In the early 20th century, companies introduced neon signs to attract potential customers by using them in their advertisements. This technique was quite effective, and in no time, everyone started using it to make their place look appealing. The trend lasted till the early 40s to late 50s, and later it was out of fashion.
Today, these signs are known as ancient and antique. It attracts collectors who admire lost aesthetic artwork, and these people are ready to pay big bucks for these signs.
The History Of Neon Signs
Vintage neon signs have a long and rich history that has influenced the urban environment over the years. Going back to the 1900s, a French engineer, George Claud, was the first to invent these signs.
On 11th December 1910, George displayed his technology in front of an audience who were there for the Paris motor show. The audience was fascinated by his artwork. Two years later, a barber adapted this technology and became the first person to use neon lights to decorate the advertisement sign outside his shop.
Due to its attractive nature and affordability, it became quickly popular amongst businesses. Sign manufacturers started creating various designs and colors by combining neon gas with certain gasses and chemicals. Moreover, they tried different glasswork techniques to make stunning signs that attracted people to every shop.
These signs were in demand throughout the early 20th century, culminating in the 20s and 30s. Every major city in the US had shops filled with these lights, lighting the streets, which had once been dark and abandoned. Even indoor businesses, such as bars, clubs, and restaurants, had fashioned their interior and exterior with these in-demand signs.
However, in the 1940s and 50s, its popularity slowly started declining. The mindset soon changed, and people began to link these signs with shady businesses. The cost to repair them was also high, and keeping them maintained required special skills.
By 1970, neon signs became history throughout the US except in Las Vegas, the city of sin, where it was still in use and appreciated.
Antique Neon Signs Styles
During the early 20th century, every brand had its unique design. When the trend died, the signs were still on the market, and as the years passed, these neon signs became antique, and people started collecting them.
Vintage neon signs can give a whimsical aspect to your interior. You can decorate your room and give it a jazzy touch, give your garage a workshop look, or style your kitchen like a bar with a neon style that best fits your perspective.
Here are some unique and famous styles used by people to craft their interiors.
Retro neon signs are one of the most common styles featured by many well-known businesses. As you explore your choices, you will come across the following types.
Neon beer signs
Neon beer signs were prominent in alcohol industries to advertise their products. Bars and restaurants also used these signs to decorate their sittings, as well as their business.
These vintage neon signs include brands such as Coors, Miller, Budweiser, and more. While browsing through this category, you will also find the signs of brands that no longer exist, such as Double Diamond and Watney’s Red Barrel.
You can use any of these signs to style your home bar, or if you are a collector, you can add it to your vintage beer can collection.
Automotive neon signs
With a cool and funky look, Automotive neon signs go best in a car garage, such as an automobile showroom. No surprise, these signs were introduced by car companies to advertise their cars and automotive products. While going through these signs, you’ll notice some famous brands such as Buick, Ford, Gulf Oil, etc.
Brands from the early 20th century to the late 50s, such as Pepsi and Coca-Cola, took part in advertising their product with vintage neon signs. While browsing through this genre, you’ll see less of brands that are popular today, like 7-up, Fanta, and many more.
Even though they date back to the early 40s and 50s, they were not very popular at that time.
These signs are perfect for a vintage kitchen look, giving your kitchen an aesthetic black-and-white era feature. But if this use doesn’t fit you, that’s alright. They are also great collectible items that you can add to your collection.
Tobacco companies, like Lucky Strike and Pierre Lorillard, introduced in the 17th and 18th centuries, are the oldest brands to use neon signs. Their neon signs are vintage and jazzy.
These are one of the best vintage signs to decorate your room, especially if you’re a teenager or a grown-up who’s into pop culture and music. They give off that mid-90s aesthetic and dope look, and what better way to upgrade your room?
Neon open signs
Being used by businesses like bars, restaurants, and clubs, Open neon signs are one of the most common vintage neon signs hanging on every shop’s door. Almost every business used this sign to tell the customers whether they were open or closed at the moment.
