Yesterday's post about the surplus merchandise available from the MTA, including subway signs you can get both at the MTA, and at Billy's Antiques and Props, elicited comment from Billy himself when he noted that he sells his signs like real estate, with the better locations selling for more money. His comment left NYC The Blog yearning for more information and we dug deeper via email, asking Billy where he gets his subway signs -which always seem to be from desirable locations such as the L train from Manhattan to Brooklyn- or the ABCD sign from Yankees stadium for instance. Does he buy them? Have a secret source within the MTA who offers him first dibs? Find them? All of the above?
Billy confided that he would only tell me his secret in person, and only if I was sworn to secrecy, as of course I would be, as he noted that his "source is a trade secret. If I made it public then every shop would have them I am the only shop to my knowledge that sell the signs legally and have had been selling them for 10 years."
What's more, Billy offered an important consideration when buying a sign, noting that the MTA no longer makes enamel signs, such as the ones he carries, instead today using stickers affixed to metal.
Aside from the great value they have simply as comforting objects for any resident of NYC, who surely would all like to hang a sign from their own stop on their living room wall, Billy speculated that the "craze" for subway signs started with an appearance in a movie, of course, when "Woody Allen did a whole Bedroom scene with Diane Keaton in the mid 80's," and an "8 ft Canal Street [sign] with English Chinese writing on it," was a part of the apartments decoration. According to Billy, today those same signs for $3,500.
"The MTA has had a shop for quite a few years now but like any bureaucracy they never really have the good signs and if they do, they are snapped up by collectors. I've seen some great signs that I sold sell for lots of money on eBay."