Nine hand-lettered 1940s furniture store signs

vintage furniture store sign

It isn’t often that you see well-preserved, handmade cardboard advertising signs from the 1940s for sale — so when we spotted nine fantastic vintage furniture store signs from ebay seller wafa510, we just had to feature them. The best thing about these signs is that they were all hand lettered — a real art form that is dying out in this age of computers, fonts and fast, easy printing. Let’s take a look. 

vintage furniture store sign vintage furniture store sign vintage furniture store signJust think about how steady-handed the person who painted these signs had to be — especially to make perfectly straight rules under the words. All of the signs are impeccably lettered and centered within each cardboard panel. That takes some serious skill, folks!

vintage furniture store sign vintage furniture store sign vintage furniture store sign vintage furniture store signThere are very few people left today who still practice the art of sign painting. About two years ago, Faythe Levine & Sam Macon produced a documentary about sign painting — called Sign Painters. 

I haven’t seen the documentary yet — but I did read the book, Sign Painters also by Faythe Levine & Sam Macon, which is fabulous.

Above: Per reader Anna, a video about the sign painters at the recently closed Honest Ed’s in Toronto. <3 vintage furniture store sign vintage furniture store sign

This one even has 3D lettering!

When it comes to artwork for our walls, we like to mix up our media — paintings [oil, watercolor, acrylic], drawings, lino prints, posters, collages, assemblages, fiber arts, needle arts, chalkware, a ceramic wall pocket, a shadow box, a vintage clock. Hey: The perfect spot for a hand-lettered advertising sign somewhere, too???

Mega thanks to ebay seller wafa510 for allowing us to feature photos of these fantastic vintage furniture store signs.

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  1. Mary says

    I took a lettering course in college, and was actually hired as a sign maker for Safeway, which I never started because the union dues were more than I would have made. I’ve always admired the hand lettered signs in grocery stores, and also when people paint scenes on the windows of stores.

    • Holly says

      Thanks for the video link. Very interesting. Shopping at Honest Ed’s was such an experience.
      While shopping there in the 90’s I never really thought about the signs on the merchandise. They were just there. And so many! Amazing to see all the work that went into those.
      The charitable spirit of the store is true. It was tradition for the store give away a limited amount of turkeys around Christmas. Crazy, crazy line ups.

      Very sad the store is scheduled to close soon enough.

    • Siri says

      Willem de Kooning was also a sign painter! You can see it in his brushstrokes! When I used to “paint” … my favorite ever brush was a traditional sign-painter’s brush! What an incredible art, and I’m so glad that an appreciative bunch of young(er) people are keeping the art alive, even at small, limited scales. (Along with letterpress…)

  2. Steve H says

    I would like to see what the $249.00 mohair suite looked like. That had to have been a pretty deluxe price back in the 1940’s.

    • pam kueber says

      Furniture was very expensive back in the day. Way more expensive in real dollars than today. But then, it was all made in the U.S. and I would speculate, with much better materials.

  3. tammyCA says

    As much as I appreciate the computer age for a lot of things, I absolutely adore hand lettering & art. When I look at my vintage magazines every page is really filled with works of art. Same with old movies and the gorgeous script in credits. Old cartoons, too..I just can’t get into the computer made animation of today. Recently, I noticed a beautiful vintage Aqua neon jewelry store name in script was replaced to plain white block letters! Makes me sad as the sign had been there for gosh knows how long & it was so pretty.

  4. Kathy says

    I saw the film on Independent Lens on PBS about a year ago. It is terrific, and I am sad to see these old beauties go. The book, “Mastering Layout: On the Art of Eye Appeal” by Mike Stevens, was mentioned in the movie and is still in print.

    In the past 15 years or so, MCM storefronts and their signs have been recognized as worth preserving or adapting, even when new businesses move in. It worth taking a look at the State of Illinois Historical Society web site for that and their redesigns that honor the mid-century design heritage, and a terrific early document that helped bring these old beauties to be appreciated again:

  5. Pencils says

    My dad did sign painting on the side all through my childhood. He loved a yellow wash in the background. He was a NYPD officer, but went to Manhattan’s High School of Music & Art (not Art & Design, it doesn’t exist anymore, I think it was merged with another school) where he had training. It does make me sad that there aren’t hand-painted signs anymore, it was such a familiar part of my childhood. My dad occasionally paints decorative signs for the family–he’s doing a “Montauk” one for my sister right now–and he does amazing greeting cards. But it’s not the same, and as far as I know he doesn’t have any of his signs, they all were used. However, you can see some of his signs in the movie Death Wish III (a terrible movie) which was partially filmed in his precinct and some signs my dad lettered were hanging on the walls. It’s been years since I’ve seen it–as I said, a BAD movie.

  6. Marsha says

    I took a couple of drafting classes in high school and college. I remember how VERY particular the instructors were when it came to lettering. There was no A for effort.

  7. Jay says

    Very interesting! I can just imagine what those living room suites looked like: I sat on quite a few mohair and velour furniture as a kid when taken on visits to relatives’ homes.

  8. Mary says

    Looks like both painters in the Honest Ed’s video are left-handed too. Ha, lefties represent!

    I think Ollie’s Outlet here in the States must have borrowed a lot of their schtick from Honest Ed’s.

  9. Ruth Ann Kuntz says

    Feeling nostalgic of my training in art school. We learned hand lettering, which was so stressful. We had to illustrate lamps and furniture for advertising. Now you see a photo in ads. My profession is has changed beyond belief with the computer age.

  10. Lori says

    Thanks for this story! My grandfather owned a sign shop. My mother remembers hanging out in the shop watching them blow neon, and collecting the lunch doodles. After our kitchen renovation is done, my retro kitchen will feature their art again!

  11. Pat in PA says

    Great post! My wonderful step-dad was a sign painter by trade–he used to do signs for grocery stores (he called them “junk signs” because they were throwaways after the week of specials-similar to the blue and red ones in the video). He also lettered many firetrucks and all of the trucks and equipment for a local excavating company with Gold Leaf lettering. He was hired to letter people’s names on office doors and pinstriped people’s cars–quite an art! He learned his trade in the 40’s when he was overseas in the Army–he lettered equipment lockers and radio equipment.
    His sign shop was his domain…I loved to go in there through all the years–he was a jazz fanatic and we’d talk and listen to music while he painted.
    Thanks for the post–it has brought back many good memories!

  12. Adam Richards says

    As someone who has painted signs, let me tell you, vinyl and digital printouts are way easier and efficient… but, nothing beats a hand painted sign. There is a satisfaction from working with your hands that a computer printout simply cannot replicate.

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