Vintage porcelain signs are becoming much more difficult to find these days. Back in the 80s and 90s you could go to a flea market or antique mall and have your pick of all kinds of vintage and antique porcelain signs. Today it’s much harder to find these signs for the prices of yesteryear. The current high demand for vintage porcelain signs has increased prices from those dates, although prices have stabilized or maybe even declined a little with the current recession.
There are still a many places to go to find signs many of which have pros and cons:
Buy Vintage Signs at Shows and Auctions
Shows – Fortunately for collectors there are several high quality shows where dealers from across the country can exhibit their inventories. Many of the dealers bring vintage porcelain signs. There are two shows in Indianapolis each year. There is also a big show in Iowa for petroliana. There are dozens of other smaller regional shows that you can find out about through trade publications.
Auctions – While I don’t know of any auction house that deals exclusively with vintage porcelain signs, there are a handful of auctioneers who typically have a nice selection of signs at their auctions. Please remember that just because something is in an auction, that does not automatically make it authentic. If buying a vintage sign out of auction, make sure the auctioneer has some experience in the field and if at all possible inspect the sign for authenticity and condition yourself. Also keep in mind that most auctions charge a buyer’s premium on top of your bid that can be from 12-20% or more! It is possible to find a deal at an auction from time to time, however auction prices at specialty auctions tend to be the highest prices you’ll pay besides paying a dealer’s asking price. Even though you’ll be paying high prices at auctions you’ll often get a large selection of good quality signs, so if you’re hunting something and don’t care what it costs an auction can be a good place to look. There are several auctions that have a lot of great items, including the quarterly petroliana and Americana auctions in Georgia, and the automobilia and petroliana auctions in South Carolina.
Buying Signs through Networking & Dealers
Networking – One of the best ways to find signs is by meeting other collectors! It’s very common for friendly collectors to trade, buy and sell and a lot of times signs will trade hands between friends without ever being on the open market. If you want access to the largest selection of signs out there you need to meet the people who have them in collections large and small! A great way to start networking is by talking to fellow enthusiasts at shows, but also join collectors organizations such as AAAA. If it’s your first time at a show, don’t be shy! It’s encouraged to talk and get to know the community of collectors out there and they’ll be glad to meet you most likely. Another great community online is at Collector’s Weekly where people can ask questions, share, and help one another with collecting all types of things.
Dealers – There are hundreds of antiques dealers around the country and knowing a local dealer you trust can help you find all sorts of items you maybe didn’t even know about. Dealers typically have a high markup over prices you might find from other collectors though so be prepared for tough negotiations and know that they have a bottom line because they have to make some profit!
Everywhere Else – Every collector out there has a crazy story about where he found his best sign. People find them at junkyards, yard sales, estate sales, flea markets, barns, abandoned buildings, trash dumps, and even at the bottom of rivers. You never know what or where you’ll find your next treasure so keep your eyes peeled!