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 And when the signs wore out due to weather, or went out of date as advertising campaigns were updated, they could simply be tossed.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

Nice Old Cardboard Cuban Cousin Advertising Cigar Tobacco Sign Not Tin CanNice Old Cardboard Die Cut Red Man Chewing Advertising Tobacco Sign Not TinDrewrys Extra Dry Beer First...for Thirst Les Kouba Cardboard Display SignNice Old Cardboard Die Cut Capadura Dog Advertising Cigar Tobacco Sign Not TinVintage Dr. Pepper Good For Life Judge Black Robe 10 2 4 Cardboard Display SignAcme Beer Cowgirl Pin Up Original Framed Cardboard Sign Stunning!1942 Coca Cola Cardboard Sign 16x271941 Coca-cola Skater Girl Cardboard Sign 16x27Vintage Original Purina Milking Rations Cardboard SignVintage Cardboard Fan Hanger Sign - Canada Dry Spur Soda Bottle - Old Soda SignPopeye Westinghouse Mazda Lamp Large Cardboard Standing Sign 1934 Original Rare1949 Wise Potato Chips Die Cut Owl Cardboard Advertising Store Display Sign Vintage We Proudly Serve 7 Up Blended Drinks Cardboard Display Sign1950s Coca Cola Cardboard Sign Vintage Original Koldpruf Anti-freeze Framed Cardboard Sign1941 Coca-cola Cowboy Cardboard Sign 16x27Vintage Drink Hires With Food 5¢ Plus Deposit Small Cardboard Display Sign Squirrel Brand Salted Peanuts Advertising Cardboard Sign Die CutAntique & Rare Spud Cigarettes Cardboard Store Sign Advertising W/ Lady & DogScarce—metal Over Cardboard Stroh’s Beer SignVintage 1950's Coca-cola Cardboard Insert Sign Set Of 4Beautiful Vintage Nesbitt's Soda Cardboard Sign Rare!Vintage 1950's Coca-cola Cardboard Insert Sign Set Of 4Vintage Squirt Drink Cardboard Sign Unused Rotate Me I Sell Best When FreshBendix Scintilla Division Tin Over Cardboard Sign Aircraft Magnetos Vintage Coke Cardboard Advertising SignVintage Squirrel Brand Salted Peanuts Cardboard Advertising Store Display SignVintage Original Dino Dollar Cardboard Trifold SignBlack Americana Cardboard Smoking Sambo Standup Advertising Display SignVtg 1930s Rare Rainbo Bread Store Sign 17x9 Cardboard AirplaneCorona Beer Giant Standup Sign Cardboard Sexy Girl Mexican Busty Latina Leg ShowVintage 1945 Cardboard Calendar Sign Texaco Pin-up Girl Nude Vintage 1943 Pepsi-cola Bottles 5 Cent Cardboard Sign Bigger BetterVtg Gene Autry Cowboy Boots Advertising Sign Graham Brown Shoe Company CardboardCorona Beer Giant Standup Sign Cardboard 6 Feet Tall Mexican Mariachi Band MusicCamel Cigarette Sign "flavors Of The Exotic" Cardboard 12 By 18 Inches. New Vintage Store Display Cardboard Sign-carnation Breakfast-football Players-1980'sChamp Cherry Cardboard Soda Advertising Sign1930's Yara Tobacco Embossed Cardboard Sign - Warehouse Find!Vintage Cardboard Mobil-socony Special Oil Advertising Sign 6 1/4" By 10 1/2" Original Chesterfield Cigarette Tobacco Advertising Cardboard Sign 42"x41" Vintage Daddy's Brand Slice Bacon Cardboard Sign 11" X 11" Unknown Date & OriginC1910-1920 Andrew Curtin Cigar Cardboard Advertising Sign, NrVintage Oktoberfest Cardboard Sign- St. Pauli GirlDenver & Rio Grande D&rgw "do Not Hump" 11 X 8 Cardboard Sign