Collecting antique porcelain signs can be rewarding, profitable, and in some cases costly. While there are large collections which change hands from time to time, most signs are bought and sold through established and trusted networks of buyers, collectors and sellers. These folks know and trust each other as resources for product as we as reliable and trustworthy business practices.
Unfortunately, due to the high value of many of these signs, many unscrupulous sellers move to deceive the buyers with new reproductions of the original signs. While this is nothing new, often times a seller will take a brand new sign and “age” it in such a way as to create a look of authenticity when in fact the sign is not old at all. For collectors, its important to understand some of the features of authentic signs as well as techniques used to age new signs.
Some examples of aging techniques include chipping and rusting. While many signs were hung outside, some of the chipping and rusting done by counterfeit producers goes a bit over the top. In some cases, they target specific areas and damage and rust those areas. For instance, grommet areas are often damaged on original signs and therefore become an area of interest for the counterfeiters. However, they often overlook the fact that the holes themselves are not in the proper location or the number of holes is not accurate. They also target the edges and the infamous “bird shot” and “bullet hole” techniques. Edges of a sign are usually only badly damaged and rusted if the sign was originally in a metal frame which would cause the porcelain to chip. The “bird shot” and “bullet hole” technique gives the sign a possible road side history. If the seller claims its been inside his Grandfathers barn for 75 years, how did it get the bullet holes? Grandpa doesn’t do target practice in the barn does he?
Another distinguishing characteristic of antique porcelain signs is called shelving. Shelving is actually the layers of porcelain and enamel on the steel sheet. The first layer is usually white porcelain. Each layer of color used in the manufacturing is then laid over the white layer. The end result is a layering texture of the image. If you run your hand over the image, can you feel the different layers? Is it smooth? Some manufacturers used a lithographing technique as well as the layering technique so this is not a guarantee of authenticity but should still be part of your examination of the sign.
Selecting your seller is often the most critical decision when buying antique porcelain signs. Do you know the seller? Do you have any reservations about doing business with them? If you do, its best to hold on to your cash. A legitimate seller will often not only sell you the sign, he wants to stay connected with you. His goal is to sell you the sign and at a later date, possibly purchase it back to sell to another collector. Since authentic signs usually increase in value, a good relationship with you means potential future profit for him.
Today there are many companies which produce new reproduction porcelain signs, ours included. Most of us produce a quality product at an affordable price for decorative use only. We permanently label and date them. However, sometimes less than honest resellers acquire those signs, implement some of the techniques mentioned above and try to sell them at outrageous prices.