Old country grocery store signs — say, for bread, milk or cereal — were clever, attention-getting and colorful. Wonderful graphics were used to sell even the most simple and unusual products.
Vintage/antique advertising signs are hot now. Items of particularly strong interest are the rare tins, cardboard and porcelain found in all sizes displaying anything from cigars to soaps to ladies ready wear. Some are very eye-catching, and include canned goods, baking items, cleaning products, candy and more.
Even product signs that were once found in the general store feature items for your car, perfume for your lady or even products for your pets. A neat book that is very helpful and includes photos, too, is “Antique Advertising: Country Store Signs and Products,” by Rich Bertoia. The book shows an assortment of signs from 1880 to 1930, and lists current market values.
Advertising signs were like works of art and are as fun and colorful as country store memorabilia. The country store is like our farmer’s market, co-ops today selling everything from baking and cooking supplies to the actual baked goods. What’s more, the stores sold items for the home garden, furniture and other goods. And many of them were identified with graphic signs.
These signs of the past are like the Super Bowl commercials of their time. Many are now hitting the market, as longtime collectors are ready to begin a new phase in their lives, downsizing and offering good prices.
Oh, and reproductions are also out on the market. Be alert. Some are signed as works of art. Another way to determine if a sign is authentic and old is to use a magnet on the metal. If it’s original, the magnet will stick to the sign, because it’s made of steel. If the magnet does not stick, the sign is probably baked on aluminum.
Find signs at flea markets, online auctions and sales, or check out a swap meet or look in local or national antique and collectible trade papers. A few of the area antique malls have signs, too. Here’s a sampling.
Sarah Kieffer, Sarah’s Uniques & Jim’s “Man”tiques, St. Charles: “We love the old country store signs! From bread, coffee, ice cream, and more, these signs make a great addition to a collection and even look great in the kitchen! These signs are highly collectible and come in many shapes and styles. Some are porcelain, some are old tin tacker‘s, some are heavy card stock, and some are paper. These have a wide range of prices, anywhere from five dollars on up to thousands of dollars. They appeal to many different collectors and remind people of growing up and going to the grocery store with their grandma or their parents.”
Paul Larsen, manager and vendor at Old Rooster Antiques, Rochester: “Signs are very collectible at this time at the Old Rooster Antiques, Rochester a nice Coca-Cola store sign priced at $75 and a Peters Shoe Company wooden crate marked at $85 and many more country store items and product can be found.”
Cindy Rigotti, owner of the Yellow Monkey, Rochester: “We only have one collectible cardboard cigar sign selling for $8, as the new season starts we will probably have more coming.”
Chris Rand Kujath, Old River Valley Antique Mall, Stewartville: “The only thing I have at the present time is a Bunny Bread, $375, and a double-sided with Roman Meal Bread, same price. I also have some collectible store ads.”
Laurie Rucker, Vintage Treasures and Home Decor, St. Charles: “No metal signs, just a large paper Purina chow ad for $48, as well as a pancake batter and sausage sign, not positive on brand, selling for $9.”
Sandy Erdman is a Winona-based freelance writer and certified appraiser concentrating on vintage, antique and collectible items. Send comments and story suggestions to Sandy at email@example.com .
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