Recently while driving along a rural road in Illinois, I noticed an old, rapidly deteriorating barn set against a beautiful sunset. The scene reminded me of what you would see in a magazine or in a gallery of photographs. The diminishing light cast upon the old structure in such a way that the shadows seemed to tell a story. Most people would stop and admire such a building, possibly taking a photo of that moment in time. Unfortunately, I'm not like most people. I'm an antique collector. Instead of admiring that broken down barn sitting alone in a field, I found myself wondering what kind of treasures were inside. Maybe old forgotten primitives, or better yet, a barn full of old signs.
I've often heard stories of people finding an old, valuable sign hidden away in a dark, dust filled corner of a barn. I've spoken with people who have found signs in barn rafters and on roofs used to patch a leak. I once found an old tobacco sign under 3 feet of shingles within a dilapidated old building. One of the most beautiful old wooden trade signs I've ever seen was found in a barn, used as part of an interior wall. I've often wondered how many signs are still out there, waiting for someone to find them behind a wall or in an old forgotten crawl space.
I'm sure that many of the signs of years past were either thrown away or repurposed, but the treasure hunter in me can't help but to believe they're still out there. If you have the occasion to attend an auction featuring antique advertising signage, you will soon realize the vast array of signs that have been preserved, soon to be displayed proudly in someone's collection. Most of those signs were at one time lost, only to be found once again. How many more are still to be discovered?
While razing an old building on my property, formerly owned by my uncle, I found a wood sign. It was upside down on the floor, used as a board to walk on. Turning it over, I found, much to my delight, an old town sign from the village I was raised in. Any monetary value was very small, but the discovery to me was priceless. Apparently, my uncle had been the highway commissioner for our township. He had probably replaced the wood sign years before with a new metal sign. Not seeing any reason to keep it, he used it as a board to walk on in the building. How many more old "boards" are waiting to be found in old basements, attics, barns and buildings?
This being my first blog post on my new website, I thought it would be interesting to hear from you. Where was the strangest place you discovered an antique sign? What did it advertise? How old was it? What are your favorite signs, antique wood trade signs, or porcelain advertising signs? I'd love to hear from you!