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 1935 Coca Cola Soda Pop Bottle 2 Sided 39" Metal Sign & BracketVintage 1950's Coca Cola Fountain Service Soda Pop 30" Porcelain Metal Sign~niceNice 1931 Vintage Coca Cola 1923 Christmas Bottle Old Tin Thermometer SignVintage C.1960 Coca Cola Fishtail Soda Pop 15" Pam Clock Sign~worksVintage Coca Cola Advertising Clock Kay Display Gas Soda Pam Oil Metal Sign1959 Fishtail Coca Cola Menu Board Sign, Masonite & Tin W/menu StripsNice 1955 Vintage Coca Cola Double Sided Cardboard Sign In Orig. Gold Wood FrameVery Nice 1950s Vintage Coca Cola Old 24 Inch Tin Button Disc SignVintage C.1950 Coca Cola Soda Pop Picnic Airline Cooler 17" Embossed Metal SignRare Vtg Pam Squirt Soda Back Lit Lighted Bubble Glass Electric Coke Clock Sign Vintage C.1930 Coca Cola Soda Pop 1923 Christmas Bottle 44" Metal SignOriginal Vintage Porcelain Coca Cola Sign Red And White No Reserve Coke" 1901 ***original***coca-cola 5 Cents Cardboard Sign-estate Find-no ReserveCoca Cola Sign Porcelain LollipopAntique 1940's Coca Cola 24" Porcelain Coke Button Soda Sign Vintage OriginalVintage C.1950 Coca Cola Soda Pop 20" Lighted Clock Counter SignNear Mint 1954 Vintage Coca Cola Old Die-cut Tin Bottle Thermometer SignLarge Vintage 1940's Drink Coca Cola Soda Pop Bottle 56" Metal SignMoxie Soda Pop Original Embossed Tin Octagon Shaped Sign Not Coca-cola 5 Dayauct1950s Coca Cola 24" Large Button Sign White Porcelain Coke Bottle Rare ConditionVintage C.1931 Coca Cola Metalcraft Metal Toy Truck W/soda Pop Bottles SignRare Vintage 1929 Coca Cola Soda Pop 2 Sided 30" Metal Arrow SignVintage 1950's Drink Coca Cola Soda Pop 24" Porcelain Metal Sign~Vintage C.1950 Coca Cola Soda Pop Bottle 36" Porcelain Metal Button Sign~niceLarge Vintage 1941 Drink Coca Cola Soda Pop Bottle 64" Metal SignVintage 1930's Coca Cola Soda Pop Bottle Embossed Door Handle Pull Metal SignLarge 3 Foot Lighted Arrow Metal Sign Carnival Fair Exit Mobil Led Vintage LookVintage 1950's Coca Cola Soda Pop Bottle 24" Porcelain Metal SignVintage 1950's Coca Cola Soda Pop Fishtail Carton 36" Embossed Metal Sign~niceLarge Vintage C.1960 Coca Cola Fishtail Soda Pop 43" Metal SignNear Mint 1946 Vintage Coca Cola Old Country Store SignVintage C.1950 Coca Cola Soda Pop Bottle Picnic Cooler 18" Embossed Metal SignLarge 3 Foot Lighted Arrow Metal Sign Carnival Fair Exit Mobil Led Vintage LookVintage Original Metal Coca Cola 1950s 6 Pack Bottle Carrier SignVintage Coca-cola 24" Porcelain Advertising Sign Button 1950 **no Reserve**Vintage 1946 Drink Coca Cola Soda Pop Bottle 34" Metal SignVintage-antique-coke-coca Cola Soda Sign- 27 Inches Long- Vintage 1951 Drink Coca Cola Soda Pop 16" Metal Button SignLarge Vintage C.1950 Coca Cola Soda Pop 36" Porcelain Metal Button SignVintage 1950's Coca Cola Soda Pop 12" Metal Thermometer SignRare Vintage Coca Cola 48" Button Advertising Porcelain Metal Sign Gas Soda OilVintage C.1950 Coca Cola Soda Pop Bottle Picnic Cooler 19" Embossed Metal SignVintage 1960's Coca Cola Soda Pop Bottle 28" Metal SignVintage 1933 Drink Coca Cola Soda Pop Christmas Bottle 35" Embossed Metal SignVintage 1950 Drink Coca Cola Soda Pop Bottle 28" Metal SignVintage C.1950 Coca Cola Soda Pop Bottle Picnic Cooler 18" Embossed Metal SignVintage 1940's Coca Cola Soda Pop Bottle 36" Metal SignVintage C.1950 Drink Coca Cola Soda Pop 18" Metal Clock Sign~worksNear Mint 1959 Vintage Coca Cola Old Factory Curved Metal SignOriginal 36 Inch Coca Cola Porcelain Button Sign 1950,sVintage 36" Coca Cola Soda Drink Porcelain Bottle Button SignVintage 1948 Coca Cola Soda Pop 6 Bottle Carton Pilaster 41" Metal Sign~niceLarge Vintage 1940's Drink Coca Cola Soda Pop Bottle 54" Metal SignGraphic * 1955 Vintage Coca Cola Old General Store Double Sided SignVintage 1947 Coca Cola Soda Pop Bottle Pilaster 41" Metal Sign~niceLarge Vintage 1940's Coca Cola Soda Pop Bottle 54" Embossed Metal SignVintage 1960's Coca Cola Soda Pop Bottle 30" Metal SignLarge Vintage C.1960 Coca Cola Fishtail Soda Pop Bottle 54" Metal SignLarge Vintage 1940's Drink Coca Cola Soda Pop Bottle 54" Embossed Metal Sign1946 Coke Coca Cola/pepsi Competitor,sign"oh So Grape",bottle Carrier,ultra Rare

