Enamel Signs | A Small History

Enamel Signs | A Small History

April 12th 2022

Enamel Signs (street jewellery) were originally crafted in the mid 1800’s and were a means of advertising things such as services, food, petrol and other goods. They could be seen in many different applications such as on buildings, trams, railway stations and often streets were lined with each individual building having their own advertising signs.

The first commercial production of enamel signs began in Birmingham when Benjamin Baugh patented the process for producing signage named vitreous enamelling in 1859 at his Salt’s Patent Enamel Works in Bradford Street. The process is a method of fusing porcelain in the form of powdered glass poured onto rolled iron plates (or later steel plates) whereby different layers of colours were added to the initial base coat colour, the lettering intricately hand stencilled. The signs were then heated to an extremely high temperature and as the metal becomes porous it allows the liquid glass to seep into the openings fusing the structure together. This process allows the finished product to be weatherproof, durable, vibrant, and attractive. For that little be extra durability occasionally the signs were enamelled on the rear also.


Pickfords enamel sign sold via our November 21 exhibition at the Art & Antiques For Everyone NEC

Into the late 19th century, the industrial heartlands of the midlands became a hub of enterprising producers who were manufacturing signs in their thousands. With approximately 15 manufactures including Imperial Enamel, Stocal Enamels Ltd of Burton, JA Jordan & Sons Ltd and the Falkirk Iron Company many faded away as quick as they appeared making some signs significantly more collectable than others. Moving through to the early 20th century and a mass influx of transportation and the growing presence of motor cars meant that businesses and retailers required better branding and better advertising. Competition meant that one sign always had to be better than the next with eye-catching visuals and simplistic designs. Today there is a huge collector’s market for signs as well as market for interior decorators as popping wall décor, people from all ages can enjoy the pieces whether it be for sentimental values, that trip down memory lane or for a new modern house to give it some colour and a focal point. A truly future proof piece of advertising.