Enamel advertising signs

Words by:
William Gregory MRICS Golding Young and Mawer
Featured in:
December 2016

The advent of the internet may have changed auctions and advertising forever, but when combined they can give interesting results. Buyers used to travel hundreds of miles to locate the right items; today the internet finds the items for you and at a recent auction the advertising signs found all the right buyers.

Enamel signs originated in the Victorian era and were in mainstream use up until the 1950s. Displayed on shop walls and in other places such as garages and railway stations they established the companies of the period, many of which are still well known names today. Manufactured to withstand the elements, plenty have survived, although the edges are prone to chipping and good examples are becoming increasingly rare to find.

Enamel signs have proved popular with collectors since the 1970s and from the 1980s collectors became aware of many reproduction signs entering the market. Although these reproduction signs are of decorative collectability, the values are considerably lower than for the originals.

Keen collectors of original signs are always on the lookout for the right lot. At a recent auction five signs were offered and all were keenly competed for. Top price went to a pictorial sign for Churchman’s Tortoiseshell Smoking Mixture, conservatively estimated as it is thought today that smoking related items are less popular than railway and automobilia. This lot doubled its estimate, selling on the hammer for £1,800. A Shell Spirit and Fill Up Here sign sold for £560 and the three remaining motor signs each fetched over £100.

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