For about seven decades, since the 1880s, porcelain signs were acknowledged to be the ultimate in advertising especially where these were fixed outdoors. The signs were durable, weatherproof and stood well against the ravages of nature. In the 1950s the making of porcelain signs have been totally stopped adding value as antique to the ones that are already in existence. However because of their traditional significance, there have been attempts to replicate them and many such fraudulent signs that are not the same as their original counterparts are being offered for sale. Collectors should be aware of the fakes floating around in the market.
- What is the history of porcelain signs – Porcelain signs originated in Germany and were introduced in the USA around the 1890s. The first company that made these signs was Enamel Iron Company in Pennsylvania and others such as Ingram-Richardson and Baltimore Enamel & Novelty soon followed suit. However, the know-how to produce porcelain signs was not initially available in the USA and labour and skilled workers had to be brought in from Germany and England.
- What was the manufacturing process – The process of making porcelain signs was quite intricate in nature and required a great deal of professional expertise. The base material was called rolled iron and contrary to popular perception was not steel. Porcelain enamel is simply another name for powdered glass that has been fused on to the rolled iron. The different colours of the sign were made layer by layer. First, a coat of just one colour was fired onto the base of powdered glass. The different areas that would require various colours would then be stencilled on the base coat. Once this demarcation was done, each coat of colour would simply be fired one on top of the other as per the stencilled areas until the whole picture was complete.
It was a meticulous process and several colours needed to be painstakingly fused one on top of another. The making of porcelain signs was so precise and accurate that the old signs still available in the market are considered works of art and command a high premium.
- What are most in-demand signs today for collectors – Porcelain signs were widely used for in-store marketing in the early and mid 19th century and some famous ones like those of Coca Cola achieved iconic status. Today of course businesses in say Australia would have simply taken the help of a web development company in Melbourne or availed digital marketing services in Melbourne for all their advertising needs at the click of a button.
Porcelain signs from those times can be categorised into two – the first was the automobile sector that also had petroleum companies and in-store advertising that included tobacco, paints and varnishes and the food industry. Stove companies in those times did massive business and their porcelain sign advertising is legendary. Companies included Peninsular, National and Round Oak in Michigan. These are some of the most sought after signs for collectors today.
Even though making of porcelain signs have ceased because of their high manufacturing cost and the advent of digital forms of advertising, they are still a prized item for collectors.