florida keys estate sales & auction services, personal property appraisals, liquidations

vintage painted wood signs

In Uncategorized on January 8, 2011 at 2:05 am

We were visiting a small travel and tourism shop recently in Key West.  It included many throw-back items to the mariners of yesteryear including advertising slogans and vintage wood signs that have long been replaced by trendy storefronts.  Many authentic, vintage wood signs are real collectors items and we started comparing the ticket prices in the store against similar wood reproduction signs or authenticated older carved wood signs currently available on Ebay for only a fraction of the going market rate.

Vintage wood signs are attractive because they bring in a rustic feel of yesteryear.  Many family names have connections to the product, the place, or the name of the item being advertised.  I know of one woman whose husband called her “shortcake” and she commenced upon a twenty year journey to collect every shortcake sign she could find as part of her residential interior decor.  These often weather-beaten beauties are used for both the office and the home and can instantly turn the most modern decor into a truly Americana feel – although signs with a European connection (either in French, Spanish or some other location or locale) have also been enjoying great popularity.  Signs made on found wood, specialty woods, or barn woods are also very current and hot.

Tips when you think you’re looking at original wood signs:  Due to the nature of the wood and hand-lettering, the texture, color and design will slightly vary. No two signs are alike.  Check the hanging apparatus.  Check the weathered age and condition of the paint.  Moderate costs will range from $200 for a small sign up to about $850 for a large sign with a great degree of public appeal or historical significance.  True originals will often be three-dimensional with varying degrees of wear at the rises and valleys of the letters.  A true original wood sign will also likely have a worn and ill-defined outline – meaning its very shape may appear altered or weathered.  Another great clue is the relative age of the type of font used in the lettering – remember, certain fonts appear only after certain dates in history – if you’ve got a wood sign from a 1894 inn-keeper with a Helvetica font, you’ve got a problem.  Also, check for bugs, seeds, mold, or other damage you don’t want to inherit.

Reproduction Signs:  Custom vintage wood signs are printed from an original that was designed and hand painted. Printed reproductions will likely be printed directly on distressed wood panels that have knots and other imperfections in them.   Reproduction signs can be made yourself if you have a talent for art and/or woodworking.  A great article on making your own sign appears here.  If you’re unsure of your sign’s authenticity, do a quick historical check on the Internet.  If you can pin down the relative age or years of the sign you’re considering, there’s a great chance old photographs may exist to help verify the time and place. Remember also the weight of the item given its dimensions.  A truly old sign will hold most of its general bulk weight, but will likely be lighter than one might think today.  In other words, a sign battered by the elements, the rain, wear, and poor storage will not hold the same weight it would if it were recently made on new(er) wood.  If you’re in doubt, call an appraiser, estate person or auction house.  If you’re in the Florida Keys, that would be us!


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