While browsing through the category, you might find it solo or merged with a brand name. Remember, when there is a renowned brand name attached, the sign can skyrocket in value.
In either case, these signs are fun to place in your kitchen or on the front door.
Neon word signs
Depending on the requirements, there were some neon signs with certain words to represent a business. For instance, the neon sign might say ‘cocktail’ or ‘eat’ in the bar business.
You can use these types of signs in various ways. You can use them in your kitchen or sitting area depending on the word the sign says.
Old Neon Signs In Shapes
Apart from words, there were also vintage signs that featured shapes. You might come across a sign shaped like a girl, fish, guitars, anchors, and more.
Apart from collecting them, you can use these vintage signs to design and style your room. You can place them on your wall as wallpaper. They look stunning on a gallery wall.
Where To Find Old Neon signs?
If you have an interest in collecting old neon signs and have already decided what kind of neon signs you’d prefer, then the best and easiest way is to find them online on auction sites such as eBay.
But if you’re one of those people who like a bit of struggle to acquire what they love, travel along the country road. Search for neon signs at dump sites.
Usually, people who do not have information regarding neon signs treat them as garbage and dispose of them at these sites. Moreover, you can also visit junk dealers, swap meets, and rummage sales to find better deals. With enough effort, you will surely find what you’re looking for at any of these places.
Next, there are certain factors that you need to ensure while getting an old neon sign.
How To Determine Value of Antique Neon Signs
You can easily find an average vintage neon sign for $100 to $300. However, when fishing or selling more valuable ones, you might have wondered how much is my neon sign worth. Therefore, a neon sign value guide is what you need.
Here are some factors to look for while purchasing neon signs.
One of the most important factors when determining the price of an antique neon sign is its condition.
When purchasing a neon sign, ensure it lights well when plugged in. Moreover, it has no missing parts, is free of cracks, and is not broken from any angle. Bonus point if the paint is not coming off and the condition is picture-perfect.
However, finding a neon sign in a perfect state is not as easy as it sounds. Since most of them were for exterior use, they were more vulnerable to pollution and impurities, which altered their lives. Due to this, it is rare to find one in a perfect state.
You can ignore the rust or faded paint, but if the sign is not in working condition, you’ll have to spend at least $500 per sign to make it work. Keeping this in mind, make sure you pay the right price and not too much.
Like any other antique item, neon signs follow the same rule. The older it is, the more worth it has. Neon signs manufactured in the 1950s or earlier are among the most expensive ones. Those manufactured later are still valuable, but the older ones tend to steal the spotlight.
This factor states whether the sign is applicable in today’s lifestyle. The less use it has, the less worth it will have. Also, if it is compelling, it will go for a much higher price.
For instance, a sign featuring tobacco will tend to be more pricey than a sign featuring a mattress. Tobacco is one of the trendy products of society, whereas a mattress is an accessory and of little interest compared to tobacco.
Not necessarily, but the bigger the sign is, the more expensive it can be. However, when selling, it can be a bit challenging to find collectors to buy it as they will need a place to store it, which can add up to their cost.
Whenever you purchase a used neon sign, ensure it is authentic before making a purchase. Due to the high prices involved, they are often con men in the markets who make copies of the original ones and disguise them as real pieces to get a high bid.
In particular, the expensive ones, such as beer neon signs, are usually fake. Therefore, watch out for such risks when buying antique or vintage neon signs.
To identify between fake and original, look out for its wiring. Signs manufactured before the 1960s have their wiring present in a cloth or are rubber-wrapped.
After purchasing it, you can restore its wiring with a modern one to make it safer for use. Usually, all refurbished signs have modern wiring. However, it may damage its authenticity and worth in the antique market. So if collecting and reselling is your motive, we suggest you refrain from this.
The more complex and beautiful a neon sign is, the more worth it will have. Some collectors look for attractive features in a vintage neon sign to use for multiple purposes, which makes it more valuable. Opposite of that, neon signs with basic designs always struggle to be sold.
