Collecting with Jeff
By Jeff Figler
As strange as it may sound, advertising signs actually date back to ancient times. There are ancient paintings on the walls of shops in Pompeii. Later, there were signs that hung outside shops of blacksmiths, shoemakers, and other tradesmen.
But it was right around the beginning of the 1800s that signs first appeared in the United States, and at first were hand-painted or made from paper. However, since most food products came in tin-plated containers, tin soon became a popular means to advertise around 1875, as machines could trim and stamp sheets of tin. As tin was a tough material, it could be used for signs, which were painted, stenciled, and lithographed. It also could survive the weather.
Although expensive to make, lithographed tin signs were used to sell all types of products, such as gasoline, beer, tobacco, as well as food. If a sign used tin lithograph, it created colorful imagery, such as a company’s logo which could be stamped into the tin and stand out.
The center for tin signs was, of all places, Coshocton, Ohio. It was there that in 1875 Jasper Freemont Meek founded the Tuscarora Advertising Company. He made novelty advertisements on book bags, as well as horse blankets.
Another Coshocton resident, H.D. Beach, made advertising products such as yard sticks, pencils, and shoe horns, at his Standard Advertising Company. In fact, the tin signs that the Tuscarora and Standard Companies, produced are some of the most sought after tin signs today. Finally, in 1901 they merged as the Meek and Beach Company. Meek would soon leave, and started his own company, H.D. Beach Company. Meek then renamed his company the American Art Works.
Tin signs hit their peak in the 1920’s, and were succeeded by porcelain enamel signs. These porcelain signs came to the United States from Europe in 1890. The signs were less expensive to produce, and did not rust as easily.
World War II put a halt to both tin and porcelain signs, and by the time the war was over, plastic and steel were being used in most signs.
Tin signs can still be seen, but they are more costly. Die-cut tin signs are sought by collectors.
A tin sign’s value will depend on its condition, as well as how used it is, and how much rust it has. Vintage styling, as well as the distinctive subject matters, have made tin signs very desirable to homeowners as well as collectors.
However, it must be noted that some vintage tin signs can be quite expensive. A few examples will suffice.
A circa 1905 handmade tin sign with wooden framework stamped “Beeman’s Pepsin Gum” sold at auction for $14,500.
A very rare Coca-Cola embossed tin sign from 1899 fetched $20,000 in a 2012 auction. This tin sign is what is classified as a crossover, as it is desired by both collectors of tin signs and also Coca-Cola items.
However, at a 2013 auction in Pennsylvania, an extremely rare Campbell’s Soup tin sign sold for $45,000, and in a 2011 auction, a 1900 Hilda Clark tin sign of Coca-Cola went for $47,500. This Coca-Cola sign is one of the most desirable tin advertising signs of all time. It rarely comes up for auction, and when it does, the price is high.
Tin signs have become a part of Americana, and are very desirable among collectors. However, if you are looking for the authentic tin signs, and not a reproduction, make sure that you do your due diligence to ensure that you will not be disappointed later. Vintage tin signs surely are collector pieces that add charm to wherever they are placed.
About the Author:
Jeff Figler has authored more than 600 published articles about collecting. He is one of the world’s leading experts on collectibles and is a former sports columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch/STL Today, and San Diego Union Tribune. Jeff’s most recent book is Picker’s Pocket Guide to Baseball Memorabilia published by Krause Publications. You can learn more about Jeff by visiting his website www.collectingwithjeff.com. He can also be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.