Category Archives: Signs

Barn to Table: Reclaimed Custom Table, ca. 1890s/1910s

It can be a delight when seemingly random items come together to form a unifying, functional object that echoes its past while reimagining the piece for a sustainable future. Not only do we preserve a piece of history by salvaging and repurposing, we lend to it new life.

Messrs, Morse, Williams & Co., known as the Morse Elevator Works, was founded in the late 19th century. Demand for their freight elevators was intense due to their use of superior safety devices and automatic hatch doors, features uncharacteristic for the period. Their reputation won them not only product orders from across the country, but from overseas as well. Stephen A. Morse, who supervised manufacturing, was also known to mechanics the world over for his invention of the twist drill.

Established in 1911, the Burke Machine Tool Co. of Ohio produced large, heavy-duty milling and drill-press machines and corresponding bases.

Shying away from heavy, oversize objects isn’t part of the Dorset Finds mind-set. In fact, if it’s too large and too cumbersome to transport back to the workshop, it generally gets snapped up faster that you can say, “lower back pain.” That said, the prospect of combining three weighty items seemed a little daunting on first consideration.

The goal: Join two, solid oak, antique Morse signs (which were originally housed within the framework of a factory’s freight elevator) along their flat edge to make a seamless tabletop and attach to this an early-20th-century, cast-iron Burke pedestal base. With some help from the woodworking mavens at Brooklyn Design + Fabrication, coupled with some reflective days spent scrubbing, repairing and refinishing the dark timber surfaces, a new, custom dining table was born.

Heavy Medication: Illuminated Drugs Sign, ca. 1940s

Here in the U.S., drug stores can be spectacularly confounding. Walking the aisles, one can find vitamins, supplements, bandages, ointments… or speak to a medically trained expert, qualified in dispensing hundreds of varieties of pharmaceuticals. Then again, at the same store one can grab a pack of cigarettes, a Snuggie and a 4 lb. bag of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Perhaps the business model is based on the consumer abusing one set of “products” and then remedying their ailment with another set?

Here we have a double-sided, lighted advertising sign that would have hung outside a drug store in the 1940s. The casing is wood and the glass areas possess hand-painted lettering that has gradually dried out and peeled, leaving a beautifully distressed window through which the porcelain light sockets can be seen.

This item is currently available for purchase at Modern Anthology.

Dirty Dozen: Mid-Continent Petroleum Sign, ca. 1920s

The Mid-Continent Petroleum Corporation was established in 1918 and the Tulsa, OK offices became the company’s headquarters in 1925. In 1933, D-X gasoline was introduced and service stations were branded with, “Diamond Gasoline Motor Oil”. Throughout the 1980s and 90s their network of stations were again re-branded as the familiar, Sunoco.

This twelve foot long sign is one that hung outside the Tulsa, OK headquarters for a couple of decades before being removed in the 1950s when Mid-Continent merged with Sunray Oils. The story goes that after this, the sign was stored for more than fifty years in the rafters of one of the company’s Oklahoma plants. With the rise in collectibilty of gas and petrol related items over the last decade, the provenance surrounding this piece is fascinating and raises the question of what else could be out there just waiting to be discovered.

The sign itself is steel with gold-leaf lettering, surrounded by a solid wood frame. Some of the lettering, especially around the word, “petroleum” has faded with time but overall, this historic gas collectible is in excellent condition.

Cop This: New York Police Parking Sign, ca. 1940s

Police collectibles from the ’30s and ’40s are just cool. This era managed to produce a range of badges, leather belts, hats and night-sticks that are easily found today and are reasonably priced for the collector.

This brings us to the question of who would have had the coconuts back then to dare park in front of this “NO PARKING” sign unless you were in fact one of New York City’s finest?

The solid wood frame lends a considerable amount of weight to this piece. The hand-painted steel sign shows some wear and pitting but the overall integrity of the item remains.

The Drugs Don’t Work: Rexall Drugs Porcelain Enamel Sign, ca. 1940s

Rexall Drugs, perhaps best known for their “Rx” symbol which has since become synonymous with drug prescriptions, began in the early 20th Century and grew to incorporate 12,000 franchised stores before declining in the late 1970s.

This 6′ x 4′  double-sided sign, manufactured by the Ohio Thermometer Co. dates back to the 1940s, but given the gloss of the enamel, you’d never know it. Apart from a couple of chips here and there, it all looks well preserved. The original steel hooks are outreached, ready to hold this gem of advertising memorabilia up once again.

Big Red: Six Foot Lighted Arrow Sign, ca. 1940s

It’s always exciting to find something rare that against all odds, survived the test of time – and the lure of the junk yard – unscathed.

