Vintage porcelain enamel signs never lose their appeal. Add a splash of color to your home and freshen up your decor with vintage beer signs
What makes beer signs so special?
It is safe to say that whenever springtime rolls around, our excitement for drinking a cold, thirst-quenching beer with friends is palpable. Picnics in the park, BBQs in the back yard or simply relaxing at home all provide ideal moments to savor a refreshing beer. It is recorded that the average American over 21 years of age drinks 28.2 gallons of beer a year. So, it is safe to say that the USA is a nation of beer lovers. However, cracking open a can is not the only way to enjoy this alcoholic beverage.
Over the years, beer signs have grown to become iconic additions to interior decor. They allow beer lovers to dress their walls with vintage style while at the same time showing their loyalty to their favorite brand. Read on to discover the story of how these signs became fashionable.
The golden age of beer signs
To fully understand the importance of metal beer signs, it is essential to travel back to the 19th century. At this instant, Europe was experiencing extreme change thanks to the Industrial Revolution.
In 1859 a man called Benjamin Baugh patented the process of fusing colored glass particles onto iron plates. It was at this moment that the porcelain enamel sign was born.
By the 20th century, it was commonplace that beer companies competed ruthlessly for the attention of the thirsty population. Since televisions were still a thing of the future, the only publicity available to companies was signage. But, with so many signs plastered over towns, it required creativity and quality to stand out. This is why porcelain enamel signs were the sought-after choice.
Porcelain enamel signs are…
- Equally useful indoors and outdoors
- Fully weatherproof
- Way more durable than painted signs, like tin or wooden signs
- Offer bright, eye-catching colors that never fade
- Allow for an extremely intricate design to be accurately reproduced in any quantity
- Economical due to their low maintenance and superior longevity
Vintage beer signs: The battle of the enamel giants
The creation of porcelain enamel signs was a lucrative business back in the day. This was because porcelain enamel can withstand high temperatures and wild weather but still display the advertising perfectly. Due to the demand, there were two major manufacturing and distribution companies that fought for the orders. The Baltimore Enamel and Novelty Company and the Burdick Sign Company of Chicago.
American beer companies hounded these two factories and so many of the old beer signs worth money that we see today passed through the production process of one of these two factories.
The Baltimore Enamel and Novelty Company
Originally founded in 1898 as the Baltimore Enamel Company, they wasted no time in becoming the largest enamel sign producer in the USA. This unprecedented success was due to an intelligent business decision that awarded them the rights to produce vehicle license plates across many US states.
The first being for Massachusetts in 1903 which was the first instance of license plates being issued in history. Many corporate companies showed their trust in porcelain enamel and hired the Baltimore Enamel Company to create their signs. Texaco, Atlantic, and Gulf were just a few of their clients that have now become sought-after vintage gas signs.
Breweries also fought to have their signage produced by the Baltimore Enamel Company and even created enamel bar trays, ashtrays, and other types of enameled advertisements. Providence, Narragansett, East Buffalo, Arrow, and Hartmann were just a few of the big names to sign with the Baltimore Enamel Company
Burdick Sign Company of Chicago
The Burdick Sign Company of Chicago provided healthy competition for its Baltimore neighbor. Not only did it also work closely with major US states to produce vehicle license plates, but it also worked with some of the biggest consumer brands in history. Pepsi-Cola, Kellogg’s, Chevrolet, General Motors, Ford, and John Deere to name a few. These contracts and the eye-catching signs that were produced by Burdick Sign Company quickly caught the attention of breweries who wanted to upgrade from the much cheaper, but short-lived, tin beer signs.
Among the breweries were brands like Miller, Coors, Hamms, Lithia, and Potosi. These brands had come to stay, and this was emphasized by their long-term advertising strategies. Ironically, in many cases, the enamel signs even outlived the brand they were supporting. Just think of big brands like Gulf Oil, RCA, and Pan Am, which are all history today.
There is more to old beer signs than meets the eye
The golden age of porcelain beer signs survived more or less unscathed until war broke out in Europe. During the Second World War, the call for metal created a scarcity in the factories, and any existing signs were melted down. Some signs managed to escape and their brand name, scarcity value, condition, and aesthetics all contribute to their market value today.
Later, with the invention of plastic, cheaper alternatives were made available to brands, and the factories were forced to close their doors for good. Due to their scarcity, there is a frenzy for good quality vintage porcelain signs among collectors. Especially those that feature edible goods such as beer. So, if you are interested in brightening up your interior decor with rainbow-colored beer signs be sure to brush up on the facts to truly understand what you are buying.
