Vintage Farm Sign Basics

Farm-related tin and porcelain signs used to advertise product are highly collectible decades later

| April 2000

  • Farm sign collector Curtis Barwick with his daughter, Caroline, and a selection of signs from his collection.
    Farm sign collector Curtis Barwick with his daughter, Caroline, and a selection of signs from his collection.
  • some signs from Curtis Barwick's collection
    Left: Of all the signs in Curtis Barwick's collection, his favortie is this Dixie Fertilizer thermometer dating to the 1950s. The company is a local brand still in business and owned by the same family.Top right: This door-push sign for Smith-Douglass Fertilizer is the only one of its kind Curtis has seen.Bottom right: This sign for a Kinston, N.C., tobacco warehouse dates to the 1920s.

  • Farm sign collector Curtis Barwick with his daughter, Caroline, and a selection of signs from his collection.
  • some signs from Curtis Barwick's collection

By the late 1800s, thousands of farmers across the country had created a fast-growing market for better machinery, seed and production items. To provide information and help build brand and product loyalty, manufacturers advertised heavily.

Advertising items included printed ads, match holders, watch fobs, calendars, thermometers, song books and signs. Today, those items – including pieces made well into the 20th century – are very collectible. They are often colorful, eye-catching and give a glimpse of early product design and company history.

While many sign collectors look for almost anything, others specialize. Curtis Barwick, Clinton, N.C., likes farm-related pieces.

“Sign collecting is very enjoyable,” he says. “There are many beautiful signs out there that need to be preserved, especially from defunct businesses. The signs are part of our history that needs to be saved.”



Curtis has about 100 farm-related signs, plus several advertising thermometers and clocks. He became interested in those items a few years ago, after years of collecting farm truck license plates and smaller items, including seed and fertilizer notebooks.

“I like feed and fertilizer signs the best, especially from area companies and ones that pertain to tobacco production,” he says. “Most signs are metal, with a few porcelains, and a few are fairly rare.”