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How to tell fake from real in vintage automobile-related signs


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The flipside?

Okay. So I have been in this hobby for somewhat over fifty years now. Got started in it before I was old enough to get a driver's license. I never really collected signs. Just not enough money to buy the things that weren't what I really wanted. I have a couple common reproduction pieces (the Packard thermometer everybody has) that were given to me by friends. I also have two decent and very old signs that might be of some value. And these days, I find myself really needing the money. So where should I inquire about them. I like them both, they both have some special meaning to me. Frankly, I would much rather keep them, and would not sell them unless I could get some significant amount for them. Enough that I just couldn't justify me keeping them.

IF (big IF) I were to sell them, I would prefer to sell them to a hobbyist than to a dealer. I would prefer face to face, and the person looking them over closely. I wouldn't want to cheat anybody in any way. Frankly, both of them, I know people that I would like to give them to. So I wrestle with that idea as well.

 

One, is a fairly heavy two-sided porcelain with a folded flange on one side to mount on a wall or post. Someone decades ago also folded the bottom breaking the porcelain on both sides. A few nails or gunshots added a couple other damages about the size of an old fifty cent piece. Someone before me sort of straightened the bottom fold, they didn't do a nice job. I tinkered at some repair years ago, but didn't have the time to follow through, so it is still pretty much how it was when I got it about 45 years ago.

It is blue and white, roughly 24X16 inches,

 

    Paige

Authorized

   Service

   Jewett

 

The other, I am not a hundred percent sure it is original. I think it is. But I have had it only about fifteen years. My wife bought it for me for Christmas. It could have been cleverly distressed, I never wanted to check it out that carefully. Also double sided, one side is fairly bad, the other looks marginally decent. It has a few mild creases that broke the porcelain on both sides, and several rock hits, one side worse than the other. It is currently nailed up on my garage wall, inside and protected.

Roughly 14X32 inches. A darker blue and white

 

Service

    Studebaker

               Station

 

The "Studebaker" is slanted script as Studebaker used in the 1910s and 1920s

 

Frankly, I don't know if I am willing to sell them yet. If I was, I would post this in the automobilia for sale section.

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About 5 yrs ago at Hershey I had quite a time explaining to a gentleman that the $400 item I was selling couldn't possibly be the elaborate reproduction that he suspected it was given that I had just bought it earlier in the day from another vendor for a very modest sum.  Just as he was explaining to me the tremendous lengths that some folks go to in the production of convincing reproductions he flipped it over and saw the original seller's $3 price tag on the base of it!  He put the item down and quickly walked away - we had a pretty good laugh over that one. 

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5 hours ago, auburnseeker said:

 For anyone to give you any kind of an idea on value,  you would need to post a photo,

 

I would post photos if I could figure out how to get them from my camera onto my computer! I hate the computer generation/gamers. We had two digital cameras for almost fifteen years that were well designed with photo processing and loading programs that WORKED. The cameras eventually went bad, and three new cameras now that loading photos is like shooting asteroids.

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Here’s a good story about signs.


I was in high school and one day a buddy of mine stopped by and gave me a dozen of these Gulf signs. They had been used as distance markers at a driving range where he worked and they got replaced with plywood because they didn’t hold the paint well...

 

I kept one of them and gave him a kickback every time I sold another one. It paid for a few other things along the way!

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I am pretty heavily invested in Signage for automobile, gas & oil, marine & auto lubricants and other.

I have purchased signage throughout the US & CDN.

Like a vehicle (VIN) most signs have a "marque" or "mark" or "TM" or "R" with the date of manufacture.

There were a lot of manufacturers for Auto signage and gas & oil.

In CDN there were a few big time manufactures such as "P&M" ( Porcelain & Metal Products Ltd ") in Ontario and they did Coke, Texaco and the big 3 Auto Cos. and several other brands.

There were several on the West Coast as well and some of these signs varied in sign dimensions.

The best signs are porcelain and the best condition is a survivor in the best condition you can find with or without chips.

Auto porcelain signs came in straight porcelain or the same sign with neon which I have several of.

Sometimes the size of the sign causes confusion with authenticity but it sometimes the manufacturer preference and which side of the 49th it was produced.

