Step by step: Vintage sign with a smalt background

By signcraft

Posted on Sunday, August 22nd, 2021

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One of the classic combinations of traditional techniques and materials is gold leaf on a black smalts background. The brilliance and sheen of 23K gold plays well off the texture and color of the black crushed glass of the background. A hundred years ago, it was a very common combination for the upscale signs of that era.

Not long ago, a pair of those classic signs found their way to Richard Pawlak [Mashpee, Massachusetts] for restoration. It was originally made for the city of Central Falls, Rhode Island, and had fallen into disrepair. The city hall building was built as a high school in 1889, then converted to the city building in 1927. Refinishing the sign was part of the contract to repaint the building, and the contractor brought the signs to Richard for that.

“The letters were shaped copper,” says Richard, “and appeared to be welded to the face, as was the trim molding and the picture frame border. There were no gaps—the entire face was as a unit. It was a pretty amazing old sign.”

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