Who buys old beer signs?
The main audience for beer signs still remains collectors. They will hunt far and wide for a new sign to add to their collection. They will even travel as far as Australia to do so. But, in addition to the classic metal signs, neon beer signs have always been a firm favorite with bar owners keen to create a classic ambiance.
Since current world affairs have called us back home, there has been a shift in the demographics interested in collecting a small bit of consumer history. Keen to bring a taste of their local hang-out into their dwelling, homeowners have now become avid fans of these metal plaques. And, as a result, Instagram is filling up with retro-inspired decor complete with vintage beer signs.
Where can I find beer signs for sale?
Want to jump onto the enamel sign train? There are plenty of online auction houses that will cater to your needs. A quick Google search for vintage beer signs collectors guide will be enough to provide you with a rabbit hole of links to dive into. Etsy is also a great vintage treasure trove full of unusual finds. Plus, on online marketplaces, you can benefit from set prices and shopper reviews - great if you are just starting out on your enamel sign journey.
What is the difference between beer tin signs and porcelain enamel beer signs?
The main difference between these two materials is the quality. Tin is much cheaper to produce than porcelain enamel but it doesn’t last as long. Breweries to this day rely on porcelain enamel for their signage as it reminds the consumer that these brands have remained the same for over 100 years. Porcelain enamel signs build trust in consumers and show that some good things cannot be improved. Classic is best. Another reason why breweries chose porcelain enamel was that it reflected the same high quality as the beer that was being advertised. Tin vintage beer signs do exist but they do not hold the same prestige as their porcelain counterparts as they tend to be in worse condition.
What changes the value of antique beer signs?
When talking about money, there are many factors that can cause prices to fluctuate. As mentioned above, the brand name, scarcity value, and condition are the top three elements that you need to be aware of.
Logic tells us that the fewer craft beer signs are available the higher the price. That is just common sense. But, if you are not sure how rare a sign really is, be sure to do your homework before forking out a pretty penny for a porcelain enamel sign. Consult enamel sign specialists or search auction sites online to see what that sign was previously sold for.
Contrary to popular opinion, the larger the sign does not mean the price will be higher. Size is one of the biggest factors when deciding on the value of vintage porcelain signs.
Most collectors want something that can be easily displayed. The signs with the highest value will all be likely to fit into the 30”- 42” size range. Larger signs tend to fall into the lower price category since they are cumbersome and difficult to ship. Small signs also fall into this category since they lack that eye-catching impact that collectors crave. This is a rough guide. Many other factors contribute to a sign’s final price but the size is the predominant factor.
Surprisingly age is not a strong factor in determining price but the condition of a sign definitely is. This is because most collectors are interested in how the sign will look once displayed. They want to achieve the highest wow factor possible. Age is great for authenticating a sign but it won’t affect the appearance of beer signs. Within the industry, there is a rating system that determines the condition of the porcelain enamel sign. Signs with a rating of 5 and below are considered to be in the worst condition with the highest rating being 9. Take a vintage Hamms beer sign as an example. The same design can vary greatly in value depending on the condition of the sign. In the porcelain enamel sign world condition is king.
Vintage Budweiser signs and other iconic beer signs
Big breweries hold a strong appeal for collectors across the world. These big brands form part of our identity and beer signs are a way to show loyalty. Many of us have grown up watching family members religiously choose a brand and by default, we follow the tradition. It is a way of life. Hamms beer signs along with ones from Carlsberg, Tuborg, or Blue Moon have been family favorites for the last century. They all have iconic signage that was made for bars and taverns across the country. Today, it is quite common to see these names come up at auction. But, if you fancy adding one of these beer signs to your collection, you better act quickly. They are in high demand.
How to style funny beer signs at home
So, have we sold you on the quirky appeal of beer signs? We hope so! They may be small but their bold and colorful designs certainly pack a punch. They can brighten up a dingy kitchen, add a focal point to a long corridor and definitely add that masculine energy to the man cave. Beer signs are so versatile. If you are not loyal to a specific brand, combine the colors of your interior design with the branding of a brewery. Or, if you are a die-hard fan of a particular beer, show your loyalty and display the sign proudly in your lounge - perfect for when you have the boys over on match day! These wall plaques also make fabulous gifts for the men in your life. Especially those who may be hard to shop for. Combine it with a six-pack of the matching beverage for a fail-safe gift.