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    

Vintage 1950's Elsie The Cow Borden's Ice Cream 2 Sided 24" Metal Flange SignRare Vintage 1930's Old South Beer 2 Sided 30" Porcelain Metal Sign1890s Hires Root Beer Ugly Boy Chromolithograph Advertising Sign PaperboardVintage 1957 Drink Coca Cola Button Soda Pop Arrow 12" Metal Sign~nice ConditionAntique Ca 1900 Pan American Orangeade Sidewalk Sign J. Hungerford SmithCa1900 Recruit Cigarettes / Little Cigars Chromolithograph Advertising SignVintage Sunoco Diamond Flange Double Sided Porcelain Sign - Rare Sign! Gas OilVintage 1960's Coca Cola Fishtail Soda Pop Bottle 32" Metal Sign~nice Condition2 X Old Pratt's Gasoline Petrol Pump Globe Vintage Garage Sign S Tin Nto EnamelNear Mint * 1940s Vintage Royal Crown Rc Cola Old Embossed Tin Thermometer SignOld Enamel Sign Advertising Shop Chair Watson's Soap Vinatge AdvertRare Antique Miniature Enamel Salesman Sample Stove, Wrought Iron Range CompanyLarge Vintage 1952 7up 7 Up "fresh Up" Soda Pop 40" Embossed Metal SignVintage C.1940 Pepsi Cola Take Home A Carton Double Dot Soda Pop 17" Metal SignVintage 1920's Oilzum Motor Oil 2 Sided 28" Porcelain Metal SignGreat Shape~ 1950s Vintage Royal Crown Rc Cola Old Embossed Tin Thermometer SignVery Nice * 1940s Vintage Dx Outboard Motor Oil Old 36 In. Tin Thermometer SignRare 1959 Vintage Coca Cola Fishtail W/ Bottle & Can Old Tin Menu Board Sign1890s Hires Root Beer Ugly Boy Reverse On Glass Change Receiver Advertising SignHard To Find !!! 1940s Vintage We Proudly Serve 7up Old Art Deco Tin SignLarge Vintage 1963 Pepsi Cola Soda Pop Bottle Cap 39" Embossed Metal SignVintage 1940's Dr Pepper Good For Life! Soda Pop 27" Porcelain Metal SignOriginal Great Shape * 1940s Vintage Shell Oil Old Tin Thermometer Sign1930's Antique Mobiloil Mobil Lolipop Old Gargolye Porcelain Advertising SignGreat Shape ~ 1936 Vintage Coca Cola 1923 Christmas Bottle Graphic Old Tin SignVintage 1940's Tootsie Rolls Candy 20" Embossed Metal SignSherwin Williams Old Original Porcelain Paint SignRare 1930s Vintage 7up For The Stomach's Sake Old 7 Bubble Logo Tin SignVintage C.1950 Pepsi Cola Double Dot Soda Pop Bottle 48" Metal SignOriginal Mobilgas Mobil Gas Station Pegasus Porcelain Weathervane Sign 2 SidedExcellent Mint Condition Nu Grape Embossed Tin Sign Hand Holding Bottle Scarce!!Antique Vintage Art Deco Omar Cigarettes Tobacco Store Counter Display Tin SignRare 1908 Pepsi Cola Tip Change Tray Double Dot Tin Litho Shonk Soda Coca CokeNear Mint 1960 Vintage Coca Cola Fishtail Old Original 54 X 18 Inch Tin Sign1950s Coca Cola Drive Safely License Plate Topper SignCaterpillar Dealer Sign 1940s?Rare Nice Shape 1950s Vintage Cities Service Milemaster Tire Old Tin Flange SignDrink 7up You Like It It Likes You Porcelain Soda Advertising Sign Seven-up Vintage 1940's Rc Royal Crown Cola Soda Pop 20" Embossed Metal SignVintage 1920's Cigars And Tobacco 24" Porcelain Metal SignVintage 1950's Want Good Fishing? Obey The Law Pennsylvania 18" Metal Sign~niceRare Original Adams California Fruit Gum Store Display Tin American Chicle CoVintage Auto-lite Sta-ful Battery Thermometer Original Nu Grape Soda Embossed Tin Sign In Shape Of Bottle Rare Size Nice ConditionVintage 1940's Dr Pepper Soda Pop 26" Metal Thermometer Sign~works1965 Mountain Dew "it'll Tickle Your Innards" Vintage Metal Sign Pepsi 18x301927 Mobil Gas Mobil Oil Gargoyle Porcelain Dealership Sign,"oil Can Rack", RareOriginal - Vintage ~ "kodak Film" Double Sided Tin SignVintage 1940's Phillips 66 Gas Station 2 Sided 30" Porcelain Metal SignVintage C.1950 Rc Royal Crown Cola Soda Pop 26" Metal Thermometer SignRichardson Root Beer Big Bottle 5 Cents Porcelain Advertising Door Push Sign Vintage 1950's Pepsi Cola Soda Pop Bottle Cap 2 Sided 36" Metal Flange SignVery Rare Antique Ingrich Co. Porcelain Enameled Dial Thermometer SignVintage Wash Balls Here Golf Course 12" Embossed Metal Sign~nice ConditionOld Enamel Sign Wills Capstan Cigarettes Vintage Shop AdvertVintage C.1940 Hood's Ice Cream Cone Dairy Cow Farm 28" Embossed Metal SignOld Vigzol Gasoline Petrol Pump Globe Vintage Garage Enamel Sign Motor Oil JugVintage C.1950 Bloodhound Chewing Tobacco 28" Embossed Metal SignEarly Moxie Die-cut Tin Litho Store Counter Display Sign Frank Archer "our Idol"Allis-chalmers Vintage 1950's Dealer Lighted 36" 2-sided Sign Rare Find!! L@@k.

