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 Rare Vintage 1930s Cushman Motor Scooter Motorcycle 73" Metal Gas Oil SignRare Vintage C.1900 Old Sleepy Eye Flour 19" Embossed Metal Sign W/indian~niceVintage 1940s Double Cola Door Handle Pull Metal Sign-rare Original Advertising Rare Vintage 1951 7up 7 Up "fresh Up" Soda Pop 40" Embossed Metal Sign~niceRare Bull Dog Cut Plug Tobacco Tin Litho Advertising Match HolderLarge Vintage 1957 Wolf's Head Motor Oil & Lube 59" Embossed Metal Sign~niceVintage Original Heavy Metal Wolf's Head Motor Oil Sign Car Truck Large Vintage C.1950 Nash Car Dealership 2 Sided 75" Neon Porcelain Gas Oil SignRare Vintage C.1915 Buckeye Incubators Chicken Farm 36" Embossed Metal SignVintage 1950's Rc Royal Crown Cola Soda Pop 2 Sided 18" Metal Flange Sign~niceVintage 1920's Indian Gas 2 Sided 44" Porcelain Metal SignVintage 1966 Ford Dealer Lighted Sign Not Neon Or Porcelain , Gas Garage DisplayVintage 1940's Nesbitt's Orange 5c Soda Pop Bottle 28" Embossed Metal SignRare! Antique 1929 Glascock Salesmen Sample Cooler Coca-cola SignRare Vintage C.1915 Buckeye Colony Brooders Chicken Farm 36" Embossed Metal SignVintage 1940's Phillips 66 Gas Station 2 Sided 30" Porcelain Metal SignRare 1950s Art Deco Phillips 66 Advertising Gas Station Bubble Scale ThermometerVintage C.1940 Veedol Motor Oil 2 Sided 22" Porcelain Metal Flange Sign~niceRare Vintage Porcelain Caterpillar Sign Construction Crawler Dozer 1950's D2 D8 Vintage 1920's Hires Root Beer Soda Pop 28" Embossed Metal SignI H Case Dealer Vintage Embossed Doublesided Lighted Sign Tractor Farm Works!!Rare Vintage 1920's Apex Motor Oil 2 Sided 20" Porcelain Metal Sign1922 Duesenberg 8 Porcelain Dealership Sign"no Remake",gas & Oil Ad,rare,34"x13"Large Vintage 1950's Nehi Beverages Soda Pop Bottle 54" Embossed Metal Sign~niceDouble Sided Texaco Motor Oil Porcelain Display Oil & Gas Sign! No Reserve!Art Deco Embossed 1930s Sun Crest Soda Advertising Sign Thermometer Colorful NrVtg Mercury Outboard Boat Motors Pam Advertising Lighted Bubble Clock Sign NeonLarge Vintage 1940's Ferguson System Ford Tractor 60" Metal Gas & Oil SignVintage 1950's Chief Garden Tractors Gas Oil 2 Sided 18" Metal Flange SignVintage Antique 1940-50s Royal Crown Cola Rc Soda Thermometer Sign John Deere Dealer Sign -- Battery Cables And Ground Straps -- VintageVintage 1940's Pepsi Cola Double Dot Soda Pop Bottle Cap 31 Metal SignVintage 1930's Drink Moxie Tin Sign Soda Pop Beverage Cola Old Store Root Beer Vintage 1920's Bell System Telephone Office 2 Side 40" Porcelain Metal Sign~nice 59" Harley-davidson Motorcycles Heavy Die Cut Sign Bar Shield HarleyVtg Mopar Pam Advertising Lighted Bubble Clock Gas Chrysler Oil Sign Ford NeonGreyhound Bus Porcelain Sign Transportation Car Motorcycle Highway Gas Oil TireVintage Embossed Metal Orange Crush Soda Sign - Nice!Vintage 1950's Aaa Approved 2 Sided 30" Porcelain Metal Gas Oil Sign~nice1963 Vtg John Deere Advertising Sign Heavy Cloth Banner "the Long Green Line"Antique Porcelain Opaline Motor Oil Automotive Sign Gas Station Sinclair Dino Vintage 1930's Phillips 66 Gas Station 2 Sided 30" Porcelain Metal SignVintage 1950's Nehi Beverages Soda Pop Bottle 30" Embossed Metal SignVintage 1951 Champion Spark Plugs Gas & Oil 38" Porcelain Metal Sign~niceGorgeous Antique Art Nouveau Maiden Tin Vienna Portrait Plate C 1900 Fine Cond. Vintage 1970's Ac Allis Chalmers Farm Tractor 2 Sided 24" Embossed Lighted SignVintage Original Dr Pepper 10-2-4 Bottle Cap Sign G-14 38" Vintage Grapette Soda Bottle Cap Sign New Old Stock 39" Diameter Original Sign Coca-cola Coke Button Original Porcelain Sign! No Reserve!Old Original 1965 Pepsi Thermometer Embossed Metal Sign Soda Pop Cola Drink Vintage Coca-cola Metal Signs - Large White Pillar Sign 40" Tall W/ Red ButtonRare 94" Antique Vtg 1920s Purina Chows Metal Farm Hybrid Seed Sign Horses CowsVintage 1940's Porcelain Prestone Anti Freeze Oil Gas Station Thermometer SignVintage Cloverdale Ginger Ale Bubble Glass Thermometer SignRare 1920s "golf Club Ginger Ale" Sign, Pics Golfers, Pristine! First We've SeenAtlantic Aviation Motor Oil Tin Wood Framed Sign Early Gas Like Porcelain RareAntique Steel Original Railroad Crossing Sign Glass Jewel Marbles, Will Ship UpsLarge Vintage 1950's Autolite Batteries 60" Embossed Metal Gas & Oil SignOld Large Clark Dairy Porcelain Die Cut Milk Bottle Advertising Sign QuartVintage 1950's Aberdeen Angus Cow Cattle Farm 36" Metal Sign

