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.

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Recent News: Advertising

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Explore Your Passions at a Special-Collection Library
Business Jet Traveler, November 23rd

More than 1,000 rare books, dating from as early as 1514, are part of the public collection, along with over 5,000 modern-day books, periodicals, maps, vintage advertising and labels. The library oversees the online International Wine Research Database...Read more

The NYC Big Flea
Maine Antique Digest, November 23rd

She specializes in paper, particularly vintage advertising. One area of the show that was grouped together, however, was black memorabilia. Several vendors, under the auspices of Dr. Lindsey B. Johnson, promoter of the Gaithersburg Antique and...Read more

Chamber holiday ornament honors Green Giant history, November 20th

A pea pod Christmas wreath topped with a red satin bow. When the Society suggested using this vintage advertising image, Executive Director Julie Boyland said the Chamber Board loved it. “The design of the bulb creates a nostalgic feel,” explained...Read more

Find great wings in Westfield at Larry's Cantina, November 18th

The painted brick walls are adorned with vintage advertising. The focal point of the room is Anthony Baideme's amazing painting. Larry's regular prices for both food and drink are reasonable. A double order of wings and a couple of draft beers cost...Read more

Two marine renderings by Antonio Jacobsen will be offered at Philip Weiss's ...
ArtfixDaily, November 11th

The auction – featuring over 700 lots – will include World War I British and American posters and Art Nouveau posters; a collection of antique advertising, including Huntley & Palmer British biscuit tins; rock 'n' roll memorabilia, including Jimi...Read more

Vintage posters examine Dubai expat lifestyles
Khaleej Times, October 27th

"I'm happy to use vintage advertising as a medium for me to say things and use text and images as my part," she said. "But I'm keen to explore all the different styles that there were, from the turn of the century to the 1950s and 1960s. There's just...Read more

Samuel Robb Cigar Store Indian, and many vintage advertising posters and signs ...
ArtfixDaily, July 30th

Many vintage and antique advertising signs will come up for bid. Examples include a rare two-sided canister reverse glass sign for Moose Beer in excellent condition, made circa 1880; a rare porcelain Shell Oil sign for motorcycles, about 20 inches in...Read more

NASA's vintage advertising for planetary tourism is really beautiful, 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