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    

Large Vintage 1951 Firestone Tires Tire Gas Station Oil 2 Sided 48" Metal SignVintage/original Dr. Pepper Metal Thermometer Sign~40s~good For Life~very Cool!Genuine Pontiac Dealership Service Vintage Porcelain Sign! 42"Vintage/original Nesbitt's Orange Soda Metal Flange Sign Must See!~40s~wow!~lqqkVintage 1940's Budweiser Beer Bar Tavern 28" Lighted Metal Light Sign~works*barn Find* 48" Winchester Rifle *dealer Advertising Sign* Made Of Metal Vintage 1961 Bardahl Motor Oil Gas Station 16" Metal Pam Clock SignVintage 1950's Pepsi Cola Soda Pop Bottle Cap 18" Metal Flange SignLarge Vintage 1950's Pepsi Cola Soda Pop Bottle Cap 28" Embossed Metal SignVintage Schwinn Authorized Bicycle Dealer Sign+clock Phantom Stingray Krate B6!Genuine Old Enamel Sign - Art Deco - Guide Books & Maps - Extremely Rare - L@@kVintage 1950's Hood Milk Dairy Cow Farm Grocery Store 30" Embossed Metal SignVintage 1960's Ih International Trucks Farm Gas Oil 15" Lighted Metal Clock SignVintage 1960s Ford Tractor Farm Feed Seed 15" Lighted Metal Pam Clock Sign~worksVintage Shell Service Station Gas Pump Sign Plate Nr Mint Oil LubesterVintage 1960's Dr Pepper Soda Pop Gas Station 16" Lighted Metal Pam Clock SignVintage Mobil "metro" 11 3/4" Porcelain Gas & Oil Sign! Pump Plate! No Reserve!!Huge Vintage 1953 Pepsi Cola Soda Pop Bottle Cap 37" Embossed Metal SignRare 1950s Vintage Coca Cola Curved Plastic Fishtail Sign ~ For Coke Dispenser Dr. Pepper Vertical Sign 10 2 4 Original RareOriginal Coca Cola Fountain Service Porcelain Sign 1950's Vintage Advertising Vintage Original 1940's Kik Cola Soda Tin Metal Embossed Sign~rareVintage Rare 1930s 40s Pepsi Bottle Cap Double Dot SignRare C 1930 Tin Howdy Orange Soda Advertising Sign Art Deco Graphics Nr EmbossedVintage 1950's Pepsi Cola Soda Pop Bottle Cap 19" Embossed Metal SignTrue Vintage 31 3/4" Coca-cola Coke Cooler Arrow Sign By Kay Displays1960 Vintage 7 Up Seven Up St Thomas Ontario Canada Tin Soda Advertising SignVtg 1940**rare** Cat's Paw Shoe Store Cobbler Lighted Bubble Glass Clock Sign1930s Ethyl Gasoline Nevr Nox 30” Porcelain Double Side Gas Station Flange SignLarge Vintage 1950's Pepsi Cola Soda Pop Bottle Cap 31" Metal SignVintage/original Pepsi-cola Metal Thermometer Sign~50s~embossed Bottle Cap~look!1930's Original Old Milwaukee Beer Tin Over Cardboard Sign Full Quart BottleOriginal 1940's-1950's Blue Sunoco Gas Pump Porcelain Sign Never Used Near MintWolf's Head Nos Metal Flange Sign Gas Oil Vintage Antique New England/american Telephone & Telegraph Porcelain Flange Sign NrLarge Vintage 1940's Pepsi Cola 5c Double Dot Soda Pop 10 Gallon Syrup Can SignMountain Dew Vintage 18" Round Advertising ThermometerVintage 1950's Ok Special Chevrolet Used Cars Gas Oil 17" Lighted Sign~worksV.nice Old Original Royal Crown Cola Thermometer Sign Free Ship!1920 Coca-cola Tin Litho Advertising Serving Tray "golfer Girl" Coke TrayVintage Rare 1969 Roadrunner 29" X 18" Porcelain Walker & Co. Detroit Sign! Nr!Vintage 1928 Drink Coca Cola Soda Pop 30" Porcelain Metal SignRare 1959 Derby Oil Company Pam Advertising ThermometerVery Nice * 1942 Vintage Royal Crown Cola Old Original Embossed Metal SignVintage/original Cheer Up Metal Soda Flange Sign Must See!~30s~omg!~lqqkVintage Drink Royal Crown Cola Tin Thermometer Sign Nehi Soda Pop Store BeverageVintage 1940's Whistle Orange Soda Pop 28" Embossed Metal SignExtremely Rare Tydol Tide Water Oil Can Tin Imperial Quart Sign CanadaVintage/original Casite Thermometer Automotive Metal Sign 1940s~very Clean!~lqqkVintage 1950's Phillies Cigar Cigars Tobacco Gas Station 21" Embossed Metal SignVintage/original Trico Wiper Blades Thermometer Automotive Metal Sign Nos~lqqk!!Vintage C.1960 7up 7 Up Beverage Dept. Soda Pop 2 Sided 27" Lighted Metal SignAntique Circa 1930 Fargos Ice Cream, Red Porcelain Advertising Sign, NrAntique 1940 Mobil Mobiloil 11 3/4" Porcelain Pegasus Sign! Gas & Oil Pump PlateExtremely Rare Irving Superior Aircraft Oil Can Tin Imperial Quart Sign CanadaScarce 1930's Buffalo Rock Ginger Ale Cola Soda Thermometer Sign Nice Working !!Large Vintage B.f.goodrich Tires Tire Gas Station Oil 2 Sided 48" Metal SignNear Mint 1960s Vintage Champion Spark Plugs Old Gas Station 26x12 Inch Tin SignVintage 1961 Sealtest Milk Dairy Grocery Store 15" Lighted Metal Pam Clock SignAntique B.f. Goodrich Tested Tires 14" Porcelain Gas & Oil Sign! Pump Plate! Nr!