In Australia and overseas, most outdoor signs made between 1890 and and 1950 were constructed of a base of heavy rolled iron, which was die cut into the desired shape, then coated with layers of colored powdered glass and fired in a kiln.
This process made them durable and weather-resistant. Signs made this way were known as porcelain enamel signs or simply enamel signs.
Porcelain enamel signs originated in Germany and were imported into countries such as Australia and the U.S. but English sign manufacturers soon dominated the supply of signs to Australia. They quickly became a staple of outdoor advertising across the country.
Around 1900, designers experimented with bold colors and graphics on the signs and they were used to advertise everything from cigarettes and beer to farm equipment and tires.
Early designs were stenciled, but designers switched to silkscreens and started using a steel base instead of iron. Later, when porcelain enamel became too costly, tin bases were used instead of steel.
For collectors it is now difficult to find antique porcelain enamel signs in excellent condition. Collectors pay hundreds and even thousands of dollars for each addition to their collections. Many of the signs were vandalized, discarded due to etching or crazing in the finish or melted down for the metal during World War II.
After the war, the signs were too expensive to manufacture, so we are left with only the examples which survived recycling, re-use, or which were thrown out on tips or used as sheet metal in fences, roofs, and as concrete mixing boards.
After WW2 more signs were made of tin and other materials and painted with enamel paint. More of these types of signs remain, but they are often rusted, scratched and distressed.
There is a huge market for vintage signs and collectors must be wary of distressed reproductions. Often vintage signs are stamped with the date they were manufactured, while other times research and knowledge about antique signs may be required to discern a real antique from a reproduction.
There are very few local W.A. signs remaining and these command great interest by collectors of advertising as well as enamel sign collectors.