This 72″ lighted red arrow sign was manufactured in the 1940s by the United Neon Sign Company of Los Angeles, CA. and originally hung outside a New York motel.  The fact that it was removed from the building’s exterior and stored for several decades is nothing short of miraculous.

It’s been rewired to now run on a standard household plug and once lit, the impressive double-sided rows of 60 bulbs blink in repetition.

Indian Giver: Indian Motorcycle Advertising Sign, ca. 1930s

I’m not a motorcycle guy per se but Indian motorcycles are an iconic name in motoring history as well as being timeless pieces of Americana.

Indian made bikes from 1901 to 1953 and in the 1910s, they were the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturer.

The 3′ x 2′ steel sign would have hung in a garage or dealer from approximately the 1930s. Despite the condition issues (some pitting and some surface rust) it was found in good overall shape. The heavy gauge steel is straight as an arrow and the factory drilled screw holes are clear.

Figure H: 6 Foot Metal Letter

It wasn’t so much a question of do i want it, but rather, where am I going to put it? New York apartments aren’t spatially forgiving – especially when it comes to losing footage to accommodate a 6-foot letter H – but this one needed to come home with me.

Originally this “H” hung on an exterior wall of a hotel – initially thought to be a lodgings called the Heartbreak Hotel – but regrettably it was found not to be the case. (I’m not one to let the truth get in the way of a good story, so if you can keep a secret, so can I).

A Stitch In Time: Telechron Shop Display, ca. 1950’s

Finding this Telechron clock display, “Gold Jerry!” was the first thing that came to mind.

You can see why. This display unit or “Time Table” really has everything you look for in a collectible.

Condition: So often you find something great but the side is bashed in or the advertising text has worn away or it’s just missing one of its components that make it what it is. This example is correct right down to the original donut-shaped glass shelf. Both the shelf and double-sided header sign rotate. It’s missing the additional wall clock holder but that doesn’t affect the overall appearance. The only thing better than finding something like this in mint condition is finding it with age appropriate wear. This one’s seen some battles and come out looking all the better for it. Sweet rust…

It’s a quality brand: Telechron sold millions of clocks by the middle of last century and produced too many iconic designs to go into here. They consistently defined their era’s design aesthetic.

It’s practical: Who’s got space for stuff that only looks pretty. This stand is 29″ x 21″ and very usable in a home, bar, store etc.

May I Buy a Vowel?: Porcelain Enamel Metal Letters, ca. 1940s

These porcelain metal letters were dug up recently in Nebraska and you can almost feel the weight and quality of these from the pictures alone.

There’s been a solid trend in recent years towards decorative letters and you don’t have to look far to find newly manufactured, industrial-looking letters sold by larger chain stores. In some cases these copies actually look pretty good and are generally about the same price as vintage ones.

The difference becomes clear though when you pick up a heavy-gauge steel letter with a porcelain or enamel skin. Aside from the weight, these older letters and signs also sit rigid with no flexing of the metal. They spelled out a business name and were manufactured to be fastened to the outside of a building so they needed to be able to withstand all weather conditions without rusting.

Older porcelain letters and signs have yet another remarkable attribute in that despite the decades of hostile weather they may have endured, they polish up to a high gloss without much effort.

Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before: Railway Stop Sign, ca. 1910

I came across this old, heavy-duty stop sign recently while on a trip upstate. It had been so blacked with decades of dirt that there was no color at all showing through but after a gentle cleaning and oiling, it really came up well with a strong yellow enamel coming through. It even still has its original cast iron point at the base.

After speaking with the owner, it was explained to me that the sign had been used locally (in Delaware county) by one of the railroads. A man would stand at the railway crossing and signal traffic using this 6’6″ item.

The fact that this sign survived the punishing day-to-day treatment it received, yet remains sturdy and complete is a testament to the quality of the craftsmanship of the day.

Original Double-Sided Diner Sign, ca. 1930’s

There’s nothing quite like an original diner. I’m always amazed to see that yet another one has shuttered its doors especially when you consider their history, decor and generally acceptable food (it’s kinda not really about the food). It’s a slice of Americana that will never be replicated.

This double-sided sign came from the Miss Bellows Falls diner in Vermont. Originally it lit up – high above the roof line of the restaurant – guiding customers to the parking in the rear. Imagine the cars that must have traveled through the car park at the ol’ Miss Bellows Falls diner…

When I purchased this sign, I was well chuffed to find the original, hand-drawn sign writer sketches rolled up and housed on the inside of the sign. An amazing addition to the sign but it’s the character of the paintwork, complete with superb rust spots, paint chips and other flaws that really make it a thing of beauty.