Way before car rental was associated with air travel, there were a few pioneers of the Autos For Hire industry which was started in 1916 by Nebraskan Joe Saunders. There were some early rental car companies such as John Hertz’s “Yellow Cab and Yellow Truck and Coach Manufacturing Company” which was bought out by General Motors and later evolved into the “Hertz-Driv-Ur-Self System,” but there were many smaller independent businesses well. In these early years, the rental car business had a reputation of being linked to criminals, bank robbers, and particularly with bootleggers during the short stint of Prohibition in the US.
Many of these early, smaller car rental businesses were based in train stations, the central hubs of travel before commercial air service was common. It seems likely to me that this sign began its life hanging in a train station to help travelers find local transportation.
This early sign is a fantastic example of reverse painted glass signage. The gilded letters are three dimensional and attached to the back of the black painted glass; they appear to be hollow gold letters from the front of the sign. Framed in a decorative molding which looks to be original, and backed by a red and white cardboard sign of some sort which peeks through in a few places where the black paint has flaked off - I can’t make it out though, and the piece is still sealed with its original nails so I don’t want to open the back.
CONDITION is shown well in the photographs. The paint is worn as expected on an old reverse glass sign like this. While the lighter gray areas and wear are very apparent in the photos, the gleam and flash of the gilded letters does not show as well in my photographs as it does in person. The frame also shows wear and appropriate age related shrinkage at the corners. I would guesstimate a 1920’s - 1930’s date. Measures 12” (H) x 13 ⅞” (W), with a sight size of 9 ⅞” (H) x 11 ¾” (W). The letters are 1 ⅞” tall. Weighs 4 lbs. 3 oz.
This sign exudes nostalgic charm and has crossover collectible appeal for collectors of signs, automobilia, and even railroadiana. It would look great hanging in a car collectors garage, but would be a welcome addition to any early sign aficionados’ collection. Enjoy!
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