Recent News: Advertising

Source: Google News

Things to do this week: Jan. 26-Feb. 1
Cincinnati.com, January 26th

Furniture, jewelry, art, primitives, vintage advertising, repurposed industrial, home decor, linens and more. $5. 513-353-4135. Feb. 1: Cin City Reptile Show, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Fairfield Banquet and Convention Center at Tori Station, 74 Donald Drive...Read more

Bulgari Opens a Flagship Store in New Delhi
Architectural Digest (blog), January 15th

For the new boutique's design, the brand drew heavily on its Italian roots. An undulating Murano-glass chandelier comprising 5,500 crystals, designed by Angelo Mangiarotti, is the focal point of the space. Photographs from vintage advertising campaigns...Read more

Murder mystery party set at museum
Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, January 13th

It looks at Walla Walla's early years through the eyes of the business community. Collectors of Joe's other compilations and of Walla Walla memorabilia and vintage advertising will enjoy the collection. The cost is $10, which benefits the museum. It's...Read more

Vintage Ad Art Up For Auction
MediaPost Communications, January 13th

While Swann regularly auctions vintage advertising posters and has included advertising art in its previous Illustration and American Art auctions, this is the first sale which presents a large number of original works of art by celebrated ad agency...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

Cabin fever?
Greensburg Daily News, January 6th

The Indy Antique Advertising Show will fill the 65,000 square-foot Champions Pavilion at the State Fairgrounds March 20 and 21. Heralded as one of the best in the country, it will feature advertising from a wide variety of categories, including...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

Vintage advertising sends a powerful message of nostalgia
Chicago Tribune, April 25th

Fitting into the very popular collecting category of country store/antique advertising, it is special within the genre. First, the box is in super excellent condition. Add to that the quantity and high quality of embossed lettering on every surface but...Read more