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John’s Signs Private Collection | Article

A couple of months ago my partner and I spent a weekend away near Warragul. In our AirB&B, I found a copy of the Gippsland Magazine. Flicking through its pages, an article by Leo Billington about a “Morwell signwriter’s lovingly preserved collection of historic signs” caught my attention.

John Tomkins started collecting signs about 36 years ago. He is widely known for his knowledge on signs, which makes sense, as he has been a signwriter all his life.

After learning about John Tomkins impressive private collection, I decided to give him a call and ask him if I could arrange a time to come and see it in person. A few weeks later, I visited John’s garage and his signwriting company in Morwell.

I couldn’t close my mouth for a few minutes as John opened the door of his garage and… voilà!

Signs piled up next to each other from different decades and lettering styles.

I particularly liked the “Ripolin” sign above, showcasing the signwriter’s craft on different surfaces.

After checking out all the historical signs and hearing the many stories behind their acquisition, John took us to his workshop called “John Signs”, just a few minutes by car from his house in Morwell.

While at his workshop, I asked him a few questions about his extensive career:

John studied signwriting at the Melbourne School of Painting, Decorating & Signwriting from 1970-1974. He joined the Australian Sign Craftsmen’s Association.

John started his own business in 1975 and has had 3 apprentices so far. He grabbed one of the brushes featured above and told me “this [brush] has made me more money than any computer, and never broke down”.

“Ladies Auxiliary” by John Tomkins

After 41 years as a signwriter, John jokes he is starting to take it easy: “I’m going to work 6 days a week and only taking on board the projects I really want to do”.

Visiting John was a great experience. His passion for his craft shines through his eyes and makes me think about the value of hard work, focus and determination.

Thank you so much for your time John; it has been a pleasure meeting you!