NEON IS BACK! And That’s a Good Signby Joan … … … you look these days, there’s Neon. Seems like everyone is finally “seeing the light” of … Neon in all its r

NEON IS BACK! And That’s a Good Signby Joan Bramsch(c) copyright: 1996Everywhere you look these days, there’s Neon. Seems like everyone is finally “seeing the light” of razzle-dazzle Neon in all its raucous, sinuous beauty. Television programs reflect the public’s renewed interest in the bright illumination. On a recent NBC Homicide program entitled “Murder In Neon,”the opening scene featured The New Moon Motel sign in electric blue neon. It set the mood for the story — exciting and mysterious. Alex’s Show and Sisters television series both open with neon signs. But my favorite is the John Larroquette Show opening, when he strolls alongside the big red and green neon sign and gives it a thump to stop the blinking message. Great stuff! Whimsy and fun, along with bright colors bordering on gaudy are important elements in fulfilling Neon’s main job as a powerful visual medium. To understand how the color gets inside the glass tubes however, calls for some background information. Jacob Fishman, one of America’s great neon artists, created an excellent video production – “Introduction To Neon” – that tells about neon’s roots, as well as, provides a real-time demonstration of how neon is made. (For information call 1-800-747-9115, or visit his web site for neon supplies at The History of NeonThe word Neon comes from the Greek “neos,” meaning “The New Gas.” Old Neon signs are most often neon or argon gas in a vacuum tube; the smaller the diameter of the tube, the more intense the light produced and the higher the voltage required to illuminate it. A word of caution here: Old neon sign transformers can be very dangerous. DO NOT plug in an old neon sign if you are unsure of its operating condition. Better safe, than sorry! The neon sign is attributed to Georges Claude who popularized it in Paris in 19l0. The Lights Fantastic was brought to America in 1923. Earle C. Anthony purchased two signs for $ 24,000, money enough to purchase a small bungalow or two automobiles, and installed them in his Los Angeles Packard dealership. It is said, one sign still glows in the night! Although there are now more than 150 neon colors possible by combining different gases like Krypton, xenon and helium, two favorites remain — a fiery orange-red neon gas called Ruby Red and a soft lavender argon gas that turns a brilliant blue when enhanced with a drop or two of mercury. Another blue – Bromo Blue – named from the popular deep blue Bromo-Seltzer bottle, is a glass color made from Cobalt. In the early years neon signs stopped traffic as people stared in fascination. The so-called “Liquid Fire” captivated the public and it wasn’t long before neon was everywhere. Theater marquee, night club and restaurant signs became an integral part of the streamlined American landscape. Neon became the light of the American Dream. Technology created even more colors and by the 50’s pink and turquoise started to cover the new drive-ins and diners, matching girl’s felt poodle skirts and boy’s ruffled tuxedo shirts for Prom night. By the 60’s bright plastic signs began to appear and neon’s blazing lights, suddenly considered tacky, faded across the nation. During the next ten years neon sign making almost became a lost art, but in the early 70’s a new breed of neon craftspeople emerged; these artisans expanded the realm of neon from advertising signs into the world of art. Artists like Fishman learned to use neon tubing to express his visions. The results are nothing less than breath-taking! The Art of NeonAmerican-made hollow glass rods used to make neon art come in 4-ft lengths. To shape the rods, the glass is held in a cross-fire, two small groups of pipes arranged in a fan shape, each facing the other, and from which gas and forced air flow. The temperature of that blended flame measures approximately 800 degrees F. Without the forced air the flame would never get hot enough to melt the glass rods. The rod is scored at the needed length with a sharpened file and pulled apart inside the flame. Then the artisan creates right-angles, double-backs and combination bends upon a reversed-pattern paper to form her/his design. All work on a neon lamp/sign must be in reverse because all the plugs and electrical connections are in the back. When the design is completed, gas is pumped into the tubing, then electrified and viola! an illuminated work of art. One of the biggest differences between old and new neon is the manner in which each is illuminated. Old neons use heavy transformers made from wrapped copper wire coiled around an iron core, all of which weighs several pounds. The good part about the weight is that the signs or designs stay right where you put them, on table or shelf. The new neon signs, however, use lightweight transistorized transformers that weigh mere ounces in comparison. Therefore, the new signs have to be weighted down somehow or bracketed against the wall so they won’t fall over and break. And yet, many collectors prefer them. According to LaDean Harlow, owner of The Neon Lady in St. Louis, MO …the “Red Dog” beer sign is the most popular these days. “Baby Boomers, the 90’s collectors, are choosing new signs,” she says. “They like the Budweiser Frog, their Palm Tree and red Guitar, too.” A good marketing ploy by the beer companies combines their neon ad with a favorite sports team logo. These signs are particularly popular with rabid hockey and basketball fans. Sometimes a beer company pays up to half the price of the signs and charges it to their advertising division; thus, these beer signs costs much less to the consumer than other competitive brand beer signs. Further evidence of neon’s renewed popularity is the growing list of neon specialty shops in the Yellow Pages. Many of the business names are quite colorful: Neon City, Neon Works, Signs of Distinction to name but a few. The neon manufacturing companies are found in all parts of a city too, rehab areas, as well as, avant-garde and affluent sections. Best of all, neon sites can now be found on the Internet World Wide Web. Jacob Fishman and other artists sell competitively on the Web. “We can compete,” says Fishman. “My work, for example, runs from $ 150 to the moon!” (Writer’s note: Actually, Jacob’s artistic Moon sells for quite a bit less than the real thing.) The Albuquerque, NM web site at sponsored by Wingspread publications features some outstanding photographs of large historic signs, as well as, new Neon commercial signs along old Highway 66. New Marketing Technologies (NMT) at offers both new neon signs for sale and a search service for old neon signs, especially beer signs. Some of the old rare signs sell for several hundred US dollars, even if they don’t work! William Cherry, President of NMT, says that many of his search requests or special new orders come from Europe. “Although Neon was invented in France, virtually no one in Europe makes neon now,” he says. “Just last week we shipped a new sign crafted like a leading German beer logo. The person who ordered the gift for the beer baron had to put the call out to America.” NMT is always on the lookout for “Spotters” — people who seek particular old signs to fill NMT orders. If you have access to an e-mail address and want to treasure hunt on commission, contact NMT at for instructions. If you are looking for a favorite old sign for your collection or want to sell one that’s been gathering dust in your basement or attic, e-mail want to treasure hunt on commission, contact NMT at or write: New Marketing Technologies, Inc., 15505 Bull Run Road, Suite 294, Miami Lakes, FL 33014 or call (305-822-8842). They’ll put out the word to the world. It would seem that a collector’s preference for old or new neon is strictly personal. The prices in either group are similar; the colors used and variety of designs are also comparable unless s/he leans more toward one-of-a-kind, price-is-no-object creations, rather than advertising signs. The photographs accompanying this article are of old and new neon signs. Here, one may feast upon the contrasting, though necessary physical characteristics of neon, it’s rigidity and fragility of materials that assure a most unique artful drawing in light. Bon Appetite!

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Neon Signs, Neon Sign, Beer Signs