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,old, And Original Coca Cola Sign-lady Drinking Bottle Of Coca Cola, Coke7 Up Non Porcelain Sign 1941 Original Embossed Sign Not Coca Cola Crush Pepsi!!!Coca-cola Button Sign Rare 12pack Bottles 16" PorcelainRare Vintage 1959 Coke Coca Cola 6 Pack Single Sided 28" Metal SignCoca-cola Salesman’s Sample Cooler Closed Front Snap On Piece SignOriginal 1905 Coca-cola Chromolithograph Lillian Nordica Free Coupon Advert Sign Royal Crown Cola Non Porcelain Tin Sign, No Reservenot Coke Pepsi 7upUnused? Near Mint Old Original 1930s Coca Cola Canadian Door Push Porcelain Sign1950s Drink Coca-cola Fountain Service Porcelain Sign Soda Pop Drug Store YellowCoca-cola Policeman Sign- School Crossing GuardCoca-cola Bottle Sign Porcelain 18"round Grey Disk In Mint ConditionVintage 1950's Metal Coca-cola Button SignVintage 1936 Coca Cola Soda Pop Christmas Bottle 35" Embossed Metal SignDiecut Coca-cola Fishtail Coke Porcelain Advertising Soda Rack Sign Rare Vintage C1950 Coke Coca Cola 12" Single Sided Metal Sign ButtonOriginal1921 Orange Crush Tin Embossed Sign Coke Pepsi Cola Royal Grape GoldenOriginal 1940 Embossed Metal Coca Cola Advertising Sign Single Sided Nr Soda 1950's Coca-cola Porcelain Die Cut Bottle Sign "near Mint!"Rare Vintage C1940 Coke Coca Cola Single Sided Metal Sign-rare Small SizeHuge 6 Ft Rare Antique 1940s Coca Cola Non Porcelain Soda Pop Bottle Sign VtgNear Mint 1940s Wwii Vintage Coca Cola Take A Case Home Old General Store SignVintage 1930's Coca Cola Soda Pop Porcelain Metal Door Push Plate SignVintage 1930's Coca Cola Soda Pop Porcelain Metal Door Push Plate Sign1939 Coca Cola Porcelain Fountain Dispenser Sign, OriginalOriginal 36" Coca Cola Porcelain Button Sign - Very Good Condition1930's/40's Coca Cola Pat. D Bottle Porcelain Sign.... Clean!Vintage 1962 Coca Cola Button Soda Pop Bottle 12" Metal SignCoca Cola Porcelain16 Inch Button Sign Mint Old Stock, Cardboard SignVintage 1932 Coca Cola Soda Pop Christmas Bottle 27" Embossed Metal SignRare Vintage C1960 Coke Coca Cola Self Framed Single Sided Metal Sign-niceOriginal1920's Orange Cocoa Crush Tin Embossed Sign Pepsi Coke Soda Drop Deere 1950s Coca-cola "cigar" Working Thermometer Sign.."sign Of Good Taste" 30 Inch7up 7 Up Porcelain Sign Soda Beverage Coke Pepsi Dr PepperRare Vintage 1956 Coke Coca Cola Self Framed Single Sided Metal Sign-niceVintage Coke Flange Sign Coca ColaFantastic Vintage Coca-cola Ad Promotional Framed Sign - Hk W31Large Vintage 1950's Coca Cola Soda Pop Bottle 46" Metal SignVintage Coca-cola SignPepsi Cola 5 Cents Porcelain Sign Soda Beverage Coke 7up Dr PepperCoca-cola Door Push Sign Mint Porcelain1950's Am40 Original 12" Coca-cola Button Sign - "sign Of Good Taste"Vintage Porcelain Coca Cola 15" X 8.5" Enamel SignOrange Crush Thermometer Sign Coke Pepsi Dr Pepper 7up ClockCoca Cola X 2 Plus Dr Pepper Flange Signs 3 For 1 !!!!!!!Vintage Old , Coca Cola Porcelain Sign Double Dispensing Soda Spouts On Ends. Vintage 1950s Coca Cola Cardboard Sign State Bird Festoon 37" Long Old Soda1950's Am45 X 12" Coca-cola Button Sign1952 Coca Cola Ham And Cheese Sandwich. Coke Hanger Sign.Enjoy Grapette Grape Soda Rusty Porcelain Sign Crush Coke Pepsi 7up Beverage CoVintage Coke Cola SignVintage Lighted Coca Cola Sign, Estate Find, As IsVintage 1960's Coca Cola Soda Pop Bottle 18" Metal Thermometer Sign~nicePepsi Cola Radio,earlier 50' Version Partial Box,papers,not Sign,or Coke SignGulf Gas Pump Desk Model,new,14" Tall,metal,real Metal Screen,well Made Display.Vintage Original Spanish Coke Flange Sign Metal Costa Rica 19"x18" Español LatinCoca-cola Stainless Coke Bottle Bar Display Unit And Round SignVintage Metal Coca-cola Cooler Sign- NiceCoca Cola Porcelain 24 Inch Button Sign, Not Cardboard, Very Nice* Big 1950's Original Vintage Drink Coca-cola Sign Of Good Taste (fishtail)-wow*Very Nice Cheerwine Advertising Sign Bench Back Not Coca Cola Sundrop

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

Get a Coke for a hug until 2 pm
Oklahoma Daily, February 18th

Hug Me. A Coca Cola sign sits beside a sidewalk on the Walker-Adams Mall. The soda company put a coke machine in the Mall that is payed for in only hugs. Caleb Terrill. Matt Wesling/The Daily ...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

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