History of Tin Signs as Advertising Signage

Retro Staff 1  Comment

The history of advertising signs extends into ancient times. There are many examples of early advertising still in existence today, like the paintings on the walls of shops in Pompeii. Among these ancient paintings are illustrations of bakers distributing their goods as well as what products were available in that shop. Later, tools of the trade were hung outside of the shops of blacksmiths, shoemakers and other tradesmen.

In the 18th century, painted wooden signs of a variety of shapes were displayed to identify the name of the vendor and the goods to be found within.

Coca-Cola Sign

1916 Coca-Cola advertising sign reproduction

Increased consumerism as well an increase in the advertising of brands was first seen in the US around 1900. The literacy rate among the public was on the rise, so signage was becoming a more effective method of advertising. Signs became rectangular or square and were printed with more information than in the past. Tin signs appeared inside and outside of grocery stores to advertise the brands and products sold in that store.

The earliest signs may have actually been made of “tin”, but once the steel industry took off, these indoor/outdoor advertising signs were made of steel. The term “tin” has now evolved to be used for any metallic sheet metal. Tin is a chemical element that does not rust as readily as steel, but is less malleable and as a result, is more difficult to shape.

The steel industry was booming at the turn of the century and was a logical choice for mass-produced signage. Steel was the preferred material for signs up until the onset of WWII. During the war, the production of metal signs was banned since every ounce of metal was needed for the war effort. Emphasis was put on maintaining old signage, rather than replacing it.

Advances in technology during the war resulted in the invention of plastics and vinyl. These synthetic materials were more durable than tin for outdoor signs and replaced tin signs entirely for the most part from the 1950s on.

Tin signs have returned as a popular choice in the present day for collectors and anyone looking for a retro look. Vintage styling and subject matter have made tin signs very desirable for today’s home décor. Also, tin signs are long lasting and won’t tear or fade.

Last updated: Aug 19, 2010
Filed under: Retro Ramblings Tagged with: advertising signage, tin advertising signs, tin signs