‘Advertising ephemera and shop signage are as popular as ever,’ says Kath Hazell of The French House in York, specialist dealers in French antiques and vintage wares. ‘We’ve always been interested in signs, and we buy across the board,’ she says. ‘Old advertising signs are popular with serious collectors and more generally, too. We find we can pick them up all over the place, especially in France, but prices for examples in really good condition can be eye-wateringly expensive.’
Over the years, Kath and her husband Stephen have refined what they buy – with French advertising ephemera, signs and shop fittings, familiarity is key. ‘We found a metal sign for the aperitif Suze, which we thought people would love, but the brand wasn’t especially well-known in the UK. We’ve learned to be selective,’ she says. They have found that names that are already well established here, such as Ricard, Orangina or Perrier, or signs that feature vocabulary that is familiar from school, tend to be more popular.
Although the current trend for industrial vintage explains a spike in sales, Hazell thinks the perennial appeal of old enamel signs is nostalgic. ‘Anything to do with trades that no longer exist sells well,’ she observes. ‘These signs and shop fittings are slices of history.’ And in pure design terms, she continues, ‘people are always fascinated by unusual or old-fashioned typography.’
Lucy St George, co-founder of Rockett St George, agrees. ‘Typography is timeless,’ she says. ‘It’s always evolving and appearing in our homes in different forms.’ She cites the recent surge in the popularity of neon as an example. Once the rarified preserve of collectors of conceptual art, or dismissed as ‘dodgy diner artwork’, she’s thrilled by its revival in recent years.
The company’s lighting collection includes a number of designs influenced by advertising. ‘What I love about using neon lights and vintage signs in the home is how playful and humorous it can be,’ St George says. ‘It instantly adds character – the cheekier the saying the better!’