Does Restoration Increase the Value of a Vintage Enamel Sign?
Updated: Jul 9, 2018
To restore or leave a vintage enamel sign you have purchased, dug up out of someone's back yard, bought from a dealer or found in a junk yard, is purely a personal preference. Many tales have been spun about how "I should have left it alone!" In the pictures given here - this sign was bought badly “restored” from a dealer at a local Fair. In all fairness, he admitted that he, "didn't know much about signs, but thought I would have a go!"....DAMN!
I have personally seen some of these South British genuine and vintage enamel signs full of rust, holes, and scratches, with missing enamel being sold off not just in Australia, but overseas too for no less than $500. This sign cost us $200.00 so I thought "what the heck" just grab it and let's see what Colin can do with it!
There are certainly professional enamel sign restorers around, some doing amazing work that only a keen professional collector can pick up. Others I am afraid, not so good, as you can see from the below insurance sign!
Vintage Enamel Sign Restoration
If you are buying an enamel sign as an investment, then you have to make the decision whether to get it professionally restored or leave it as it is. If you’re planning on restoring the sign, shop around and do your homework. Ask other dealers, or view their work on Facebook and Instagram. If you decide to leave it be, check out our vintage memorabilia care guide and make sure that you keep it out of the weather to prevent further deterioration.
A question that gets asked and bandied around quite a bit is, "does restoration increase the vintage enamel sign's value?" After interviewing dealers both here in Australia and in the UK on that hot question, there are very dividing opinions.
A very reputable dealer in the U.K. and who has been in the enamel sign business for more than 20 years, states that in his experience, “railway signs that are professionally restored fetch a higher price than ones that have not been retouched at all". In Australia, some collectors are very happy to have their signs professionally restored which then have, in some examples, trebled their initial outlay at an auction.
Should I Restore an Enamel Sign?
The bottom line seems to be: it depends on the sign. Is it in its original condition? Will potential buyers actually like the look of the restored sign? Is it a piece that’s missing from their collection? These factors can all influence the value of a sign. However, some of the "genuine, real deal, high-rolling collectors" would never buy anything that has been restored. They are happy to pay top dollar for a sign that is battered and bruised if it is "rare", or "the real deal", or it "adds to their collection”.
Cleaning an enamel sign from dirt and grime can certainly increase its value. Like a diamond ring that you polish, it’s amazing what comes up after a clean! Have a look at the Cooper's sign below, which we scored overseas. As you can see, it was filthy. With a bit of elbow grease however, it came up surprisingly well and is a "keeper" for now for us.