A common porcelain Texaco sign was 6' in the US and the exact same sign was 5' in CDN.

The biggest fake sign source today is out of India and I must say they make a pretty good reproduction and I steer clear of those.

Painted signs are tough to find in good shape and valuable if real.

Cardboard are elusive as well but are very valuable if you can find a real one.

So the way to find a Real sign from a fake sign is check the mark and date and then do the big internet search to find one in a collection or one that has been sold.

Knowing the manufacturer and the location is good because you can in most cases source info from the local archives and libraries and even in some cases find brochures and order forms for the signs and other dealer advertising.

Sometimes signs in volume turn up on the internet and it just speaks fake.

But you never know.

A few years ago I bought a 7' acrylic light up Pacific 66 sign and the guy threw in a box of other stuff.

One package turned out to be 25 pieces of "Firestone" tire inserts which were still wrapped in the brown paper packing tissue.

They are porcelain and one side white and one side red.

A couple of years ago I visited friends in Nashville to pickup some DB KC parts and ended up with a good inventory of Chrysler / Dodge / Plymouth / DB signage.

I think signs will always have an attraction for car guys for Automobile marks or gas & oil as it all relates to our Auto passion and hobby.

I also think that the values will stay static and in most cases and my experience increase so it can be a good investment.

I am not much of a seller at this point and pretty well just a collector.

I have been offered though some attractive prices for some signs.

There have been signs and auto and gas and oil related advertising sold on Barrett Jackson that are staggering.

So if the sign represents your car or the gas station you went to as a kid it just feels good to have it on the wall.

 

At any rate that is my opinion.............

 

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While I am not an expert I would say my dad is close.  Most of our stuff was collected between 75 & 95, he has other interests and does less with signs and related, good for me as most of it now lives here.  We discuss it all the time.  His two most common comments, repros now are everywhere and harder to identify, and if you (me) ever want to dispose of them (nope)Morphy is the place.  He feels they will remain high as they seem a little less generational in appeal than certain eras of cars but I suspect they are at or near peak now.  

 

I was able to acquire some stuff from a garage in ME I have known forever so I know it's authentic, but I am really hesitant on signs of late.  Plus what was unacceptable condition wise is now big money in many cases.

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As Dodge said Date of manufacture is sometimes an easy thing to spot.  Legit repros are either undated or dated with the true mfg. Date.  Copyrights apply on these, it is illegal to date them with an old date although that does occur now by unscrupolus companies.  I have seen more than one sign, however, attempted to be passed off as aged with a late mfg. Date on it.  Amazing how lazy/bold/uninformed some folks are.  Definately buyer beware!

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Edited by Steve_Mack_CT (see edit history)
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6 hours ago, Frank DuVal said:

I see you do not understand WWII. Read some history.

More than you think.  Grandpa served in the Pacific.  Only guy in his platoon to return. Talked very little about it.  Went through Pearl Harbor shortly after it happened.  Was MIA for almost a month in the Phillipines. 

Yes eventually we wound up in it,  Because Europe as before was getting their butts handed to them so we had to step in to keep from having to fight them here eventually,  but don't forget many men here were fighting over there before we even Officially got involved, volunteering in Britain.  

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Back to signs - and a good story that's moderately related to the WWII stuff mentioned above. 

This is the first old sign I ever acquired.  We lived in Scotland, courtesy of the U.S. Navy. To make a long story short-we lived in the country on a farm and had a 1935 Morris Eight, acquired shortly after we arrived.  We were very active in a local antique car club there.   One day on a rally through the nearby countryside, I spotted this early porcelain sign on the side of an old building.  I thought it would be great to get a photo of our car parked in front of it, and while carefully positioning the car for my picture, the farmer came out to see if we were having car problems.  Of course when I opened by mouth he instantly recognized the American accent.  Once he learned I was there with the Navy, we spent a long time talking about his experiences during WWII.  After a while, when conversation swung back to old cars and the sign, he offered it to me.  I did not know how to react when he got tools out and began removing it.  Once we had it tied to the roof of our car, I asked what he wanted for it.  His reply - it's going to a good home and thanks for what you did for us.  We had already told him we were taking that Morris back to the US and he was pleased the sign was going with it.  His expression of gratitude for something so long ago was totally unexpected, but it meant a lot for him to be able to express it.

