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    

Rare 1930s Large Coca Cola Bottle Metal Soda SignOriginal1921 Orange Crush Tin Embossed Sign Coke Pepsi Cola Royal Grape GoldenNear Mint 1940s Wwii Vintage Coca Cola Take A Case Home Old General Store SignVintage Original Coca Cola Porcelain Sign No Reserve!!Unused? Near Mint Old Original 1930s Coca Cola Canadian Door Push Porcelain SignVintage Original Coca Cola Flange Sign Not Porcelain No Reserve!!Vintage 1936 Coca Cola Soda Pop Christmas Bottle 35" Embossed Metal SignVintage 1932 Coca Cola Soda Pop Christmas Bottle 27" Embossed Metal SignCoca Cola Rare Button Two Convenient Sizes Bottle Porcelain Sign 16" Mint CokeVintage Original Coca Cola Masonite Sign Not Porcelain No Reserve!!Large Vintage 1942 Coca Cola Soda Pop Bottle 54" Metal SignVintage Original Coca Cola Sign Not Porcelain No Reserve!!Vintage,old, And Original Coca Cola Sign-lady Drinking Bottle Of Coca Cola, CokeLarge Vintage 1950's Coca Cola Soda Pop Bottle 46" Metal SignVintage Original Coca Cola Rack Sign Not Porcelain No Reserve!!Early 1927 Coca Cola Porcelain SignCoca Cola 1943 Cardboard Advertising SignOriginal1920's Orange Cocoa Crush Tin Embossed Sign Pepsi Coke Soda Drop Deere Vintage 1941 Coca Cola Soda Fountain Dispenser 2 Sided 27" Porcelain Metal SignVintage 1962 Coca Cola Button Soda Pop Bottle 12" Metal SignAntique Vtg 1940s Drink Coca Cola Cast Iron Industrial Table Lollipop Sign BaseVintage 1930's Coca Cola Soda Pop Porcelain Metal Door Push Plate Sign1950's Canadian Coke Coca Cola Metal Sign Vintage 1950s Coca Cola Metal Sign 11.5x32" Original Antique Coke Tin Bottle Ad Coca Cola Metal Button SignVintage Coca Cola 28x20 Sign Pretty Lady Enjoying A Coke 1940Vintage 1930's Coca Cola Soda Pop Porcelain Metal Door Push Plate Sign50s/60's? Coca-cola Fountian Service Lighted Sign ~looks Great~1936 Royal Crown 30" Tin Metal Sign Rc Cola Nehi Coke Pepsi Crush Soda Deere Ih Vintage 1940 Coca Cola Soda Pop 16" Embossed Metal Thermometer SignLarge Vintage 1948 Coca Cola Soda Pop Bottle 54" Embossed Metal SignVintage Old , Coca Cola Porcelain Sign Double Dispensing Soda Spouts On Ends. 1931 Coca Cola Porcelain Sign Excellent ConditionVtg. Orig Auth. 1920's Reverse Painting Glass Mirror Coca-cola Advertising Sign 1950's Coca Cola Cardboard Channel Card Fishtail Coke Sign. Corned Beef SandwichOld 1942 Coca Cola Tray 2 Girls At Car American Art Works SignCoca Cola Sled Sign 1957 PorcelinOld Coca Cola Porcelain 1930s Rare Triangle Sign With HangerLarge Vintage 1950's Coca Cola Button Soda Pop Bottle 36" Metal SignVintage Coca Cola 34x12 Sign Young Lovers Enjoying A Coke 1940sOld Coca Cola Porcelain Button Nos SignFrench 1980's Coca Cola Button Porcelain SignVintage 1951**rare**coca Cola Painted Metal Dollar A Case General Store Sign1940's Porcelain Coca Cola Sign CokeAntique Coke SignVintage C.1960 Coca Cola Soda Pop Bottle 32" Metal SignOld Coca Cola Porcelain Graphic Sign1939 Coca Cola Large 5' Advertising SignCoca Cola Machine Coin Box For Bottle Deposit, Not Tin Sign, Not Cardboard7up 12" Porcelain Sign No Reserve Pepsi Coke Crush Soda Food Drink Rc Cola 7 UpVintage Original Coca Cola Sign Not Porcelain No Reserve!!Coca Cola Grocery Shopping Cart Bottle Holder Carrier Soda Sign 1950'sGreat Looking Coca Cola Sign, 1950's Coke SignVintage 1960's Coca Cola Soda Pop Bottle 18" Metal Thermometer Sign~niceOld 1960s Coca Cola Change Tray Mat Restaurant Rubber SignMoxie Soda Pop Drinking Glass Not Bottle Porcelain Sign Coke Pepsi 7-up CocacolaGulf Gas Pump Desk Model,new,14" Tall,metal,real Metal Screen,well Made Display.1950's Am40 Coca Cola Fishtail Sign 26"w.shows Well Some Blems Old And OriginalVintage 36" Coca Cola Button Sign - Very Rare Design -l@@k!!!Huge Retro Vtg 1970's Tab Lighted Diet Soda Avertising Clock Sign By Coca Cola

