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An Original Enamel Sign vs. a Reproduction

Updated: Jul 9, 2018

In recent years there has been an increasing interest in enamel signs, especially in petroliana for "man caves." As such, a growing industry has developed, producing modern copies of these original enamel signs. This has enabled many collectors to enjoy having enamel signs on their walls but without the costs associated with the real thing. There has also been an increasing influx of counterfeit signs from the subcontinent, where clever manufacturing processes and "weathering" techniques have often caught out the unwary.

Some reproductions of the original enamel signs in the 1970s, which never graced the walls of a shop or train station, are themselves over 40 years old and are often sold as "vintage" enamel signs. A good example of this is the below Michelin Man sign. These signs themselves, although not as expensive as the "real deal" of their authentic original enamel, can still fetch a tidy sum at auction houses and in the retail industry. I have recently seen a Michelin Man "vintage" sign sell at an auction for more than $400 AUD!


How to Spot an Original Enamel Sign

We encourage buyers to do their own research if they are wishing to purchase original signs. This will help to help educate buyers to discern the genuine from a reproduction. There is no substitute for genuine ageing, type font, rust marks and erosion, and general scratches on patina. They’re incredibly difficult to copy. A true enamel sign is very heavy. Make sure you always look at the back of the sign for the enamel itself. You can also look at the sign maker’s name on the bottom right hand corner.  If the advertised price for the item seems very cheap compared to the same sign advertised elsewhere, then buyer beware. This is especially true if it appears very shiny, with regulation rust marks around the fixing holes. For the purists, the main thing to look for is that sign has no restoration work.

There are some great books and webpages on enamel signs, and I can highly recommend the below books by Baglee and Morley. You may have to search a bit to find one, as they wrote their last book 10 years ago. However, they’re well worth the read:

  • Street Jewellery - A History of Enamel Advertising Signs by Christopher Baglee and Andrew Morley. New Cavendish Books 1988

  • More Street Jewellery by Christopher Baglee and Andrew Morley. New Cavendish Books 1982

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