Buying A Vintage Neon Sign?
Nostalgia is always en vogue and what is more reminiscent of a better time than neon signs. The word “better” may be improperly used here, but the thought is valid. People want to remember the past because it has more interest, usually, then the present. It can be romanticized and remembered not for what it really was, but for the best parts. Again, one of those best parts was an era when neon signs were everywhere flashing the way to entertainment and fun.
The problem with nostalgia is that it can be pricey and broken down. If you want something that is truly from a certain era, that was constructed of gas filled glass tubes, it may be difficult to find it in good condition. Of course, a neon bender can make something that mimics the time and the style of yesteryear, with the efficiency and safety of modern times.
So what are the issues you will face if you must have the original?
First, is the sign original or is it a reproduction? It is not easy for the uninitiated to tell the difference. Second, are there problems that need to be addressed? What does a properly operating neon sign look and sound like? And finally, what is a fair price to pay for an original sign? Take the Hamm’s bear for example. If you find an original sign somebody is selling on eBay, what should you pay?
Original or Reproduction
It is difficult sometimes to tell the difference, but a professional can. The product should be marked as authentic if it is. If it not certified, you may want to look for another seller.
How to Notice Problems
Look for cracked tubes (that can be replaced), faulty electrical connections (that can cause a fire), and outdated power supplies (not UL2161 listed). Vintage signs often come with old heavy coil and core power supplies, While they may still work to power the sign, they lack the safety features of modern electronic power supplies. Modern power supplies have a mandatory secondary ground fault, which is a beneficial safety protection feature that causes the power supply to automatically shut down when it senses a fault. The introduction of UL2161 in 1996 requiring all new neon signs to have a power supply with a secondary ground fault has improved sign safety tremendously and virtually eliminated neon sign fire hazards. If you vintage sign still carries the old style power supply, you may want to have it replaced for the safety of your family. Also, when you are purchasing a product make sure that it works in your presence. It is always better if the buyer is wary.
What is a Good Price?
This of course varies widely, but its worth what you are willing to pay. Some large vintage neon sign can go for up to $20,000. A sign listed as vintage always seems to cost more. Do not be fooled by reproduction products though. Have an expert verify what you have.