 

Later, when talking to some of our old car club friends and relaying details of what happened, everyone stopped talking, looked around and then someone said - "we've been trying to buy that sign for years!"  

 

Well, I've still got the 1935 Morris and the sign is proudly sharing the same garage with it - still.  

 

In some cases, there is much more to collecting than just having the item.

Terry

 

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Antique Week paper has been late last couple weeks (see slow mail thread) but 12/22 issue arrived today, coincidentally with at least four sign auctions advertised. Natcherly they're all over and done but I can't afford to play in that sandbox anyway.

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On 1/10/2021 at 3:32 PM, auburnseeker said:

nless your buying it thinking you were steeling it.

 

That one got a laugh out of me. The biggest complainers are the ones whom thought they were steeling something. Let me count the times I have given a whiner their money back because they found out I had priced something fairly when they thought they were stealing it.

 

Reminds me of a friend who passed away a couple years ago. He was a toy collector. He sorted through a bunch of stuff I had and separated them into two piles:

 

"These are good toys and valuable. List them for sale in the toy market. Toy collectors will pay well for them."

 

"These are not worth anything. List them for sale with antique car parts. Someone who doesn't know anything will think they are valuable."

 

Oh, and the third group: "I'll take these off your hands,"

 

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Not to add much to what has already been said, but the best way I think, as mentioned, is to compare a sign to others online that appear in searches at legitimate places.

 

The other rule I use is that if there is more than 1 available (from the same or other sellers), or if the seller has sold the same one before, it's fake.  2 of the exact same sign worn in just about the same way don't exist (in my way of thinking anyway).

Edited by 39BuickEight (see edit history)
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I always look for a little proper "patina."  I don't mind signs with honest wear and weathering. 

Not to hijack the thread here, but the rising prices of signs has had a sort of halo affect on the market as a whole.  As good stuff gets too expensive, people naturally turn towards lesser quality signs.  At one time, Tin and Cardboard were very inexpensive compared to porcelain.  They too have now started to get way out of control  Still though, I think some good bargains can still be found among other than porcelain.  

 

Now, it seems as if we have to also contend with opportunist evil-bay dealers.  They find a sign and need to make their fortune.  Perhaps they've seen auction reports in the newspapers, or read about a sign that sold for thousands - so every crappy little nothing-special sign is suddenly rare and valuable!   Call it what you want, but prices often asked have no basis in reality.

 

Example -while plunklng around on evil-bay I found this little piece of rusted tin junk.  174573999477  is the number you can use to search for it.   It has a buy it now price of only $1400.  Shipping is only $600.  The description consists of only a couple of lines -

"TIN Metal Sign ORIGINAL 1930s era

Has rust on one side"

 

Rust on one side?   Looks to me like rust has eaten away one entire edge!  

 

Let's take a random sample of forum folks with an interest in signs - what do you think it's really worth!

 

Arrgh!

Terry

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Guys, I think it is more important to ask yourself what is your reason for shopping for vintage signage? Are you looking for something nice looking to decorate your man cave, OR are you looking for some future investment to make money without doing something to earn it? I have been looking at the rediculous exorbitant prices on fleabay for bent scratched seriously overpriced pieces of crap that I personally would not make space for on any of my walls, even in the crapper! I definitely would rather buy a beautiful repop for decorating my shop. Anyway that is my take on the 'real' or 'repro' idea.

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2 hours ago, RAH said:

Guys, I think it is more important to ask yourself what is your reason for shopping for vintage signage? Are you looking for something nice looking to decorate your man cave, OR are you looking for some future investment to make money without doing something to earn it? I have been looking at the rediculous exorbitant prices on fleabay for bent scratched seriously overpriced pieces of crap that I personally would not make space for on any of my walls, even in the crapper! I definitely would rather buy a beautiful repop for decorating my shop. Anyway that is my take on the 'real' or 'repro' idea.

