From colorful Victorian trade cards of the 1870s to the Super Bowl commercials of today, advertising has gone from a small component of everyday life to a ubiquitous presence.

Perhaps the most easily recognizable advertising medium of the late 19th and early 20th centuries is the porcelain sign. Starting in the 1880s, companies saw the advantages of porcelain as a material that was both durable and weather resistant. Although these signs were first made in Germany, the manufacturing technique soon spread to America, where their bold colors and eye-catching graphics were put to good use advertising cigars, motor oil, railroads, and soda pop, especially Coca-Cola. With the onset of World War II, however, many of these signs were destroyed for the base metal they contained. Their resulting rarity makes them attractive to collectors.

A similar fate befell tin signs, which were often produced as a cheap alternative to porcelain ones. Unlike their porcelain companions, however, tin signs were prone to rust and degradation, so many of those that have survived the years are in poor condition.

On the other end of the size scale were celluloid pinbacks, cheap buttons that were meant to be worn and displayed. Some companies distributed pinbacks to encourage newspaper subscriptions or the purchase of particular brands of cigarettes, while others were handed out at political rallies as campaign pieces.

Alongside ads that were meant to be seen were ads that were meant to be used. Coca-Cola, for one, realized that practical pieces of advertising would last much longer than signs and posters, which were routinely discarded. Common types of “utilitarian” ads included thermometers, calendars, mirrors, and clocks, all of which bore a company’s brand name and image in some way or another. Some small storeowners, for example, kept their vintage Coca-Cola thermometers displayed in their stores, for the simple reason that they remained useful. Items that were never or barely used, of course, command the most attention from collectors.

Other advertising collectibles include produce crate labels, salesman samples, tobacco tins, beer trays, and door push and pull signs.


Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Truth in Advertising

Truth in Advertising

This gallery of cigarette magazine advertising from the 1940s and 50s contains no surgeon general's warning, just p… [read review or visit site]

Advertising Antiques

Advertising Antiques

This classy looking British site features hundreds of high resolution photos of antique porcelain pre-war (enamel) … [read review or visit site]

Ad Access

Ad Access

Duke University's library has pulled together an impressive collection of over 7,000 ads printed in U.S. and Canadi… [read review or visit site]

American Package Museum

American Package Museum

Ian House's gallery of early 20th Century American package designs. Browse the exhibits in slide show mode or view … [read review or visit site]

Found in Moms Basement

Found in Moms Basement

Paula Zargaj-Reynolds’ blog, an extensive collection of 20th century vintage advertising, is a visual feast. Scro… [read review or visit site]



Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Vintage 1930s Sinclair Oil Gasoline Tag Topper Sign License Plate Wahoo NebraskaLarge Vintage 1948 Squirt Soda Pop Bottle 53" Embossed Metal SignOriginal 1920s Castrol Wakefield Enamel Sign Vintage Antique Petrol GarageVintage Firestone Tires Gas Station Oil 36" Embossed Lighted Metal Sign W/boxLarge Vintage 1950's Pepsi Cola Soda Pop Bottle Cap 30" Embossed Metal SignVintage B & B Porcelain Thermometer Sign Soda Cola Oil Gas Old Store AdvertisingVintage Dr. Swetts Advertising Soda Cola SignPierce Pennant Porcelain Sign Motor Oil Gasoline Garage Gas Oil Texas Motor Vintage 1950's Co Op Coop Gas Pump Globe Farm 2 Sided 18" Embossed SignBeautiful 1947 Coca-cola Bowling Girl Large Cardboard Poster Sign Kay Frame 50"Vintage 1936 Rc Royal Crown Cola Soda Pop 2 Sided 18" Metal Flange Sign Nehi WowRare Vintage 1967 Yahoo! Mountain Dew Soda Pop 28" Embossed Metal SignVintage Mobil "metro" 11 3/4" Porcelain Gas & Oil Sign! Pump Plate! No Reserve!!Original On The Air Brass Lighted Sign Radio Studio Vintage Recording AntiqueRare! Small Antique Tin Sign, Granite State Lawn Mowers, Mowing Machine, NrRare ~ Nice 1940s Vintage Valvoline Motor Oil Old Oil Can Rack Tin SignRare Vintage Colonel Sanders Kfc Double Sided Metal Weather Vane Die Cut SignSinclair Motor Oils Porcelain Sign - 5 Foot VerticalRare Vintage 1936 Rc Royal Crown Cola Soda Pop 2 Sided 18" Metal Flange SignWakefield Castrol Castrollo Upper Cylinder Lubricant Tin Oil TopVintage Mobil Oil Gas Service Station Porcelain Sign LettersVtg Coca-cola Thanks Call Again Door Push Porcelain Coke Sign Soda 13" NiceAntique Very Nice Rare Original 1946 Drink Coca Cola SignVintage Prest-o-lite Batteries 9" X 2 3/4" Porcelain Door Push Gas & Oil Sign NrCoca Cola 1896 Ceramic Syrup Dispenser1950's Sinclair Gasoline Metal Gas Station Sign Oil Car Truck Dino Mobil Texaco Coca Cola Porcelain Button Sign, Vintage Original 1940's 24 Inch Drink Coke 1940's Antique Orange Crush Cola Old Advertising Sign Barn Fresh Tin ThermometerVintage Texaco "diesel Chief L" 18" X 12" Porcelain Gas & Oil Sign Pump Plate NrRare Bear Wheel Aligning Porcelain Sign Axle Frame Service Die Cut Mobil Texaco Vtg Drink Coca-cola Porcelain Button Type Sign Soda 5 Cents 16" Coke NiceVery Rare Ds Early 1900's Marrow's Ice Cream Porcelain Sign - The Mathews Co. Orange Crush Flange Sign With " Crushy"Coca Cola Porcelain Flange SignVintage 1950's Drink Pepsi Cola Soda Pop 30" Metal Door Push Pull Bar Sign~niceOriginal 30" Ssp Chevy Ok Used Cars Porcelain Sign Cars Trucks Vintage Sinclair Oil Service Gas Station Attendant Cap Hat Patch Uniform SignVintage Red Indian Gasoline & Motor Oil 11 3/4" Porcelain Gas Sign Pump Plate NrVtg Drink Coca-cola Porcelain Button Type Sign Soda 16" Coke NiceLarge Vintage 1951 Rc Royal Crown Cola Soda Pop Bottle 55" Embossed Metal SignVintage 1940's Orange Crush Thermometer Sign Crushy Antique 1940 Mobil Mobiloil 11 3/4" Porcelain Pegasus Sign! Gas & Oil Pump PlateRare Vintage 1950's Drink Double Cola Soda Pop Bottle 28" Embossed Metal SignVintage Wayne Feed Advertising Pam Clock Thermometer Allied Mills!!! Antique Mobil Mobilgas Restroom Pledge 7.75" X 7" Porcelain Gas & Oil Sign Nr!Super Nice *** 1960s Vintage Valvoline Motor Oil Old Oil Can Rack Tin SignVintage 1950's Pepsi Cola Soda Pop Bottle Cap 28" Embossed Metal SignVintage 1940's Esso Elephant Kerosene Gas Oil 24" Porcelain Metal SignVintage Sun Crest Orange Cola Old Advertising Sign Country Store Tin ThermometerVintage Ken L Biscuit Embossed Metal Sign Farm DogVintage 1950's Steckley's Ear Seed Corn Farm 2 Sided 20" Metal Flange Sign~niceWonderful Cast Iron Garcia Cowboy Western Theme Cigar Cutter & Match DispenserVtg Drink Coca-cola 6 For 25 Cent Sign Soda 12" Coke NiceVintage 40" Porcelain Enamel Winged Foot/shoe Goodyear Tire Gas/oil Station SignVintage 1950's Coca-cola Button Sign! 24"Vintage Texaco "diesel Fuel 2" "green" 18" X 12" Porcelain Gas & Oil Sign!! Nr!!Vintage "super Shell" "red Clam-shell Graphics" 11 3/4" Porcelain Gas & Oil SignVintage John Deere Farm Tractor 42" Embossed Metal Sign W/box~very NiceLarge Vintage 1963 7up 7 Up Soda Pop Gas Station 36" Metal Sign1940s Vintage Kist Soda Old Graphic Chalk Board Menu Board Tin Sign