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 And when the signs wore out due to weather, or went out of date as advertising campaigns were updated, they could simply be tossed.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    

Early Indian Theme Iroquois Beer On Draught Tin Over Cardboard Advertising Sign Vintage 1943 Coca-cola Cardboard Sign 36" X 20" You Work Better Refreshed WwiiEastside On Draught Tin Over Cardboard Toc Sign Los Angeles Brewing CaliforniaVintage Coca Cola Sign Cardboard Poster LithographVintage 1940s Drink Cheer Up Soda Cardboard Advertising SignDublin Porter - Toc Tin Over Cardboard Sign - IndianaVintage Embossed Sign-chi-namel Furniture Polish 13" -metal/cardboard-china ManVintage 1920s Kelloggs Cereal Cardboard Advertising SignPepsi Cola 5 Cents Two Sided Cardboard Sign Policeman Country StoreVintage 1940s Drink Mil K Botl Double Sized 5 Cent Cardboard Advertising SignBex Aspirin Powders Vintage Australian 60s Cardboard Display Sign Shop EphemeraVintage Coca Cola Sign Cardboard Poster LithographPepsi Cola Box Sign Rare Vintage Australian 50s Cardboard Shop Display Coca SodaMaster Barber Super Graphic Multi-colored Tinover Cardboard Old Advertising SignCentlivre Beer Cardboard SignRare Vtg Pure Gold Smoking Tobacco Cardboard Sign Greeneville Tenn. Union Made Griesedieck Bros. Beer St.louis Mo. Menu Sign New Old Stock [ Cardboard ] Vintage Paragon Gas Oil Grease Sign Advertising Cardboard Gasolene Oils GreasesVintage Original Howel's Root Beer Cardboard Advertising Sign Busch Beer Hunting Graphic Wall Beer Bar Sign Wrap Cardboard 30ft Budweiser Ab Vintage Mobil Gasoline Advertising Sign Waxed Cardboard 2-sided Radiator CoverVtg 50s Mennen Spray Deodorant For Men Big Cardboard Advertising Display Sign 2 Vintage Advertising Signs Cardboard Counter Stand Up Haywards Military PickleRare Antique Murphys Oil Soap Cardboard SignLava Soap Cardboard 2 Sided Fan Sign. Excellent ConditionTwo Vintage Marvels Cigarette Advertisement Sign Old Cardboard Poster Navy Ad ?Vintage Coca-cola Merry Christmas/happy Holidays Cardboard Advertising Sign 1964-5 New York World's Fair Easel Back Cardboard Window Sign / Poster By DarrowBenjamin Moore & Co. Colors In Oil-tin Advertising Sign With Cardboard BackVintage Grocery Store Cardboard Sign With Double Price Rolls **must See!**Ocean Spray Cranberry Sauce Cardboard Advertising SignYuengling Gold Holiday Basewrap Cardboard Sign 30ft Christmas Beer Lager Bar Bud Light Bottle Blue Graphic Wall Beer Bar Sign Wrap Cardboard 30ft Budweiser Vintage 80's Halloween Die Cut Cardboard Jol, Ghost, Bats, Sign 12.5" Black Crown Graphic Wall Beer Bar Sign Wrap Cardboard 30ft Budweiser Yuengling Silver Holiday Basewrap Cardboard Sign 30ft Christmas Beer Lager Bar