Sign Material for Model Railroads

Awhile back I came across some interesting sources for sign material for my planned layouts/modules. I wrote the following article for the O scale trains group and the HOn30 Mail Car members. My thanks to Mark Evans, Hubert Wetekamp and Joseph Perez for their contributions. I hope you enjoy it. Feedback is welcome.

Junk Mail = Signs for Your Layout
Signs add realism to any layout. They are one of those details that
can make your layout a more believeable model. I'm always on the
lookout for new sources of signs for my models. There are commercial
signs available, but after awhile you will notice the same signs
appear in many layouts. The Woodland Scenics billboard advertising
Sarsparilla is one that comes to mind. I've seen this on many
layouts featured in the modeling mags.
Those modeling a contemporary railraod can turn to many of today's
magazines for sign material. This won't do for most narrow gauge
modelers, since most of us model a particular historical period. We
have to find other sources for unique sign material.
The other day my mailman delivered a catalog from a store/mail order
outfit called "Back to the Fifties". They feature nostalgic
reproductions of items from the 1930's-1960's, including advertising
items such as tin signs, posters, and ads illustrated in full color.
After browsing through the catalog I realized that many of these
illustrations could be used for period sign material.
The size of the illustrations varies, so material can be found for
just about any scale. I found one page that featured various
trademark signs, including vintage CrackerJack, Shell Oil, John
Deere and Coca Cola signs. Want something more esoteric? How about a
sign for Kist Kola, featuring James Dean? (I'm not really sure if
this is a repro of an actual sign or not, but it looks good!) Or
concert posters for Led Zeppelin or Bob Dylan?
Another page features stamped metal reproductions of various ads,
posters, etc. I counted over thirty of these that could be used for
sign material. In HO, these signs scale out to approx. 4'x6', and
included such items as an advert for Moxie, a soft drink endorsed by
Ted Williams, a movie poster for the Wizard of Oz, 2 Barnum and
Bailey circus posters, and an Old Gold cigarette ad featuring Babe
Another good catalog that came in the 'junk' mail was from Nabisco,
advertising various items featuring their trademarks. This included
some full color period ads for Animal Crackers, Oreo cookies and Milk
Bone dog biscuits.
Shop At Home is a company that publishes a catalog of catalogs. Among
the possible sources for sign material listed are West-Tex
Collectibles, featuring gasoline company memorabilia, Desperate
Enterprises, advertising over 1200 nostalgic advertising images, and
Rick's Movie Graphics, offering thousands of movie posters. Most of
these catalogs cost \$2.00 each. Another possible source is catalogs
from such companies as Anheuser-Busch and Hershey, featuring products
containing their trademarks.
You never know where you'll find interesting sign material. In an
article on collectibles in Your Money magazine I found a full color
movie poster for a 1930's western featuring the Rough Riders. A
Columbia House video catalog yielded a color movie poster from
Stagecoach featuring John Wayne. In a novelty catalog I found a
poster once used by the New Orleans police that reads "Beware
Pickpockets and Loose Women", perfect for a model skid row district!
So, the next time you find your mailbox full of junk mail, take a few
minutes to browse through it. You just might find a unique detail or
two for your layout.
     Back to the Fifties
     6870 South Paradise Road
     Las Vegas, NV 89119
     Shop At Home
     2080 South Holly Street
     P.O.Box 221050
     Denver, CO 80222
I just wanted to add another source for signs  to Larry's list. Desperate
Enterprises has a great catalog that has the same metal signs and
advertising materials. The catalog could keep you busy for years making
signs. The good part is that they have a WWW page from which you can
request the catalog free. The URL is as follows:
I found signs to cover several time periods. Have a look at it if you're
Mark L. Evans
The Narrow Gauge Circle  HTTP://
Visit the Colorado on the WWW
Another source for sign material can be car magazines. I found in
custom-car-magazines here in germany sometimes old ads for - at that old time -
new cars.
If you are lucky, the printed size will fit your scale. If not, you have to
resize it by a colour-copy-machine or to scan it in and print it out on a
colour-printer in the new size.
For newer ads, you can photograph billboards as I've done in Switzerland, or use
other material with the graphik you wish.
I tryed for a beer-advertising of the Suisse Calanda-brewery. Some years ago, I
got a beer mat of Calanda. This mat was designed as a postcard and shows a
billboard in an SF-space-scenery. At that time, you could find this ad on
I scanned this mat in and resized it, so that the printed out high was correct
for a standard-switzerland-railroad-billboard. And, wow, it covers 2/3 of the
billboard, so I'm able to add another small advertising beside this.
Also, for another billboard I used a magazine-advertising of the
sportswear-company "Uncle Sam". This ads shows the old sign "I want you for U.S.
army" in a modified version, but in O-scale you can't see the difference.
I resized it on a photo-copy-machine in colour and have it now at the wall of my
Rhaetian Railway prototype station-building.
Hubert Wetekamp
I found another source for sign material:
If you want to ad a movie on your layout, you can find at the moment 256
movie-poster under the following url:
The poster are sorted by the type of the movie. You get first a overview with
small poster, so that you can look, which poster you want. Than you can download
the poster in full-size, resize it for your billboard and print it out on a
	The catalog is a treasure chest of signs from all periods.  I'm in
the process of cutting and pasting the ones I'm interested in on to a
single sheet then I will reduce them on a color copier.  One of the least
expensive deals for sign material and most importantly it doesn't suffer
from the look of over-familiarity that so many model signs do.
							- Joseph Perez

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Page created by: Larry Rickert
Changes last made on: Mon Apr 30 2001

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