A complete review of sign manufacturer worldwide has yet to be undertaken, but in recent years research in Europe has led to several excellent books on the history of Continental enamel advertising. It is from these, and from information supplied by European collectors and manufacturers that the following resume is drawn.
When Jules Cheret introduced chromolithographic printing techniques to French poster makers in 1866, he soon became known as "The Fragonard of the Pallisades". Significant artists like Toulouse-Lautrec and Mucha took to this method of reprographics. They established a tradition of excellence in advertising design in the 1880s; thus it is hardly surprising that early French enamels using chromolithography are of a standard that has not been since surpassed. Two of the best from the 'belle epoque', c.1895, both feature little girls, one of whom (left) advertises Menier Chocolate by scribbling the slogan 'Beware of imitations' on the wall.
The other - for Maggi soup cubes (at left) actually has the girl holding an enamel sign inscribed with the name Maggi in her hands. French enamels between the two World Wars really took advantage of the proto hi-tech lines of Art Deco, and using this style promoted such up-to-date products as Pfaff sewing machines, Tungstrem radio valves, and Desmarais motor oil among others, to excellent effect.
However the signs for Nicolas, St. Raphaël, Ricard, and Byrrh may be more familiar examples using the Art Deco style, exploiting the un-compromisingly bright, bold patchwork of pure enamel colour fields.
The production of enamels in France reached its height in the 20s and 30s, causing shopfronts to be astonishing mosaics of enamel and other types of signs.
Legislation does not seem to have been so draconian in France as it was in Germany. While apparently natural 'good taste' kept the centre of Paris clear of signs, (except on the colonnes Morice and in the Metro), the suburbs teemed with advertisements both in Paris and all the large, mainly industrial towns of the North. Rural and mountain areas and villages remained fairly clear of them.
French product manufacturers made contracts with shopkeepers in the interwar years, to the effect that they would provide signs, but that the maintenance of them then became the responsibility of the retailers.
French enamelling works abounded from the 1880s onwards, but none of them specialised in advertising signs, until l'Émaillerie Alsacienne was opened in Strasbourg in 1927. A classic sign from that factory is Engrais d'Auby (1929), featuring a smiling farm lad carrying an outsize parsnip on his back (shades of the emerging Surrealist art movement).
Other French makers include Ed. Jean, E.A.S., l'Émaillerie du Loiret, and l'Émaillerie du Rhône; however, many signs used in France were manufactured in Belgium.
L'Émaillerie Belge, the earliest Belgian company to produce enamel signs, has been doing so since 1923. However the earliest datable Belgian enamel (1925), is by the Koekelburg Company, and advertises the Petre de Vos brewery. Its typeface is typical Art Deco. Most Belgian-origin enamels advertise beers, tobaccos and confectionery. Examples include a c. 1930 double-sider for Araks cigarettes (Koekelburg), a shaped beer glass advertising Haecht beer (1949, Email-Chrom, Weerde, Mechelen), and many signs for Belga cigarettes and Beukelaar cocoa confectioners, both pre and post WWII.
The process of enamelling iron for the production of items of domestic use was originally suggested in 1761 by Heinrich Gottlieb von Justi, and after much experimentation during the following century, manufacturers were able to enjoy the thriving production of enamelled iron artefacts (as witnessed by Benjamin Baugh) by the 1860s.
The earliest firms in Germany; to specialise in the production of enamel advertising signs were Schultz and Wehrmann (1893), C. Robert Dold (1894), Gottfried Dichanz (1895) and Otto Leroi (Frankfurt) (1897). Because of the increased use of enamel advertising, road and traffic signs, etc., many factories were established just before, and especially after WWI.
Before WWII there were over three-hundred enamel works, thirty of them specialising in the production of advertisements. Barely a dozen firms now produce them.
Ernst Litfass, a Berlin printer, introduced the street advertising column (similar to the colonnes Morice), in about 1850. Whether enamel signs were made to fit these is not stated in the literature, but apparently advertising signs and posters of all kinds had proliferated so much by 1907, that the police authorities of many German states, including Prussia.