 

The reason might also just be that you enjoy genuine antiques, so that a new old-looking sign just doesn't float your boat anymore than a new old-looking car would.  But these are all just matters of taste and personal preference anyway.  I suspect most people think we're weird that we love old cars in the first place --  and maybe they're right!  :)

 

 

Edited by 1935Packard (see edit history)
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Here's one I own.  Made by Don Sommers American Arrow for the Packard Club. Centennial 1899-1999 Warren Ohio.  Great reproduction on 18 gauge metal.  As you can see on the reverse it is marked in the firing of the porcelain.  This is a large sign 22 by 36 inches and looks great mixed in with the other signs and pumps.   I notice that many of the new porcelain signs have  Made in the USA and small date on the bottom corner. It's only there so the seller can claim it's dated.  You better know what your looking at when buying signs unless you can afford Morphys prices and 20 percent buyer premium. 

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  • 2 months later...

The top end of the sign market has absolutely turned into an investment opportunity. The past 12-18 months, pieces have gone up dramatically in price. Especially for the top 5% of rarity/condition. If you're getting into investment grade, your best bet is TAC authenticated items. Your three best bets for auction houses for legit items are Morphys, Route 32 and Richmond Auctions (full disclosure I'm a partner in this auction house). We have every item authenticated by Dan that goes into auction. 

 

Nothing beats seeing something in person. Experience over time is the best weapon. You'll notice the improper rust, font differences, weight difference, etc. Anytime serious money gets around a collectible, you have to assume there is a possibility of a fake. 

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I was travelling the backroads of PA for work. We passed a large Gulf sign in front of an abandoned gas station. I commented to my son that I believed it to be a valuable sign. Now everytime we pass a sign he jokingly will say, I bet that signs worth a lot of money!  Just down the street is a station that has a very large pegasus on the side, it def. looks like it should be worth something.

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On 1/9/2021 at 7:46 PM, 1935Packard said:

 I assume it's a reproduction and I fell for it

I just came across a couple of pump plates in my storage facility.  I assume these are real.  SS porcelain on metal,  12 by 18 inches.  Purchased 30 years ago.

Edited by Robert G. Smits (see edit history)
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Another sign I though was identical to Reicholzheiner’s however this one is double sided and was thrown in with the purchase of a 32 Cadillac. Always thought it was fake. Anyone know where these come from. Does anyone have a photo of an original? Sorry my iPhone trimmed it

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The grommet location on that sign is all wrong. The font on the original is more delicate and at more of a slant. The cobalt is also deeper with more depth to the luster. One variation is stamped with the maker's mark on front but another is blank so it confusing. The serious sign guys seem to examine the "shelving" how the different color layers stack? -but that's a little beyond me.

  

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  • 3 months later...

This thread has been very dormant for a bit, but as it relates to authenticity, another factor is simply weight. Cast iron is very heavy. I picked this up today. It is close to 500 pounds including the original pole.  
The upper crossed section is not two pieces connected. It’s one single piece of casting. It could be the anchor of a ship and would kill you if it fell on you.

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I was at the Tulsa Advertising and Bottle show this week end.  A little smaller than the Indy Ad Show but a great turnout of dealers and lookers.  Reproduction Porcelain is getting harder to spot for the average buyer and is depressing the market imo.  I had many buyers comment that they are reluctant to purchase because everything on evil bay is fake.  A dealer purchased a couple of pump signs from me and commented  I know they are real but I have to convince the next buyer that they are real. I must have had 50 buyers look at them and pass because they couldn't be sure and didn't want to take a chance..  BTW I only saw one automotive watch fob and it was fake.  Great to be out again!!!  I just loaded up the Element with excess inventory that has ben sitting around for years and had a great time.

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Robert, glad you got out and had some fun.  Hopefully that will be the norm once again for us.  I would recognize poorly done porcelain reproductions, but I don't trust myself to make that call on sophisticated high end stuff that people are reproducing.  For that reason, I'll be limiting myself to pieces that I know the seller, or it is priced at a level that I'd be happy with it regardless of its authenticity.  

It is kind of crazy to think that car/petrolina collectors are wrestling with some of the very same aspects that high end art collectors deal with in the Great Masters on canvas.....who would have thought it....

