Hemswell Antique Centres

How can we help?

Where to find quality vintage enamel signs for sale


To have vintage enamel signs in your home is to have an automatic conversation starter but where can these genuine signs be found and what should you look out for when buying? Our guide will help you negotiate the world of vintage signs and show you what to look for when considering antique metal signs for sale. 

What are vintage enamel signs?

Vintage enamel signs date back to the 1800s when they were used to advertise anything from petrol, services and food. They were usually found on the sides of buildings, outside shops, on station platforms and on public transport e.g. trams.

Enamel signs are made from vitreous enamel (also known as porcelain enamel), and the first purpose-built factory for the production of signs was the Patent Enamel Company, founded in Selly Oak, Birmingham in 1889 by Benjamin Baugh.

What to look for in a vintage enamel sign

Today, there are many reproduction enamel signs available which, to the novice, are hard to distinguish from a truly vintage piece. Sadly also, there are unscrupulous traders who will try and pass a modern reproduction piece off as an original. But there are things to look out for!

Chips – a vintage enamel sign will typically have chips to the surface throughout the piece and the chips will reveal layered enamel round the edges. Reproductions are often computer generated and will often have ‘chips’ around the edges only, with no layers as the enamel has not been baked on layer by layer.

Rust – Computer generated, modern reproductions will have artificial rust which is an orange-red in colour, whereas a vintage enamel sign will show rust which is more black-brown in appearance. Again, this is because it is impossible to reproduce original production techniques.

Rivets – a genuine vintage enamel sign will have rivets that will be old, tarnished and even rusty. Reproduction signs, by comparison, will have much newer looking rivets.

Materials – Vintage enamel signs from the 1950s and earlier were produced by baking the porcelain or enamel onto steel. Reproductions tend to be enamel baked onto aluminium. One way to test whether a sign is genuine is to use a magnet on the metal – an original, steel-based sign will be magnetic, a modern, aluminium piece will not be.

Which vintage enamel signs are most collectable?

Vintage enamel signs are categorised according to subject and collectors will choose either to specialise in one area, e.g. petrol signs, or collect from a specific era, e.g. the 1950s. The most popular categories of vintage enamel signs for collectors are tobacco, beer, food (particularly confectionary, cakes and sweets), motoring products and petrol. As vintage enamel signs become rarer with each passing year, collectors are always on the lookout for the pieces that were originally produced in smaller numbers, have strong, bold colours, with limited to no dents and rust. If you are lucky enough to stumble across such an example, do not walk away from it as its value could be tremendous. In 2005, a world record price was set at auction in Canterbury, for an early 20th century enamel sign advertising petrol. Thought to have been one of only 15 of its type in existence at the time, the sign was in superb condition with chipping only around the original fixing holes. The sign, which featured a racing car crossing the finishing line, created a bidding war between two interested parties and eventually sold for an incredible £28,000!

Where to buy vintage enamel signs

Once you know what you are looking for when purchasing vintage enamel signs, it’s important that you source them from reputable dealers. Of course, you may chance upon a gem in a charity shop or at a car boot sale, but at Hemswell Antique Centres, our dealers are authoritative experts in their field. A visit to our Lincoln centres gives you the opportunity to browse all our antiques in person, but with the current prevailing situation many of our vintage enamel signs for sale can be found online. And when you find the perfect piece, shipping and delivery can all be arranged easily by our customer services team.

Whether you are able to visit us or whether you choose to browse online in the comfort of your own home, a trip to Hemswell will unearth some fabulous examples of advertising signs for sale.


Back to articles