Vintage Rubbermaid Sign Restoration
I love vintage advertising and packaging. As a designer, I'm drawn to the colors, fonts and graphics. I also love the illustrations that are found in many vintage advertisements so I really wanted some cool advertising to decorate our kitchen. I have a small collection of vintage packaging and have decorated with vintage advertising in the past, mostly just old ads taken from magazines. What I really wanted was an authentic vintage sign. The problem is that most good vintage advertising can be quite expensive. Add a popular brand name, like Coca-Cola for instance, to the equation and the prices get ridiculous. While visiting one of our local antique shops a couple of years ago, I came across a cool 1950s display advertising Rubbermaid products. It had great colors and graphics and I adored it.
This display was a small table, with a lighted sign mounted above. This store already had quite a few vintage kitchen items that had been liquidated from a kitchen store in Nashua, NH, so I suspect it may have been a display from there. The price was pretty high and I really had no place for it, so left it alone. Months later, the sign appeared in another antique store, but without the table. Again, the price was a little high, about $85 and the condition didn't appear to be great. The entire thing was very dirty and the plastic panels were warped and looked very brittle. Even without the table it was a bit large and I had no real place for it so I left it there. I would occasionally go back and look at it and try and justify buying it, but just couldn't pull the trigger.
When we started designing the kitchen I seriously considered the sign again. The colors and graphics would match so well, and I could think of a few places that we could place it in the new space. The price had dropped a bit, to around $50 but it would require some restoration work and that price was a bit too high for something I many not be able to rescue. Finally, a few months into our kitchen restoration, I saw the price had been dropped to only $20. I purchased it immediately. I figured if I ruined it while trying to clean it, I wouldn't be out that much money.
The plastic panels were very warped on both sides and there was chipping on the edges of the wooden frame. I did some research and learned that I could put them back in shape by softening the plastic with a heat gun and flattening the plastic out. I knew it might work or it might just melt or crack the plastic. To my delight, when I took the plastic pieces out, I discovered that they weren't really warped at all. In the frame, the plastic appeared to be quite brittle but it was actually much more flexible than I expected. It had simply shifted in the display, giving the impression that it had warped.
Once I removed the plastic from the wooden display, I cleaned everything with a soft cloth and water. There had been strips of wood holding the plastic sheets in place, but they had cracked in places and were no longer doing their job, so I replaced them with new pieces, attaching them with small nails. I touched up the wooden frame where the paint had worn off with some off-white paint that I mixed myself. One of the plastic panels had a large scratch across the red portion of the display, so I touched that up a with a thin red marker. With the light off, this is hardly noticeable now. Originally, the sign had been lit with a fluorescent light but I removed this and replaced it with battery operated LED lighting.
Chris and I did some research on this sign to see if we could date it and learn a bit more about it. For a while we thought that we had found one other example of the sign online which someone had tried to sell for $345. But by looking at the scratches and paint loss in those photos, we realized that it was the exact same sign that I had bought. So, while there may be other signs like this out there, mine is the only one that has been documented on the internet.
We didn't have any place to put this sign in the kitchen itself, so I made a bracketed shelf in the eating area to display it. The sign is double-sided. Each side has a different set of graphics, so I plan on turning it around every once in a while. It looks like it was made for the space. The colors are largely red, green and yellow and match perfectly with our color scheme. I absolutely love the graphics. The plastic panels feature fabulously dressed women using Rubbermaid products. On the wooden display itself, there are red graphics of products Rubbermaid offered, which in most cases are things they still make. I'm beyond excited that I was able to find such a cool piece and for a great price.