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Lots of things to consider on signs besides price.  And, it's sometimes a moving target as the fakers learn from their mistakes and perfect their craft.  Porcelain signs have been particularly troublesome, most likely due to the price they bring at auction and well-known specialty swap meets.  I look for things like:

 

Quality of lettering and lines.  Edges should be straight and crisp, Curved lettering should also be clean and without jagged edges.  I've seen some terrible fakes that looks like someone painted them while on a roller-coaster!

 

Shelving has already been mentioned.  That's the distinct layering of the different porcelain colors that can easily be felt or seen when holding the sign in the right position with light reflecting off of it.  The layers between colors should be distinct,  I've observed the older the sign is, the heavier the shelving probably is.  Looking at edge decoration and lettering should reveal a degree of shelving.

 

Coloring - especially cobalt blues.  They should be very dark with deep gloss. 

 

Placement of mounting holes/grommets.  When compared with originals, mounting holes will be off, sometimes considerably. Of course you need to study known originals for comparison.  I have a "collection" of known original signs saved in a gallery on my phone.  These handy pictures show locations of mounting holes, can sometimes be a reference to color, and will show other details that can be quickly compared with a sign you are considering for purchase.

 

Back-side and weight of the sign are also important.  Early signs were made on sheet-iron and heavy steel.  Modern repops will be on much lighter metal. Backs will usually be enameled like the front, sometimes in black, but always showing plenty of marks created during production.   I have some early multi-colored signs that have large drips of every color used on the front.  It's as if the "painter" just dripped a bit of everything onto the back around the edges.   I stay away from signs with the backs colored in flat black with smooth but textured surface.  It's my feeling these are mostly newer fantasy or reproduction items. 

 

In an auction or flea market watch the price.   I've seen highly suspect signs priced far below what they might bring in a good auction - just low enough to make you think you're getting a bargain, but still expensive (by my definition).  I've seen signs that "should" be worth a couple thousand bucks priced at $500-700.  "It's too good to be true" is often a red flag for me.

 

Fake aging.  Look carefully and think about how and why there are chips, holes, or damage.  It it logical or did some crafty pirate take a hammer to it to look old.   Red rust is to me a big warning sign (no pun intended).  Old rust is a darker color, sometimes even black depending on the base metal.  Red rust is from yesterday's rain.

 

I've not bought a sign in quite some time.  Too chancy these days unless buying from a reputable source.  At today's prices I'm not taking any chances unless I'm sure.  Just because I want it to be right, isn't enough justification for me to dump all my Hershey money in one spot on a single item.  Too much other great stuff out there.

 

There are a lot of things that are in my "check-list" and I must admit, there may be exceptions to any of my rules.  I am sure I've missed some goodies over the years because I'm too cautious.  

 

If I find something good I'll post so you can critique my choice.  Meantime, a few that illustrate some of the things I mention above.  All of these signs were acquired years ago when the "gettin-was-good."  I pulled most off of old garages and buildings.  A few were plugging holes in farmers fences.  It was quite an adventure getting that Essolube sign off the side of a barn.  Had to put a 16 foot ladder on top of a VW to reach it.  The Mobile oil bottle came from the front of a metal oil cabinet that was found in Scotland in an old garage.  I removed a total of four porcelain signs from that cabinet.  Sadly however, the little glass globe usually found on top of those cabinets was broken.  All the signs and the cabinet had been painted over with many layers of paint.  I love the stories that go with them.  Much better than "bought it at an auction."

 

Terry

 

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Here is a sign with an interesting story.

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I bought it at Hershey about 1992 or 1993. I think the seller called himself The Willys Man, set up in the Green Field in the area Bill Hirsch had.

He claimed he had bought out the stock of parts in an old Willys dealership and found some unused self adhesive window signs in the load.

He took the best one to a sign maker and had either 25 or 50 metal signs made from the sticker. I owned a 1956 Willys pickup at the time and it made a nice addition to my garage decor. I remember paying something like $20 for it.

 

My nephew recently bought a 1950 Willys pickup and at our Father's Day picnic we talked about his truck and I told him I would pass the sign on to him. I know it will be around for a long time and the story will stay with it. He won't make up some more dramatic story about it. Not like I did when I said my '56 Willys was an engineer's inspection truck during the construction of the New York State Thruway.

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