Cardboard signs were widely used in the 20th century to advertise everything from beer and soda pop to patent medicines and cigars. The material was especially popular for signage during World War II, when the heavy metal used in porcelain signs and the lighter tin used in lithographed signs were rationed for the war effort.

Even before the war, the appeal of cardboard was obvious. Cardboard signs were cheap to produce and easy to put up. Some were even produced as stand-ups, which could be propped in the corner of a store or at the end of an aisle. And when the signs wore out due to weather, or went out of date as advertising campaigns were updated, they could simply be tossed. In fact, it’s the ephemeral nature of these pieces that makes them so collectible today.

Advertisements for patent medicines found their way onto many cardboard signs. Hood’s Sarsaparilla, prospective customers were told, would purify the blood, and 100 doses only cost a dollar. The fetching backside of a naked woman was the dominant image in an ad for Rex Bitters, which promised to cure indigestion and constipation. Not to be outdone, Dr. Caldwell’s Syrup Pepsin claimed to be the “Family Laxative” for the “Constipated Child.”

More wholesome was the image of three sunbonnetted little girls, who were used to sell “Rock, Rye and Honey: For Coughs and Colds.” The scenes behind ads for American Beauty Malt Extract and B.T. Babbitt’s Soap were equally innocuous. And then there were cardboard signs that both identified the cause of an ailment and its cure, such as the ad for Moxie Nerve Food, which placed the words “The Leading Exponent of the Strenuous Life” below the stern image of Teddy Roosevelt and “The Necessary Support of the Strenuous Life” below an image of its product.

Cardboard signs were also produced for food products such as Best Baking Company’s Milk Bread, Lipton’s Tea, and Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit Chewing Gum. Brewers that made beer signs out of cardboard included Anheuser-Busch, Magnus Beck, and Lone Star Brewing. And, naturally, cardboard tobacco signs were common, such as those for Beech-Nut Tobacco, Lucky Strike and Philip Morris cigarettes, and Cubanola cigars.

For Coca-Cola collectors, cardboard signs advertising their favorite frosty beverage, especially those from the 1940s and early 1950s, are highly prized. “Here’s to our G.I. Joes,” reads one Coke sign of two young women pointing to the locations of their boyfriends (or husbands) on a globe. “A Big O.K. From U.S.A.,” proclaimed a sign for Pepsi, all in red, white, and blue.

Of course, because cardboard was cheap, it was also used to advertise events, particularly dances and musical performances by jazz and pop artists of the day. Following this musical lead, record companies produced portraits of their stars meant to be displayed in record stores, in the hopes that such photos would help move vinyl.


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]

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]



Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Highlander Beer Sign - Missoula, Montana - Tin Over Cardboard1930's Hackney Ale Free State Brewing Corp. Baltimore Sign Tin Over Cardboard 1944 Coca Cola Lithograph Cardboard Sign 20 X 36 FramedVintage 1940's Royal Crown Cola Cardboard SignOriginal 16 X 27 Coke Coca Cola Wwii Military Soldier Cardboard Sign Homefront Coca Cola 1934 Joan Crawford Cardboard SignVintage Schlitz Beer Tin Over Cardboard Sign The Beer That Made Milwaukee FamousAntique1920's Trolley Advertising Cardboard Sign Armours Oats Corn Flakes CerealOrig. 1918 Pepsinic Seltzer "amelotte" Heavy Stock Cardboard & Tin Framed Sign1995 Vintage Old Milwaukee Cardboard Beer Sign Fisherman Fish 1995 Vintage Old Milwaukee Cardboard Beer Sign Hunters Welcome OrangeBud Light Lime Green Graphic Wall Beer Bar Sign Wrap Cardboard 30ft Budweiser Wild Turkey Bourbon Cardboard Collectible Advertisement Sign 62 Inches Tall Vintage Beer Sign Cardboard -arrow BeerVintage Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer Sign - Vacuformed Plastic With Cardboard BackVintage 1948 7-up Soda Pop Store Cardboard Display Stand SignC1915 Vaseline Cardboard Sign Cures Nervous Headaches Neuralgia Sore ThroatsVintage Heineken's Imported Holland Beer Sign Toc Tin Over Cardboard NosMint 1950's Embossed Schaeffer Tin Over Cardboard Beer Sign New York, Ny1989 Xmas Cardboard Coke Advertising Sign - 16 By 14 Inches - Good ConditionVintage Buffalo Cigarettes Die-cut Cardboard Store SignAntique Mayo's Tobacco Sign - Original Turn Of The Century Cardboard 'football' Vintage Bosch Spark Plugs Double Sided Cardboard Sign1960's F & S Beer Quart Bottle Cardboard Sign - Shamokin, PaIroquois Beer & Ale - Buffalo, Ny - Cardboard Sign - UnusedBud Light Lime Green Graphic Wall Beer Bar Sign Wrap Cardboard 30ft Budweiser Vintage 1970's Lot Of Mobil Super Motor Oil Cardboard Cans Not Mobiloil SignOld Vintage Spur Canada Dry Ginger Ale Cardboard Chalkboard Pop Sign AdvertisingVintage Pfeiffer Premium Beer 3-d Bottle Foil/cardboard/plastic Beer Bar Sign Mc Donalds Cardboard Haloween Sign 1977 11 X 14 In Used1930's Trolley Car Bus Cardboard Sign Advertising Be Careful Vintage Marlboro Cardboard Tacker Sign 11"1/2 By 9" Western BootsVintage Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer Cardboard Bar Signs1950s Walter's Beer Cardboard Tacker Sign Tavern Trove Eau Claier WiVintage Sign Cardboard Kraft Jar Spreads Early American Glasses