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.