Simple directional signs gained a whole new significance during World War Two, with poignant and evocative sur vivors now hotly fought over by a variety of collectors.
Street signs were useful explainers and potent warnings, semiotic communicators that could well save lives, and although most were scrapped at the end of World War Two, they continue to resonate with the public.
The recent online auction sale of a rare air raid shelter sign for more than £800 – well over double what the standard version usually sells for – reflects grow ing interest in these iconic artefacts. Once purely for external use, war time signage is now more likely to be displayed on the inside of walls than outside.
The most collected type are vitreous enamel signs. Although enamelling has existed since pre-Roman times, such signs seem to have originated in Germany and Austria around 1850, with the grow th of industrialisation. The enamelling process involved heating layers of powdered glass to 8500C, causing them to melt and fuse to a metal substrate. The resulting sign was bright, durable and easily cleaned.