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What was the Art Deco style originally known as?

Style Moderne
Streamlined Moderne
Arte Moderne.
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Art Deco Collectibles: Fashionable Objets from the Jazz Age
by Rodney Capstick-Dale &
Diana Capstick-Dale

In the 1920s and 1930s the Art Deco style influenced everything from art and architecture, interiors and furnishings, automobiles and boats to the small, personal objects that were part of everyday life: Featuring high-quality photography and vintage illustrations and ephemera, this book brings these objects to life in exquisite detail for the first time. The objects in this themed book encompass the Deco style at its most alluring, as well as the modernity, excitement, and social revolution of the Jazz Age.

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The Story of Art Deco

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French Art Deco Geometric Brooch

Welcome―Come Right In
by Bob Brooke


Nothing says welcome to customers than a large colorful sign. Businesses have known this since the days of ancient Rome and Greece.. Back then, businesses of all types used signs with individual symbols that displayed their product or service. Images helped display information rather than texts, as most people couldn’t read back then.

Early Signs
In ancient Rome, shopkeepers employed signboards for their shops. They had simpler ones made from stone, wood, or terracotta and for more luxurious businesses, of bronze, copper, or marble. Some shop owners had whitened areas, known as albums, painted on the outer walls of their shops. Signboards contained images or symbols to indicate the product or service available inside. Some of these symbols included the three balls of pawnbrokers and the red and white barber's pole that have survived to the present day.

In 1389, King Richard II of England ordered tavern owners to erect signs outside their premises. The legislation stated "Whosoever shall brew ale in the town with intention of selling it must hang out a sign, otherwise he shall forfeit his ale.” The practice of using signs spread to other types of commercial establishments throughout the Middle Ages.

Later, business signage evolved. Where signs had once only indicated locations, businesses began using them to advertise, as well. A simple trade sign was insufficient to distinguish one business from another, so business owners began to employ a variety of devices to differentiate themselves. Sometimes they adopted figures of animals or other objects, or portraits of a well-known persons, which they considered likely to attract attention.

The object of signboards was to attract the public, they were often of an elaborate character. Not only were the signs themselves large and sometimes of great artistic merit—especially in the 16th and 17th centuries, when they reached their peak—but the posts or metal supports, from which the signs hung, protruding from the shops over the narrow streets, were often elaborately worked examples of wrought-iron.

Since the 17th century, English Common law stated that businesses had to have a sign representing the services they provided. For instance, a shoemaker had a sign with the symbol of a shoe. Materials such as iron and wood made up most signs. Signs featured mostly images since most people still couldn’t read.

Signs Change with the Times

As times changed, so did signage. By 1700, almost every business was using at least one sign for advertising and display purposes. Signs also became more artistic, boasting a variety of colors; some even featured gold foiling, which was the highest quality signage a business owner could have made at the time.

During the 18th century in Europe and America, more and more merchants chose simple wooden signs in square, rectangular, or round shapes hand-painted with the minimal amount of words to convey what services they offered.

Signs became larger, too, and because of the narrow streets in 18th-century towns and cities, often spanned the width of the street, sometimes low enough forcing passersby to have to duck underneath them. And the bigger they became, the heavier. Often the supports just couldn’t hold them up, and they tumbled down, becoming a danger to townspeople. This compelled the city governments of Paris in 1761, and in London, between 1762 and 1773, to introduce laws requiring signboards to be removed from overhanging the street or fixed flat against the wall.

By the early 19th century, businesses began to use hand-painted and then stenciled tin signs, while the art of hand-lettering and hand-painting walls, windows, and billboards was just beginning to blossom. As the Second Industrial Age flourished in post-Civil War America, branding, logos, and other markers to distinguish products became incredibly important to competing manufacturers. Artisans who hand-painted signs excelled in gorgeous, eye-popping lettering and helped companies like Coca-Cola develop their logos.

In the late 19th century, American manufacturers developed new machines and techniques that allowed them to stamp, trim, and apply lithographs to tin sheets. This let manufacturers that made products like cosmetics, tobacco, or processed food develop lush, colorful logos and characters that could be lithographed onto tin containers and tin signs to entice new customers. Tin signs, unlike a hand-painted paper sign, could be hung outside because they could withstand any weather, even though eventually they might rust.

Tuscarora Advertising Company and Standard Advertising Company, both in Coshocton, Ohio, began producing stunning tin signs in 1895 using the latest technology in offset lithography.

Porcelain Enamel Signs Look to the Future
In the 1920s, the stylized look of porcelain signs aligned with the Art Deco aesthetic, and so tin signs fell out of favor.

Porcelain signs, also known as enamel signs or porcelain enamel signs, originated in Germany in the 1880s. Merchants first imported them to the United States in the 1890s. Actually, the signs don't contain any clay as in porcelain dinnerware or pottery. The vitreous enamel coating the signs does, however, contain the powdered glass, called frit, that's a main ingredient of soft-paste porcelain.

In the early days, the colored enamel would be applied to the white powdered-glass base of a sign via stencils. These signs could be die-cut into almost any shape. Some of them had only one side so they needed to be hung on a wall, while others had two sides and could be attached to a wall with a flange. In the early 1900s, Enameled Iron Company, Ingram-Richardson, and Baltimore Enamel & Novelty brought in craftsmen from Europe to help them produce these beautiful and colorful signs.

Collecting Old Commercial Signs
Antique and vintage signs are highly sought after by collectors for their beauty, enduring historic value, and because they make great conversation pieces. Advertising everything from soda and oil products to farm equipment and household appliances, old signs might be classified as wood, porcelain, tin, or cardboard.

Collectors of old commercial signs tend to fall into one of two groups—those interested in oil, gas, and other automobile-related vintage porcelain signs, and those who collect so-called "country store" signs, generally found at rural five-and-dimes or diners, which range from brands of soda, milk, and bread to tobacco, stoves, and floor varnish.

However, during the World War II, scrap drives saw many old signs of both enamel and tin melted down, making authentic vintage signs rare today. Eventually, high labor costs caused porcelain signs to fall out of favor in the 1950s. Many of the antique and vintage porcelain signs that survived the scrap drives have bullet holes in them since old signs made great targets for shooting practice. Others show signs of crazing or acid etching in the enamel.

Cable T.V. shows like American Pickers have increased the popularity and nostalgia of old signs. As seen on the show, many signs end up in old barns and sheds amid piles of other junk. Only a collector of old signs sees the potential and value in them. With antique signs, condition, visual appeal, and scarcity all affect value. Many reproductions have been made and restorations of old signs are prevalent.

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