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 systematically replaced by more durable, and expensive, metal ones. Some of these large outdoor signs were similar to the tackers, but others were made of fired enamels that were baked until they created a porcelain surface on a base of iron or steel. Eyelets at the corners and sides were built into the design, since nailing through porcelain would destroy the sign.

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.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

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]

Coca-Cola Collectibles

Coca-Cola Collectibles

The Collectibles page of the official Coca-Cola website features photos and videos on bottles, signs, advertising, … [read review or visit site]

Historical Marker Database

Historical Marker Database

If you're the type who pulls over when you see a 'historic marker ahead' sign, you'll love this site. Orchestrated … [read review or visit site]

Bobbys Coca-Cola on the Web

Bobbys Coca-Cola on the Web

This site, a group effort, is a great reference for Coca-Cola collectors. Start with the timeline and product lists… [read review or visit site]

Falvo Collectables Gallery

Falvo Collectables Gallery

Ralph and Carol Falvo's excellent collection of automobiles, petroliana, jukeboxes, soda, and general store items. … [read review or visit site]

Soda-Machines.com

Soda-Machines.com

The ultimate guide to vintage soda vending machines, from Coca-Cola to Pepsi to Royal Crown to Dr. Pepper. Start at… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Vintage 1956 Coca Cola Restaurant Menu Board Soda Pop 29" SignNice * 1963 Vintage Ice Cold Coca Cola Rare Old Tin Sign With Paper Cup GraphicsOriginal Coca Cola Fountain Service Porcelain Double Sided SignVintage Coca Cola 1950's Nos Thermometer Sign With Original Box Rare No Reserve!Original 1951 Coca-cola Large Size Advertising Sign In Wood Kay Display FrameVintage 1952 Drink Coca Cola Button Soda Pop Gas Station 16" Metal Sign1940s Porcelain Coca-cola Fountain Service Sign 28" X 12" (excellent Condition)Vintage Coca Cola 1950's Thermometer Sign Excellent Condition No Reserve!!50s Coca Cola Kay Display Wings Sign & Mounting Brackets For 12" Button Nos NrsvLarge Vintage C.1950 Drink Coca Cola Lunch Soda Pop 48" Metal Sign~very NiceOriginal Coca Cola Porcelain Sign - Drugs/soda Button1940s Coca Cola Kay Display Bowling Diecut Wood SignVintage Coca Cola "things Go Better With Coke" Sign Exc. Condition No Reserve!!Vintage Coca Cola 1960's Tgbwc Sign Original Excellent Condition No Reserve!!Vintage C.1960 Drink Coca Cola Fishtail Soda Pop Porcelain Metal SignVintage Coca Cola 2-sided 1950 Cardboard Sign Rare Original Frame No Reserve!!Original 1940's Coca-cola Paperboard Advertising Sign "join The Coke Club"1941 Coca Cola Display Signs Die Cut Nos With Envelope Original Dated No ReserveVintage 1950's Coca Cola Drive In Restaurant Movie Theater Soda Pop Sign~niceVintage Coca Cola 1950's Embossed Bottle Sign Excellent Condition No Reserve!!Vintage 1940-50's Coca Cola Soda Fountain Clock Sign Brilliant Condition1959 Coca Cola Enjoy Here Porcelain Door Bar Push Sign1940's 25¢ Six Pack Coca Cola Coke Soda Metal Sign Original 2-sided 1950s Kay Coca Cola Cheeseburger Cardboard Sign With WireformVintage 1953 "drink Coca Cola" 16" Button Sign Near Mint No Reserve!!Vintage Coca Cola 1960's Tgbwc Embossed Sign Excellent Condition No Reserve!!Near Mint 1966 Vintage Coca Cola Fishtail & Bottle Old Original Tin SignVintage 1950's Coca Cola Soda Pop Cigar Shaped 30" Metal Thermometer Sign~worksVintage Coca Cola 12" Button Sign Near Mint No Reserve!!A Vintage Enamel Coca Cola Advertising Sign C1950sVintage Coca Cola 24" White Button Sign A-m 10-50Large Vintage 1951 Drink Coca Cola Soda Pop Bottle Gas Station 54" Metal SignVintage Coca Cola 16" Sprite Boy Button Sign Rare 1950's Original No Reserve!!40s Coca Cola Coke Cardboard Sign 12"x15" Nos Superb Machine One No Reserve Sun Drop Cola Sundrop Coke Cardboard Sign Clock Easel Mobile 7up Pepsi RareRare 1950`s Pepsi Cone Top Can Conetop : Soda Sign Coca Cola Mountain Dew Vintage 1950's Coca Cola Metal Carrier Soda Pop W/6 Glass 8oz. Bottles SignVintage Coca Cola Fishtail Porcelain Sled Sign 44" X 16" Very CleanThanks Call Again For A Coca-cola Coke Porcelain Soda Door Push Advertising SignVintage Coca-cola Santa Cardboard Easel SignVintage Coca Cola 1958 Cardboard Sign With Original Frame No Reserve!!Vintage Coca Cola 1960's Sogt Flange Sign Excellent Condition No Reserve!!Vintage Coca-cola Bottle Rack Display Sign Authentic50s 60s Coca Cola Coke Cardboard Sign 20"x36" Nos Superb No Reserve 2 Sided Vintage 1941 Coca Cola Coke 29" X 12" Soda Pop Porcelain Sign * No Reserve Vintage Come In! Have A Coca-cola Porcelain Tall Advertising Door Push Soda SignVintage Coca Cola Arrow For 12" Button Sign No Reserve!!Vintage Original Soda Sign Kist Cola Pepsi Dr Pepper Coca ColaVintage Coca Cola Store Display Sign Stand Up Sign, Sail Boat In Waves Vintage 1950's Coca Cola Soda Pop Bottle 17" Metal Thermometer Sign~worksPalade Orangeade 1949 Metal Sign Minty 100% Authentic Orange Crush Pepsi CokeVintage Coca Cola Coke Porcelain Door Push Sign Come In Have A Coca Cola1950s Vintage Coca Cola Double Sided Seasonal Cardboard Litho Sign Kay Display Vintage 1950's Coca Cola Soda Pop Bottle Embossed Metal Picnic Cooler Sign~niceRare Vintage Coca-cola Flange Sign From 1940Rare Vintage Coca-cola Flange Sign From 1938Vintage Old Squirt Soda Sign General Store Gas Station Coke PepsiCoca Cola Coke Coin Op Gumball Candy Peanut Soda Fountain Vending Machine / SignLarge Vintage Coca Cola Cardboard Advertising Stand-up Sign Santa Christmas Vintage Coca Cola Mounting Hardware For 16" Button Arrow Sign No Reserve!!