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Top Ten Hand Painted Signs of 2020

by Tim Kearns, Signmaker, HandPaintedWoodSigns.com

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Signmaker, December 2020

Signmaker's Picks

Every year since 2004, when I first started accepting online orders, I’ve wanted to reflect on the year’s work and select some personal favorites. Maybe it took a pandemic to make it happen. And so here it is — my first top ten favorite signs I made in the year: 2020.

My 2020 Top Ten Signs are presented below with commentary and not in any particular order.

Circa 1929 hand painted sign

Roses Are...

Roses are a favorite of the signmaker. So being asked to include a rose on this sign destined for the a house at Baker and Rose Streets in Stockton, California, made it an instant favorite. During the spring and summer, I sprinkle images from my rose gardens among the posts on Instagram and Facebook. This 22″w X 12″h hanging sign is a standard size sign we have ready to order, along with other standard sizes and matching hanging brackets. Hand painted font is colonial upper lower all caps.

Penny's Dream

When Penny called me to discuss the sign of her dreams for the family’s historic property in Austerlitz NY, I mentioned I had some 2-inch thickness new old stock cedar. She right away recognized the rarity and benefits of thick “NOS” cedar. And history was made. Seen here is the final double sided hanging sign, 28″w X 36″h with custom forged hanging straps made to spec by my blacksmith. PS. Have more 2″ NOS cedar, first come first served.

Happy Mother's Day

Authentic reproduction custom framed signboard, 36″x22″, hand lettered in mix of script and colonial upper lower all caps. Reproduction of a vintage signboard found in Roebling, New Jersey, in the lumber shed of Joe Pinto Inc. This sign was a Mother’s Day gift to my wife to decorate the stove area for her cooking class video series on Facebook Live.

Second photo shows a behind-the-scenes look at the video production setup. Like many people during the pandemic, she had to pivot to online courses from in-person cooking courses.

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Authentic Reproduction Hand Painted Sign from Roebling NJ
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Video Production Setup, Online Cooking Classes, Medford NJ

Circa or No Circa

In short, if you are confident of the actual year built, then it’s your personal preference to letter circa or use “c.” or “ca.” 

Lacking proof or confidence, include circa, c. or ca.

What if you are lacking a deed or historical document as evidence? From decades of experience in speaking with historic house homeowners, generally a year ending in zero like 1770 or a five like 1775 is most likely an approximate year and worthy of a circa.

I like the 12×9 cedar oval for Betts Farm c.1790 in Ridgefield CT. It was the perfect storm of short property name, circa year, and a border to frame up the sign and give the finishing professional touch. And being hand painted, it’s pleasing to the eye and fits right in with it’s surroundings. The homeowner also asked for small format signs to adorn the Ice House and the Woodshed, two out-buildings on the property.

Picture =1000 words

Two thumbs up for the homeowner’s judgement of tugboat artwork combined with larger circa year 1810 scale. No need to overthink or overstate.

Script font hand painted double sided hanging sign

Script Font Masterpiece

Many things to like here: sign recognizes the restoration by the homeowner; script font – nobody does it better; was given as a gift to the “Master” Builder.


Suitability, often a criteria for portfolio management, is the moral of this story. When the homeowner reached out to me with some questions about what sign shape would be fitting for his powerstation-turned-residence in Watch Hill, Rhode Island, I asked for a house photo. I like to look for architectural details to help inform the selection. I’m displaying a house photo first, and the sign for Little Powerhouse c.1914 below shows the radius top windows provided the spark for the sign. Many cedar signs offered standard now by us started from a request to make a reproduction of the shape, the camelback shape comes to mind as one also.

Newest Old House

15×12 cedar oval with border | Capt. Ignatz Ratzkywatzky Estd. 1571, Old Saybrook CT

Circa year 1571 is now the oldest year sign we have done, a distinction previously held by the ca. 1641 Westburn Court in St. Andrews, Scotland. Not every year there is a newest old house but in 2020, there is.st

Perfect Union

One might think the perfect union is the joinery of two 12″ cedar planks to make this sign. Actually, I’m referring to signs and dry-laid stone walls, two personal favorites, complementary to each other. The Edgewood Farm sign has an edge border, rather than a sign surface border, small detail worth noting. Good work by the sign “committee”.

Fire House Sign

Some hand painted signs seem to write themselves. The North Babylon NY Fire House sign was one of those signs. The colonial standard font has some look and feel of our Victorian font. The extra three inches width of this 18×12 cedar french corner sign board allows some breathing room for the text. The border is the refining finishing touch.

Highcraft in NH

Bonus sign for a memorable 2020 year: Highcraft House in Etna, New Hampshire is a retored log cabin. Also an 18×12 cedar french corner sign with border, with hand painted fonts of colonial standard and colonial All Caps for the Built 1974 line. For me, mixing the fonts like this separates this hand layout, hand lettered sign from the mass-produced vinyl lettering and aluminum cast signs.

About HandPaintedWoodSigns.com

We are signmakers of historic reproduction historic house signs online since 2004. Made from solid western red cedar plank, our signs are crafted in our sign shop and hand lettered with brushes using traditional signwriting methods by experienced signwriters. No computer-aided design, all hand made, hand layout and hand painted. Our wall-mounted and two-sided hanging historic signs adorn National Historic Landmarks, historic houses throughout New England, the thirteen original American colonies and of historic homes like yours. Contact HandPaintedWoodSigns.com and follow us on social media on Facebook and Instagram.