Tin and porcelain signs are one of the most active areas of collectibles even outside the railroadiana category. For this reason, signs tend to be expensive because collectors interested in signs will be bidding in addition to railroad collectors! Railroads produced signs for advertising and utilitarian uses and all of these have some value to the collectible market. Porcelain signs are the most valuable because the porcelain finish is durable, the colors stay bright and it is resistant to corrosion. Tin signs can also be valuable, but tend to have more problems with condition and are somewhat less desired by collectors. Generally, larger signs will bring higher prices and often a sign of a given design will have been produced in more than one size, so be careful what you’re buying because paying for a large sign and getting the smaller version can happen.
Railroad signs break down into two main categories:
Utilitarian: Signs that were produced to facilitate railroad operations, such as names for stops, mile markings, office labels, and other official signs used to label places and things. Common utility signs are things like Railroad Crossings, Caution, Warning, No Tresspassing, and general Notices.
Advertising: Signs produced to be attractive to passengers and consumers so that they might choose to ride that railway. Advertising signs tend to be the most valuable because they have bright colors, eye-catching logos, and were meant to look good.
Large porcelain advertising signs frequently sell for prices over $1000 and even smaller tin signs can bring hundreds without much trouble, although poor condition or other factors can hurt prices.
Also check out our Complete Railroad Signs and Posters Value Guide for more information.