches to buy or sell are antique porcelain signs. A vintage porcelain sign tends to be most valuable from gas stations that have been closed down or brands of gasoline. Collectors of old signs also treasure quirky and unusual country store signs, which market everything from bread and meat to soda and candy. Collectors who are passionate about collecting antique signs from the railroad or highway are also very dedicated.

The most sought-after railroad signs to buy or sell for a collection are those from Union Pacific and Western Pacific lines, and the highway signs from California Auto Club. Signs that are smaller and more complex are more valuable than those with bolder designs. These signs are very rare, and authentic ones can be difficult to find.

Tips for Buying and Selling Antique Porcelain Signs

A person holding a vintage porcelain sign

Whether you’re looking to add to your collection or sell a treasured piece, it’s important to know where to find vintage porcelain signs, how to authenticate them, and how to negotiate prices.

This section imparts tips and advice on locating, verifying, and negotiating prices for vintage porcelain signs, equipping you with knowledge for informed decisions in the buying or selling process of these unique collectibles.

Finding Vintage Porcelain Signs

Finding vintage porcelain signs can involve:

  • Searching online marketplaces such as eBay,,, and
  • Attending auctions
  • Visiting antique shops and flea markets
  • Checking Facebook Marketplace and Etsy

These platforms often have listings for antique porcelain signs, including a variety of old porcelain signs and vintage porcelain signs.

Networking with other collectors and attending antique shows can also be valuable sources for finding vintage porcelain signs.

Authenticating Vintage Porcelain Signs

Authenticating vintage porcelain signs is crucial to ensure you’re purchasing a genuine piece, and may involve researching the sign’s history, examining its materials and construction, and consulting experts.

Inspect the sign for any signs of forgery or counterfeiting, and be wary of signs that seem too good to be true in terms of price or condition. When in doubt, consult appraisers, collectors, and dealers for their expertise and opinions.

Negotiating Prices

Negotiating prices for vintage porcelain signs requires knowledge of their value and an understanding of the market, allowing you to make informed decisions when buying or selling. When negotiating, be polite and respectful, and don’t be afraid to ask for the ‘best price’ or if the seller is open to negotiation.

By researching the market value of similar signs and understanding the factors that contribute to a sign’s value, you can ensure that you’re paying or receiving a fair price for your vintage porcelain sign.

Caring for Your Vintage Porcelain Sign Collection

A collection of antique porcelain signs

Proper care and maintenance are essential for preserving the value and appearance of your vintage porcelain sign collection. This includes cleaning, storage, and regular inspections for signs of wear or damage.

This section offers guidance on maintaining your vintage porcelain signs, ensuring their preservation in the best possible condition for future years.

Storage Tips

Store your vintage porcelain signs in a cool, dry environment, away from direct sunlight and extreme temperatures to prevent damage. Proper storage is crucial for preserving the condition of your signs and maintaining their value.

Additionally, avoid drilling new holes in the signs or making any alterations that could affect their value or integrity.

Cleaning Tips

Clean your vintage porcelain signs gently with a soft cloth and mild soap, avoiding abrasive cleaners or harsh chemicals that could damage the sign’s surface. Regular cleaning will help to maintain the appearance of your signs and protect them from dirt, dust, and grime.

Be sure to rinse away any soap residue and dry the sign thoroughly with a clean, soft cloth after cleaning.

Maintenance Tips

Regularly inspect your vintage porcelain signs for signs of wear or damage, and address any issues promptly to maintain their value and appearance. This may involve removing rust, repairing chips or cracks, or addressing other signs of wear.

By keeping a close eye on the condition of your signs and taking steps to address any issues, you can ensure that your collection remains in the best possible condition for years to come.

Showcasing Your Vintage Porcelain Sign Collection

A person holding a vintage porcelain sign

Showcasing your vintage porcelain sign collection can be done in various ways, such as displaying them in your home, office, or garage. Creative displays not only allow you to enjoy your collection but can also serve as conversation starters for guests and visitors.

This section outlines various display ideas and settings for your vintage porcelain signs, assisting you in creating a visually dynamic and engaging space.

Home Displays

Home displays can include hanging vintage porcelain signs on walls, placing them on shelves, or incorporating them into themed rooms or collections. For example, you might create a nostalgic kitchen display featuring vintage soda signs, or a cozy living room corner with transportation signs from your favorite railroad or airline.

The possibilities are endless, and showcasing your collection in your home can add a unique and personal touch to your decor.

Office Displays

Office displays can showcase your vintage porcelain signs as conversation pieces or decorative accents, adding character and interest to your workspace. Consider incorporating your signs into a gallery wall, placing them on shelves, or using them as focal points in your office design.

Not only will these displays provide a visually appealing element to your office, but they can also serve as a reminder of the history and craftsmanship behind each sign.

Garage Displays

Garage displays can highlight your vintage porcelain signs or old neon signs alongside other automotive memorabilia, creating a unique and visually appealing space. Whether you’re a car enthusiast or simply appreciate the history of transportation, incorporating vintage porcelain signs into your garage display can bring the space to life.

Consider hanging signs on the walls, placing them on shelves, or even creating a themed display centered around a specific brand or era.


In conclusion, vintage porcelain signs are not only visually appealing but also hold historical significance and nostalgic charm, making them highly sought-after collectibles. By understanding the different types of signs, their values, and proper care and maintenance, you can build a unique and valuable collection. Whether you choose to display your signs in your home, office, or garage, they will serve as a constant reminder of the rich history and craftsmanship behind these timeless pieces.

How can you tell if a porcelain sign is real?

Some porcelain sign backs can be smooth or have texture, but a smooth back might make them look fake. Excepting some exception. The lining porcelain on the back is normally smaller than the front of vintage signs and is therefore most likely first to crack up.

Why did they stop making porcelain signs?

Before WWII, many porcelain signs lay around because their advertising didn’t exist anymore. After the war, the costs associated with old porcelain signs were just too expensive – the technique ceased to exist.

When were porcelain signs made?

A series and collection of vintage ceramic enamel signs crossed into the US in the 1890s from Europe to the USA. The technique was soon accepted by craftsmen and fabricators. They explored bold colors and different techniques and created new designs for these antique signs.

How do you value old signs?

The quality of the vintage signs is influenced largely by various aspects, including material – such as old porcelain signs, powdered glass, a metal sign, enamel signs, the condition, and where they came from – gas stations, oil companies, car companies, etc. Antique signs vary significantly when looking to buy or sell. If you are looking to buy or sell your old sign, contact Richmond Auctions today for a free appraisal.

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