The popularity of vintage advertising signs has increased exponentially since the early 2000s. The one commonality among the most valuable signs is that they are "fresh to market." This means that these rare finds have been recently discovered in a forgotten stash somewhere, and they're being offered for the first time on the market.
According to the "Picker’s Pocket Guide to Signs," the current world-record price for an advertising sign is $165,000. That sum was paid in 2011 for a Rock Island Railroad reverse glass sign. In reverse glass art, you apply paint to a piece of glass and then view the image by turning the glass over and looking through the glass at the image. The Rock Island Railroad sign was believed to be the first sign for the Chicago-based railway company in 1890, and it had been made by an employee.
Vintage signs advertising food, drink, and gas tend to be the most collectible and most valuable. You can repurpose them as decor for a rustic, farmhouse look or a old-fashioned, shabby chic feel. Authentic, good-condition vintage signs can be found in flea markets, online stores and auctions, and antique stores with prices running the gamut online from $1 on eBay to over $15,000 on Sotheby's.
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Breweriana is the fancy term for beer collectibles. This includes vintage beer signs as well as all types of beer memorabilia from beer cans and bottles to bottle caps and other beer-branded materials.
This Iroquois Brewery porcelain corner sign measured 24 ½-inches tall and sold for $7,500 (not including buyer’s premium) at Morphy Auctions in May 2015. It had been professionally restored by Lane Christensen. If it had been in excellent condition without restoration, it likely would have sold even higher.
Corner signs were commonly made from tin, porcelain, brass, and glass and were placed outside local businesses. These types of signs were plentiful in the early 1900s. The Iroquois Brewery of Buffalo, New York, is no longer in operation, although, it had a good run from 1842 to 1971.
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Petroliana are antique and vintage collectibles from gas stations and petroleum companies. Vintage gasoline signs can be a fun design element in masculine or man cave decor or homes with a retro sense of style.
This porcelain Red Crown gasoline sign from the Standard Oil Company sold for $950 (not including buyer’s premium) at Morphy Auctions in May 2015. The color on the side shown is more vivid than the reverse. There is one small chip in the porcelain along the edge. Chips, dents, rust, and extreme signs of age and wear affect the selling price of an item. If this sign had been in excellent condition on both sides, it would have likely sold for more.
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It’s no secret that Coca-Cola is king when it comes to soda-related memorabilia. It even has its own museum in Atlanta, Georgia. Coca-Cola gets its own category (below). There are many other types of soda collectibles that are favorites among collecting aficionados.
Vintage soda signs dating back to the 1880s or rare signs advertising NuGrape, Orange Crush, Moxie, Dr. Pepper, and Coke’s biggest cola rival, Pepsi-Cola, can go for big bucks.
For example, this Grapette sign sold for $425 (not including buyer’s premium) at Morphy Auctions in July 2015. It had some scratches around the edge and a few nicks to the surface.
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Coca-Cola memorabilia is the most popular among soda-branded collectibles. Prices for the oldest Coca-Cola memorabilia can be very steep. Even items made during the 1940s and 50s are usually quite popular and pricey. There is not a Coke sign out there that will not find a home in a collection, especially advertising featuring the 1890s Coca-Cola girl, Hilda Clark.
This store sign dates back to the 1950s and sold for $1,000 (not including buyer’s premium) at Morphy Auctions in January 2015. It is unusual to find a lighted store display in excellent condition. The reverse side of the round, top portion says, “Have a Coke Here.”