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]

Plan 59

Plan 59

From the Nostlagia Factory in Virginia comes this celebration of 'mid-century automotive advertising illustrations'… [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]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Large Vintage C.1930 John Deere Farm Implements 72" Porcelain Metal Sign1920s Ford Model A,buick Porcelain Dealer Sign,ultra Rare,11"x24,gas Oil,1 KnownAntique Original Three Millers Soda Fountain Drug Store Sign Tin Metal N350 PbLg 19thc Antique Victorian Hatter Primitive Tin Top Hat Advertising Trade SignVintage C.1940 Slick's Place Restaurant Beer Bar 40" Porcelain Metal Neon SignLarge C.1950 Pontiac Service Dealership Gas Oil 2 Sided 42" Porcelain Metal SignVintage 1930's Odin 5c Cigars Tobacco 27" Embossed Metal SignRare Large Vintage 1950's Sun-drop Cola Soda Pop Bottle 59" Embossed Metal SignVtg Mopar Pam Advertising Lighted Bubble Clock Gas Chrysler Oil Sign 1950'sVintage Original Power-lube Motor Oil Porcelain Sign No Reserve!!Rare Original 1920's Champion Spark Plug Porcelain Sign - Great ColorsPorcelain Neon Grain Belt Beer Sign. Old Vintage Rare Large Nice Big Brewery NrRare Large Vintage 1954 Merita Bread W/the Lone Ranger 36" Embossed Metal SignVintage 1920's-30's Shell Embossed Gas Station Marquee Porcelain Sign LettersCoca Cola Fishtail Pam Thermometer1959 Coca-cola Round Wall Thermometer Rare Vintage C.1910 Moxie Soda Pop 28" Metal SignRare Vintage 1920's Conoco Ethyl Gasoline 2 Sided 26" Porcelain Metal SignVintage 1950's Pepsi Cola Soda Pop 2 Sided 36" Porcelain Metal Sign W/bracketVintage 1950's Standard Oil 23" Metal.thermometer Sign~worksVintage Original Conoco Porcelain Sign With Frame No Reserve!!Vintage Original Ex-lax Porcelain Thermometer No Reserve!!Vintage 1948 Whistle Orange Soda Pop 27" Embossed Metal SignRare Vintage 1960 7up 7 Up "fresh Up" Soda Pop 40" Metal SignVintage 1920's Headlight Overalls Blue Jeans 2 Sided 30" Porcelain Metal SignVintage C.1960 Orange Crush Soda Pop Bottle Cap 19" Embossed Metal SignSet Of Six Old Vintage De Laval Cow Tin Litho Advertising Signed ToyVintage Orange Crush Soda Thermometer Round Glass 12" Pam Clock Co.usaRare 1960s Esso Gas Oil Atlas Non Porcelain Thermometer Sign Antique Vtg 26"Rare Vintage Original Francisco Auto Heater Sign Not Porcelain No Reserve!!Coca-cola 1948 Round Wall Thermometer Red/green Dial W/gold Bottle Near MintAntique Blue Bird Coffee Tin Litho 3lb Can Stone Ordean Wells Mills Duluth MnVintage Original Standard Polarine Motor Oil Porcelain Sign No Reserve!!Large 1953 Vickers Petroleum Products Gas & Oil 2 Sided 48" Porcelain Metal SignAntique Metal Velvet Piedmont Tobacco Cigarette Advertisement Sign Double SidedVintage Original 1920's-30's Mcquay Norris Leak-proof Piston Rings Neon Gas SignVintage 1940 Willard Batteries Metal Sign 12x40" Original Antique Auto Ad Nos!!Vintage 1950's Dr Pepper Soda Pop Bottle 48" Embossed Metal Sign~nice ConditionVintage Original Coca Cola Thermometer Not Porcelain No Reserve!!Vintage Original Buick Porcelain Sign No Reserve!!Vintage C.1940 Squeeze Soda Pop Bottle 28" Embossed Metal SignVintage 1960's Goodyear Tire Sales 2 Sided 24" Metal Gas Oil Sign W/bracket1940s Large White Rock Ginger Ale Soda Sign Tin Litho Vintage Store Advertising Antique 1930s Hires Rootbeer Soda Non Porcelain Thermometer Sign Vtg 28" NiceCoca-cola Salesman’s Sample Cooler Closed Front Snap On Piece SignLarge Antique Thomas S. Poole Jeweler Jewelry Store Advertising Trade SignVintage Original Jewelry And Watch Repair Porcelain Sign No Reserve!!Rare Good Year Tires Goodyear Porcelain Sign Double Sided Enamel 1940sUnused? Near Mint Old Original 1930s Coca Cola Canadian Door Push Porcelain SignVintage Large Kfc Chicken Bucket Advertising Man Cave Retro Sign Wall Light - Vintage 1930's Chicken Poultry Farm Feed & Seed 2 Sided 24" Porcelain Metal SignRare Original Penntroleum Motor Oil Tin Quart Can Boats Airplane Auto 1920s NiceOriginal 1905 Coca-cola Chromolithograph Lillian Nordica Free Coupon Advert SignRare John Deere Quality Farm Equipment Sign 1930's Original Tractor Dealer UsaVintage Original Standard Oil Socony Motor Oil Porcelain Sign No Reserve!!John Deere Dealership Sign -- Plowshares -- 2-sided Display - VintageOriginal1921 Orange Crush Tin Embossed Sign Coke Pepsi Cola Royal Grape GoldenOriginal Hasting Double Bubble Clock, Sign, Oil Can, GlobeVintage Metal Delco Battery Service Sign 19 1/2" X 13 1/2"Vintage Original Red Goose Shoes Wooden Curb Sign No Reserve!! Vintage Original Mobil Oil Porcelain Sign No Reserve!!