Recent News: Coca Cola Signs

Source: Google News

Q&A on the News
Atlanta Journal Constitution, February 27th

The two-story Olympia building was designed by longtime Atlanta architects Ivey and Crook in 1935-36 and also is famous for the Coca-Cola sign on its roof. The city sold the building at 23 Peachtree St. to Encore Real Estate for $2.2 million in...Read more

In pictures: See inside Coca Cola wonderland built by Irish woman mad about ...
Irish Mirror, February 27th

"Then I was watching Come Dine With Me about five years ago and I though oh I'll do the kitchen up in Coca Cola, because one of the women in it had a Coca Cola sign in her kitchen. "I just said to Barry we'll do the kitchen up and within six months the...Read more

Ask the Expert — Coca-Cola Match Striker
Winnipeg Free Press, February 7th

Your little French Coca-Cola sign is known as a match striker. Years ago you would have struck your wooden matches on the black portion of the sign. This sign was made in the late 1930s and was placed in pool rooms, bars or other establishments where ...Read more

Share a Coke campaign post-analysis
Marketing magazine Australia (registration), February 5th

Consumers were invited to SMS a friend's name, which was projected live onto the iconic 'Coca-Cola' sign at Sydney's King's Cross. They then received an MMS enabling them to share their friend's name up in lights, via Facebook and email. King's Cross ...Read more

Kings Cross Coca-Cola sign to get a facelift after 40 years
Sydney Morning Herald, November 10th

After more than 40 years exposed to the elements, the Coca-Cola sign at Kings Cross is getting a facelift. The lights were turned off a month ago and a close inspection shows it's being held together by ropes with all the bulbs taken away. "It's lost...Read more

Smith T discovers century-old Coca-Cola mural behind wall of Opelika hardware ...
Opelika Auburn News, October 4th

Smith T referenced what is considered the oldest Coca-Cola sign, one dating to 1894 located in Cartersville, Ga.; however, it has been repainted. “It makes you wonder how many old buildings there are around the South or around the country that would be...Read more

Coca-Cola Restoring "Ghost Murals" in Va., W. Va.
NBC4 Washington, July 19th

The mural in Hinton, W.Va. stands 17 feet tall and 60 feet wide, one of the largest ghost signs restored by Coca-Cola Consolidated. It's one of thousands of Coca-Cola ads painted at the turn of the century, many of them in the rural south. (Jessica...Read more

Coca-Cola sign in downtown Baton Rouge unshrouded on Tuesday: Updated
The Times-Picayune, May 27th

The historic Coca-Cola sign in downtown Baton Rouge was unshrouded on Tuesday, after it spent Memorial Day weekend covered by a tarp amid an apparent dispute between the building's owner and Coca-Cola. Property owner Mike Crouch put the tarp ...Read more