Recent News: Advertising

Source: Google News

N.J.'s best burger: 4 juicy contenders in Union County
NJ.com, July 1st

Check out the display of vintage advertising signs at the entrance -- Three Nuns Tobacco, Lighthouse Distemper Powder, Forty Plus Tonic ("For Men and Women of Middle Age and over''). You don't have to be a certain age to appreciate the burgers here...Read more

A Rookie's Road Trip Through Montana, Wyoming and Idaho
New York Times, June 30th

Inside the nearby Montana Candy Emporium, the walls were covered with vintage advertising signs for beer and Pepsi-Cola, which the young man at the register said the owner has been collecting for 40 years — apparently along with a stuffed ostrich and...Read more

1776 tavern among lots in July two-session sale
Antique Trader, June 27th

The same auction that features vintage advertising items and a Tiffany lamp, also includes a roadside Lobster Roll stand. The diversity of items represents the culture of the Maine, as well as Johnson's own collecting adventures, which have been...Read more

Patriotic Trifari pin surged with diplomat's book
Press of Atlantic City, June 26th

Question: Last year, I inherited my grandmother's costume jewelry. I like the patriotic pieces, especially an Uncle Sam top hat. It is silver metal with vertical red stripes and a blue band. Rhinestones are set between the stripes, as well as in silver...Read more

Morphy Auction acquires Maine firm's toy and doll division
LancasterOnline, June 25th

Morphy Auctions has acquired the antique advertising, toy and doll division of James D. Julia Auctioneers for an undisclosed price. The newly acquired division will be absorbed into Morphy's own toy, doll and antique advertising division at its Denver ...Read more

American Pickers Coming To The Area, Looking For Places To Stop
WBIW.com, June 22nd

antique casino/gaming machines, vintage movie memorabilia, vintage advertising items, taxidermy, vintage concert posters and t-shirts, early Boy Scout items, pre-60s vintage diner collectibles, pre-60s TV merchandise, pre-50s western/equestrian...Read more

American Pickers are coming to Indiana
Greene County Daily World, June 19th

antique casino/gaming machines, vintage movie memorabilia, vintage advertising items, taxidermy, vintage concert posters and t-shirts, early Boy Scout items, pre-60s vintage diner collectibles, pre-60s TV merchandise, pre-50s western/equestrian...Read more

Taking a look at classic swimsuits
StarNewsOnline.com, June 12th

From 7 to 9 p.m. on June 16, Elaine Blackmon Henson will present “The Bathing Suit in Vintage Advertising” at the Southport Community Building, 223 E. Bay St. Henson, the author of “Carolina Beach: A Posted History,” will present magazine advertisement ...Read more