Recent News: Advertising

Source: Google News

Antiques & Collectibles: Metal and neon signs generate collector interest
Post-Bulletin, February 27th

In Eric Bradley's book "Picker's Pocket Guide to Signs," you'll find information and the discovery of all sorts of signs. Today, vintage advertising signs are more like vibrant pieces of artwork with unusual slogans and nostalgic character that has...Read more

What's up: New life for River District Antiques
Wausau Daily Herald, February 21st

The 5,000-square-foot building, which at one time housed five apartments, now features three stories of antiques, including typewriters, glassware, furniture, antique advertising materials and an entire room of nothing but vinyl records. WDH 0222 River ...Read more

Gearing up for National Button Week March 15-21
Antique Trader, February 19th

About Toni Rahn. Antoinette (Toni) Rahn is the online editor and content manager for Antique Trader. She has a penchant for collecting petroliana, vintage advertising items, Irish collectibles and general Americana. She lives in Wisconsin with her...Read more

American Pickers is coming to Georgia
Tifton Gazette, February 11th

old toys, pre-1950s vending machines, old movie posters, unusual radios, antique gaming machines, vintage advertising items, taxidermy, vintage concert posters and T-shirts, early Boy Scout items, pre-1960s vintage diner collectibles and TV...Read more

5 things to know: Vintage RadioShack commercials, an old building gets a new life
Dallas Business Journal (blog), February 6th

With RadioShack's filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Thursday dominating local business news, we found an interesting article at Mashable that highlights some of RadioShack's vintage advertising. The commercials feature computers, really ...Read more

KU professor will speak about racial profiling and police
Bethel College News (press release), February 3rd

Every day, thrift stores across America receive donations of objects that display racial imagery, from antique advertising cards to collectible salt-and-pepper shakers to vintage children's books to mugs with sports mascots. “Sorting Out Race” looks at...Read more

NASA's vintage advertising for planetary tourism is really beautiful
BreakingNews.ie, January 9th

NASA put men on the moon and landers on comets, but it's not all serious over there. As part of their promotion of possible human visits to other worlds, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory created a (fictional) "Exoplanet Travel Bureau" – complete with...Read more

Rare, unusual fossils and minerals, antique advertising items, more will be ...
ArtfixDaily, September 15th

A mid-week auction featuring over 500 lots of rare and unusual dinosaur fossils and minerals, antique advertising items, a collection of Black Americana and Part 2 of a great ice cream collection will be held on Wednesday, Oct. 15th, by Philip Weiss...Read more