The Many Facets to Porcelain Signs – FAQs

Porcelain Signs

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.

Porcelain Signs – Treasured Collectibles

Treasured Collectibles

Porcelain as an advertising medium is today out of fashion, making the few reaming ones a highly prized collectors’ item. Beginning from the 1880s and right up to the 1950s, porcelain signs were almost synonymous with outdoor advertising signage, purely because they were highly durable and weather resistant. Porcelain signs originated in Germany and were later imported into the USA. Such signs were painstakingly made by master craftsmen in Germany and had layers of powdered glass fused colour upon individual colour on a base of heavy rolled iron. These were then cut into required shape and today are considered works of art.

Their rarity is what has added value to the few ones still in circulation and often auctioned by antique dealers around the world. Porcelain signs, also known as enamel signs have been used by top business and manufacturing industries to advertise their range of products, from motor oil to tyres, from cigars to soda pop and even telephone booths.

Even though the technical knowhow for porcelain signs were imported to the USA from Germany, the 1920s and 30s saw it taking on a distinct American flavour. The stencils of the original manufacturing process were replaced by silkscreen printing and the iron backing was replaced by steel. One of the renowned makers of porcelain signs in the USA was Tennessee Enamel of Nashville, accredited with making a large number of porcelain signage for Coca Cola.

By the 1940s, making of the signs had almost stopped and the ones remaining were affected by crazing or acid etching from polluted environments. However, the death knell of porcelain signs was rung by the World War II. Demand for metal was at an all-time high and porcelain signs were simply melted down for the base metal that went into the war effort. After the War, it was found that porcelain signs were simply too expensive to make and their production was totally abandoned.

For collectors, a number of factors determine the price of porcelain signs. These include the rarity, demand, design, brand, size and condition. Age is not a factor as other things being constant, one that is 5 or 10 years older than the other does not count for much.