The cost of a vintage neon sign can also depend on the brand it features. By looking at the trading on the current antique market, the most demanded are the ones used for beer and oil advertising.
Rare and unusual neon signs can be more expensive than typical and common ones. In an auction, rare neon signs tend to go for a much higher bid, especially if all their pieces are original and are in working condition.
As per the general demand rule, when the demand for any commodity rises, its prices increase too. Vintage neon signs are no different and follow the same law. They become more expensive when more people want them, and vice versa.
How are Neon Signs made?
Unlike LED signs, neon ones are more challenging to make. Here’s a video to feed your curiosity!
15 Most Expensive Antique Neon Signs
Initially intended for advertising, vintage neon signs have taken a space in the market as a collectible. Their vintage and aesthetic looks make them unique, and their price rises as they stand out separately as antiques.
With that said, let’s take you through the list of the most expensive antique and vintage neon signs.
1. Musgo Gasoline
Top on the list, the 1926 Musgo gasoline is one of the most expensive neon signs, valued at $164,000. This company existed for only two years, and scarce people had heard about it. In 2016, a collector paid this amount during an auction of antiques.
2. Harley-Davidson Motorcycles
The second on this list is the Harley-Davidson motorcycle neon sign. This sign was created in the 1930s when Harley-Davidson emerged as a brand. The collectible was sold in 2015 at auction for $86,250.
3. Chevy Boy (Chevrolet)
The third on this list is Chevy Boy, a neon sign for Chevrolet. It was purchased by a collector for $69,000 at auction in 2015. The rarity of this sign is what makes it unique. Only 2 of them exist.
Next on this list is Cadillac. A fixed price for this artifact is not accurate. Previous auction records suggest that it values between $10,000-$28,750. The value varies as there were two types of these signs invented, one functioning on both front and back sides, while the other only on the front.
5. Beury Building Subway Light
This neon sign is from the 1920s, one of the early produced designs. This sign is said to be valued at $3,500.
6. Snyder Radio
A very rare and hard to come by, this neon sign is from the 1950s. Today this sign is valued at $2,500.
7. Duquesne Pilsner beer neon sign
Duquesne Pilsner Beer was founded in the late 16th century. By 1971 it changed its name to Duquesne Brewing Company of Pittsburgh. Its neon sign today is on eBay and valued at around $3,000.
A well-known clothing brand today, Levis introduced its first vintage neon sign in the 1970s. Today this sign is being sold for $2,000.
Scene-o-Rama, a brewery company, introduced its neon sign in 1951. This sign is sold today at $3,450.
10. Marquee neon letter sign
Mid-century modern neon sign marquee letter U was designed in 1960 and is now worth $800.
11. Budweiser beer neon sign
In the 1920s, Budweiser beer neon signs were prominent in bars and clubs. Today these are valued at $575.
12. Sapporo imported beer neon sign
Sapporo Brewery Ltd. is a Japanese brewing company that exports its goods to the US. Back then, clubs and bars also commonly used Sapporo imported beer neon signs. These signs are valued at $480 as collectible items.
13. Heineken beer neon sign
Heineken beer was produced by a dutch brewing company that emerged in 1873. When the trend for neon signs flourished, Heineken beer decided to introduce its neon sign in the 1920s, and today, these signs can cost anywhere $300 to $600. In fact, it was sold for $365 in a listing on eBay.
14. Carlsberg beer neon sign
The Carlsberg beer neon sign from the 1930s was common between bars, restaurants, and clubs, and today this sign has a value of $410.
15. Vintage Fishtail Coke Sign
Coca-Cola is one of the most popular soda brands today. It introduced its fishtail sign in the 1940s. Today, this vintage neon sign is on the market for $395.
For over a century, neon lights have lit the paths from movie arenas, bars, and clubs, to motels, casinos, and more. Those times have passed, and advanced technologies may have taken over the world but should this let us forget about the vibes of the early 20th century? Of Course not!
Get a vintage neon light, but before doing that, try not to forget to read our comprehensive guide to have an overview of the market.