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How To Tell If a
Sign is Authentic
Real Signs, Fakes, and Reproductions
If you’re starting your journey towards the world of porcelain sign collecting, then there are some things that you should be aware of before you do so. Porcelain sign reproductions aren’t a bad thing. In fact, they can be a great way to get specific signs that you’d like to see in your collection without bankrupting yourself.
Amongst collectors, signs like Kelly Tires, Clipper, and Musco are often regarded as the holy grails and, as such, can cost as much as $50,000. Since most people don’t have enough disposable income to shell out a chunk of change that large on a single item, reproductions can make the hobby more accessible to those who want to build their collection on a budget.
That being said, if you’re set on sticking to authentic signs only and have the budget to do so, then there are various details to be aware of as this can help you steer clear of fakes. Being able to spot a fake from an authentic sign will take practice, but once you’re aware of the nuanced aspects of authentication, then you can spot reproductions pretty reliably.
The mounting holes can be a dead giveaway depending on their placement. Some signs have a specific number of mounting holes. If a sign is known to have nine holes and yours has seven, then that’s a big red flag. On a similar note, the shape itself can also tip you off. If a particular sign is known to be oval and yours is a die-cut, then it does start to raise some questions.
Many companies used grommets for their signs and often chose materials that were resistant to rust. These were thus placed inside the mounting holes in an effort to protect the corners of their signs. Many reproductions have grommets too, for the sake of historical accuracy. That being said, you can still use the grommets to determine whether you’re looking at an original or preproduction.
The sign is real if you spot rust appearing under the grommet. Even the grommet itself could clue you in if it is in such a shape that shows it was hung and used many times over the decades. Conversely, grommets that look brand new and barely used could be a big red flag that the sign may be a reproduction rather than an original.
The next thing that you should look at when trying to analyze the potential authenticity — or lack thereof — of a sign is whether or not the quality is up to par. The companies that originally made these signs got help from professional sign makers that specialized in porcelain enamel to both construct and paint these pinnacles of advertising.
Genuine signs created by these artisans were as close to perfect as a manmade object can be. The lettering on the signs themselves were stunningly straight without any wavy appearance. In contrast, reproductions may use cartoonish and curvy letterings. Even things like the layering of the sign can mark the difference between a real sign or a fake one.
Original porcelain signs always had white enamel applied to them as the first layer with their colors added on a second layer atop it. If you find a sign that has flush paint, then it may very well be a fake.
How do you tell the difference? Simply run your finger across all the colored areas of the sign and see if you can feel the difference in height whenever passing through colors — if you can then it’s most likely a genuine sign that’s worth buying (assuming it takes your fancy, of course.)
Another thing that can play a huge part in the process of spotting a fake from an original is the stamps. These stamps will often provide the exact date when the sign — or the company that made it — was registered. You might find some slight modifications to these stamps if you’re looking at a reproduction item rather than an original sign. For instance, instead of saying REG, the stamp may have changed to RED during the reproduction process.
It’s worth noting that not every single sign was stamped by the maker. This means that you can’t use stamps as the be-all and end-all to determine the authenticity of an item. Be sure to look closely at these details when deciding if the unit is genuine. Don’t rush, taking your time to focus on the fine points will help you build your collection with valuable signs from history.
The common misconception is that the threat of fake signs is limited to flea marketers or online eCommerce websites, but this simply isn’t the case. While it’s true that you could be at a higher risk of ending up with a fake if you buy from Craigslist or eBay, you can’t get too comfortable elsewhere. Fake porcelain signs can be found literally anywhere.
Even old-time collections filled with authentic signs could have reproductions making up as much as 10% of the total gallery, if not more. Just because a sign is surrounded on all sides by original items, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a fake using the guise of authenticity to pass as something valuable. Never fall for the wolf in sheep’s clothing.
You also shouldn’t assume that a particular source of signs is trustworthy just because they have high asking prices. Expensive doesn’t always translate to genuine. Some sellers of fake signs even deliberately price their items high to give off an authentic vibe.
The easiest way to examine a sign without bias is to ignore the signs around it, ignore the price tag, and look at the item itself. If you take more than a couple of minutes to decide whether or not it’s genuine, then it probably isn’t. This is why you should never ignore any warning signs that may be firing in your brain just because you like the graphics or affordable price.
If you have any questions or concerns about a porcelain sign in your collection, then don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We’re always happy to help with authenticating signs and even helping you figure out what it’s worth.