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]

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]

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]

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    

1898 Original Coca Cola Ideal Brain Tonic Ad Poster Calendar Sign For Repair #1Large Vintage 1927 Coca Cola Soda Pop Bottle 35" Embossed Metal SignOriginal 1950's Coca Cola Porcelain Fountain Dispenser Sign Double Sided *rare*Vintage Original 1941 Coca-cola "young Couple" Large Metal Sign 54" W X 18" T Large Vintage 1950's Coca Cola Coke Soda Pop Bottle 54" Metal SignScarce 1930's Orange Crush Embossed Metal Sign Crushy Coke Pop Soda Pepsi Drink Coca-cola Porcelain Sled SignScarce 1950's A&w Root Beer Mug Embossed Metal Sign A W Dads Hires Coke Pop Ih Vintage C.1960 Coca Cola Fishtail Soda Pop Gas Station 2 Sided 14" Metal SignDr. Pepper Sign, Coke,pepsi,tin,porcelain.Original 16" Coca Cola Button Sign Painted Not PorcelainRare 1950's 7up Fresh Up Embossed Metal General Store Sign Coke Pepsi Crush Pop1950's Coca Cola Button Sign With Bottle Rare White Background Soda Pop Pepsi Vintage Coca Cola Coke 29" X 12" Kick Plate Porcelain Sign * No ReserveRare 1957 Squirt Soda Pop Embossed Metal General Store Sign Coke Cola Crush IhDrink Coca Cola Porcelain Door Push Sign General Store Soda PopBunny Bread Porcelain Door Push Sign General Store Soda Pop Coke Harley BugsOriginal 1937 Coca Cola Embossed Tin Sign American Art Works Coshocton, Ohio OhVintage Metal Flange " Drink Coca-cola Sign Collectibles Soda Signs Advertising Vintage Coca Cola 28" Porcelain Fountain Service Coke Sign Advertising MetalCoca Cola Porcelain Sign..no ReserveLarge Vintage C.1960 Coca Cola Fishtail Soda Pop 42" Metal Sign W/bracketNice Coke Porcelain Sign Coca Cola Fountain Soda Shop Advertising Vintage SignDr Pepper Porcelain Metal Sign Soda Drink General Store Pepsi Coke 7up VintageCoca Cola Fishtail Sign - Coke1950s Coca Cola Drive Safely License Plate Topper SignVintage Drink Coca-cola Ice Cold Oval Blue Porcelain Enamel Advertising SignVintage Royal Crown Coca Cola 26" X 39" Cardboard Poster Display Sign 1940sRoyal Crown Flange. Coke Pepsi Porcelain Tin SignCoca Cola Coke Metal Round Sign Wall Decor Advertising Soda 1950's Canada Dry Embossed Metal General Store Sign Ginger Ale Coke Pop Cola Vintage Coca Cola Coke Large 47" X 31" Soda Pop Tin Sign * No Reserve16" Coca Cola Button With Bottle SignCoca Cola Ty Cobb Store Advertising Lithograph Cardboard Display Sign 1947 Rare1915 Coca Cola Metal Sign Soda Pop Fishtail General Store Crush Bottle 1930s Coke Cardboard SignVintage Coca Cola Sign Cardboard Festoon Know Your State TreesCoke (coca Cola) 24" Button. SignNear Mint 1940s Vintage Coca Cola Old Gold Bottle Tin Thermometer SignAuthentic And Rare - Coca Cola Fountain Service Porcelain Sign1960's Drink Dr.pepper Porcelain Sign Pick A Pack Soda Pop Cola Coke Display Vintage 1950's Coca Cola Sun-rise Orange Beverages Soda Pop 28" Metal SignPabst Blue Ribbon Beer Porcelain Door Push Sign General Store Soda Pop Coke ColaVintage Drink Coke Coca Porcelain Door Push Porcelain Advertising SignRare 1950's Coca Cola Porcelain Bottle SignCoca Cola Coke Metal Round Sign Wall Decor Advertising Soda Coca-cola Sign Vintage Original Drink Dr. Pepper Porcelain Sign (not Coke Or Pepsi) Rare Vintage Coca Cola Wooden Store Sign. "please Pay When Served"Whistle Orange Soda Door Push Sign General Store Soda Pop Coke Cola Crush Pepsi Coca Cola Tin SignVintage Green River Soda Metal Tin Sign Pop Cola Coke General Store Aces Up Soda Porcelain Door Push Sign General Store Soda Pop Coke Harley Coca-cola Paper Sign Very Beautiful Near MintVintage Coca Cola Coke 29" X 12" Kick Plate Porcelain Sign * No ReserveVintage Old Collectible Rare Coca Cola Refreshes Ad Porcelain Enamel Sign BoardDavidson's Bread Porcelain Door Push Sign General Store Soda Pop Coke Harley Old Vintage Drink Coke Coca Cola Soda Door Push Porcelain Advertising SignNos Vintage Antique Coke Bottle Cap Coca Cola Tin Non Porcelain Thermometer SignRoma Beverages Porcelain Door Push Sign Drink Cola Coke General Store Soda Pop