Recent News: Coca Cola Signs

Source: Google News

Commentary: Coke machine a little respite from inflation
Waterbury Republican American, July 28th

For most of that time, the company has shared a relationship with the soda pop giant, even having its name hang on a Coca-Cola sign until Raleigh City Hall deemed it improper. Boyette can remember drinking nickel Cokes from the machines that dispensed ...Read more

Old South Texas bottling plant may get new look
The Eagle, July 28th

In this July 15 photo, Wayne Adickes, chairman of the Cuero Heritage Museum, points out the original Coca-Cola sign on the outside of the original bottling building built in 1931, in Cuero, Texas. The city wants to either house certain departments or...Read more

Cuero Coca-Cola bottling plant to be renovated
Victoria Advocate, July 22nd

No one knows what happened to the famed, 8-foot-tall neon Coca-Cola sign posted out front or a number of other memorabilia that once dotted the facade. Still, Adickes and other like-minded community members are convinced the place just needs a little ...Read more

U of M, Coca-Cola Sign Beverage Agreement
ChrisD.ca, July 18th

The multi-year agreement will provide the campus with cold beverage services, building on Coca-Cola's presence in the province for nearly 100 years. The partnership includes the Fort Garry Campus, Bannatyne Campus, the University of Manitoba Students' ...Read more

Rocky Mount celebrates Coca-Cola sign restoration
Bluefield Daily Telegraph, July 10th

ROCKY MOUNT, Va. — Rocky Mount officials are celebrating the restoration of a Coca-Cola sign painted on an old downtown bottling plant. The building has been converted into a restaurant that will open soon. Media outlets report that Coca-Cola...Read more

Former Coca-Cola bottling plant is the site of a new restaurant in Rocky Mount
WDBJ7, July 8th

The old Coca-Cola sign has been repainted on its original bottling facility in Rocky Mount. Bootleggers Café is set to open soon. “We're going to be doing some nice, cooking of fresh vegetables; bring back the home-style cooking that you can do in your...Read more

Iconic Coca-Cola 'Ghost Signs' Come Back to Life In Virginia and West Virginia ...
MRO (press release), July 8th

“Long before the world-famous Times Square Coca-Cola sign was built, thousands of wall murals were painted in small towns and cities across the country. At Coca-Cola Consolidated, we have been identifying and refurbishing those signs over the past few ...Read more

Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated to Host Ribbon-Cutting at Bootleggers ...
Virtual-Strategy Magazine (press release), June 30th

The event will celebrate the newly renovated Coca-Cola sign located at the restaurant in Historic Downtown Rocky Mount. Franklin County, VA (PRWEB) June 30, 2014. Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated will host a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 11 a.m., July ...Read more