Few brands have been as effectively and aggressively marketed as Coca-Cola, which was invented in 1886 by John S. Pemberton. Almost from day one, advertising materials, including signs, were produced to trumpet the virtues of the sweet, carbonated beverage. In fact, in his first year of business, Pemberton spent more money on advertising than he took in, producing, among other items, 14 outdoor signs painted on oilcloth and another 45 painted on tin. Today, thanks in part to his early obsession with advertising, Coca-Cola is one of the best-known brand names in the world.
The first metal Coca-Cola signs were lithographed or painted. Known as tackers, these signs were designed to be nailed directly through the metal and onto a wooden wall or fence. Even at this early moment in the company’s history, Coca-Cola understood the power of the celebrity endorsement—by the end of the 19th century, the popular opera singer Hilda Clark was pitching the beverage on rectangular and oval signs, made out of everything from paper to metal.
By 1910 the short-lived era of large outdoor oilcloth signs had come to an end. Because these signs wore out quickly (they were no match for the elements), they were systematical...
The first of these porcelain signs were roughly eight-by-eight feet and got right to the point: “Ice Cold Coca-Cola Sold Here,” they proclaimed. The Coke bottle depicted on the sign was straight sided—the company’s trademark curved bottle, which resembled the contours of a hobble skirt and was nicknamed “Mae West,” was not widely used until 1920.
Some tin signs were embossed, giving the brand’s famous logo relief, while others were made of aluminum and coated in celluloid, which was less durable than porcelain but worked fine in interiors such as soda fountains and bars.
An especially popular sign from 1914 featured a model named “Betty.” This marked a shift for the company away from high-brow celebrity toward something approaching sex appeal, although the young lady’s attire and flirtatious gaze is certainly tame by 21st-century standards. Other signs on cardboard from this period admonished customers to ask for Coca-Cola by its full name, which was an effort by the company to combat competitors trying to capitalize on the parts or even misspellings of the brand’s good name.
World War I brought severe sugar shortages, so very few signs were produced during these years, but in the 1920s the Coke advertising machine was in full swing again. One classic sign from this decade is the gas-station sign, which often had a chalk circle or triangle built into the sign so station attendants could write in that day’s gas price. Larger signs had what are known as “privilege panels” above the Coca-Cola panel itself. These gave retailers space for signage of their own, in close proximity to the Coca-Cola panel, of course.
The 1920s were also when flange signs first came to prominence. These signs featured stenciled-and-fired enamel artwork on both sides of the sign, with a small right-angle flange at one end so the sign could be attached to a building and read by customers walking in opposite directions.
Another famous vintage Coca-Cola sign shape is the so-called red button, which was made by porcelain sign manufacturer Temco of Nashville, Tennessee, among others. The red button sign shape found its way onto Coca-Cola clocks, metal trays, and calendars, as well as flange signs. Shield signs forced the logo into a triangular shape, while rectangular signs were jazzed up by placing the logo within a fishtail shape.
As with the rest of popular culture, Coca-Cola signs changed with the times. For example, the frames of Coca-Cola signs exhibit distinctively Art Deco touches through the 1930s, while the signs themselves often feature mirrored or reverse-painted black glass. In fact, despite the Depression, the 1930s were a big decade for Coca-Cola signage—in 1934 alone, for example, the company offered 28 different styles of signs to its retailers, plus four versions designed just for coolers.
The 1940s saw the arrival of a new Betty on Coca-Cola signs, but new metal signs were put on hold due to the needs of World War II. Untold numbers of porcelain signs were scrapped for the war effort, which, of course, has led to their current scarcity and popularity among collectors. After the war, porcelain signage fell out of favor for less-expensive alternatives such as aluminum and eventually plastic.
Interviews & Articles
Coca-Cola collectors take note: A vintage Coke sign has prompted an epic "only in San Francisco" battle royale, as passionate pres… [more]
As the archivist for Coca-Cola, I’m interested in preserving the history of this company. Integrally tied to that history are all … [more]
I liked to collect things even as a child. Things that didn’t cost anything, like different colors of stones. There was somethin… [more]
How did I get started collecting advertising antiques? My dad was a lecturer and tutor in graphics and art from the 1960s onwards,… [more]
I started collecting Coca-Cola memorabilia back in the early 1970s. I was working the night shift at a company, and as I walked ho… [more]
My grandfather got me started collecting bottles when I was about eight years old. A couple of years later, I was walking along a … [more]
I started collecting Coca-Cola in 1994. The World Cup soccer games were being hosted at the Stanford Stadium and I saw Coke bottle… [more]
Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)
Historical Marker Database
Bobbys Coca-Cola on the Web
Pittsburgh Signs Project
Falvo Collectables Gallery
Clubs & Associations: Coca-Cola
Other Great Reference Sites: Coca-Cola
Top eBay Auctions
Recent News: Coca Cola Signs
Source: Google News
Home-grown and hand-pulledRed Springs Citizen, May 16th
RENNERT — Hand-painted words on a faded Coca-Cola sign that read “E. & H. Bar. B. Q. Hut” is the only indication that an aging building, lying just beyond the railroad tracks on Morgan J Road, is a place where a carnivore can get his fix of the hand...Read more
Malasadas in Makawao: Maui Upcountry Road TripAOL Travel News, May 15th
The T. Komoda Store & Bakery looks nondescript on the outside, with a Coca-Cola sign that's ragged around the edges. Skip the crowded aisles as your eyes adjust to the dim light inside the grocery and go straight to the old-fashioned glass case that's...Read more
You Can't Repeat the Past, Old Sport: On Leo, Baz, Gatsby, and MeThe Millions, May 15th
The brooding Paul Mercurio paved the way for Leonardo lust, at a confusing fifth-grade time when I just wanted to do a coltish paso doble in front of a Coca Cola sign, but was also strangely agitated by the sight of glistening chest hair against white...Read more
Ad agency 'finds' Danish flag in Coke logoThe Copenhagen Post, May 15th
A large Coca-Cola sign with a flag dispenser was placed near the airport's arrival gate, allowing people to pick the flags straight from the Coca-Cola logo. The flag comes from the loopy 'o' in 'Cola', and the flags, while they look similar to a Danish...Read more
Competition Between Pepsi Versus Coca Cola - Society & ReligionSociety and Religion, May 11th
coke, coca cola sign, pepsico, coca cola signs, coke sign, pepsico company, Pepsi vs Coca-Cola, s&r coca cola, pepsi co, pepsi company, pepsico images, imagem PEPSICO, owner religion of pepsi company home country, import distributor myanmar,...Read more
'Home Again' At Windsor Art CenterHartford Courant, May 8th
"Milk & Cola" shows two cows browsing by a barn with a big Coca-Cola sign on it. "Home Bus" shows a school bus winding its way down a narrow country road. "Mail Delay" shows a landscape too snowy for the mail truck to make it through. "They're not any...Read more
Walking through historyThe Advocate, May 7th
A neon rooftop Coca-Cola sign, added by 1960, welcomed Third Street customers to the store's well-patronized soda fountain. The tour will also feature walk-bys at the St. James Masonic Lodge at Third and Convention streets, the Commerce Building at...Read more
Highlands eager to play ball with advertisersTribune-Review, April 21st
Highlands Business Manager Jon Rupert said the Coca-Cola sign was a result of a larger deal a number of years ago. That deal involved Coke becoming the district's official soft drink. That is no longer the case, but it is an example of the kind of...Read more