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Village name marker a relic from Devon's motoring past

By This is Exeter  |  Posted: October 01, 2009

Elizabeth Chilcott with the rare AA sign

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A ROAD sign which is almost 100 years old has found a new home after being sold at auction.

The amber AA (Automobile Association) road sign for Dunkeswell was sold by Tiverton auctioneers Chilcotts last Saturday.

The sign, which has ensured generations of travellers found their way safely to their destination, was thought to have been made around 1911.

Originally there were around 30,000 scattered around the country, but now there are thought to only be a few left, making them highly collectable.

Duncan Chilcott, partner of the firm, said he was approached by a lady at a recent valuation morning keen for him to cast an eye over a collection of old road signs.

He said: "As is quite usual, I went to look into the back of the customer's car to see what it was that she had. And among a variety of vintage road signs was a large circular AA village sign from Dunkeswell.

"The AA has a long and prestigious history and AA car badges are extremely highly sought after, especially the village signs."

Mr Chilcott carried out further research to discover that these AA village signs have a connection to the country's history as well as local interest.

The AA started producing village signs in 1906 as an advertising tool. Eventually, more than 30,000 were distributed throughout the country, mostly mounted on roadside walls.

The name of the village appeared across the centre, with names of neighbouring towns or villages above and below. The Dunkeswell sign gives the distance in miles to Hemyock and Honiton, and also to London — 157 and three-quarter miles.

Mr Chilcott's investigation revealed that this particular AA village sign was produced between 1911 and 1922. In 1911 the Automobile Association merged with the Motor Union, and the design of the logo was changed to reflect the merger. The AA initials became interlocking to also form an 'M', and the old Motor Union's wings were adopted. The design of the logo on the Dunkeswell sign dates it as being post-merger.

When, in 1922, the AA stopped producing the signs, 30,000 had been erected, and these remained in situ until the Second World War.

Following the outbreak of war, the government ordered all AA village signs should be taken down — in case they could be of assistance to invading Nazi forces.

He said: "I have learnt that by the end of the Second World War there were only about 600 left, and today there are approximately 65 still in situ around the country.

"Many more have survived in museums and private collections but we do not know whether this sign for Dunkeswell has been included in any inventory."

The AA Dunkeswell Village Sign was expected to sell for £80-£100 at Chilcotts' Silver Street saleroom in Honiton on Saturday. The firm also has a saleroom in Tiverton, where it holds sales on alternating months. To find out more, visit www.chilcottsauctioneers.co.uk.

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