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 And when the signs wore out due to weather, or went out of date as advertising campaigns were updated, they could simply be tossed.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

St.paul Minnesota Hamms Digesto Malt Hop Tonic Cardboard Sign Health Brew Drink1932 Ac Spark Plug Sign - Cardboard - Advertising - EphemeraNorthern Beer Tin Over Cardboard Sign 1940s Superior Wisconsin Nos Toc1950s Orange Nehi Cardboard Sign - Teenagers Playing Ping Pong Vintage 7 Up Diecut Cardboard Double-sided Flange Sign 1950's Champagne Velvet Beer Tin Over Cardboard Sign Artist Hy Hintermeister1950s Royal Crown Cola Rc Cola Cardboard Sign - Car Racing ThemeRare 1940's Vernor's Ginger Ale Cardboard Display SignGeneral Country Store Paper Cardboard Advertising Poster Sign Raleigh CigarettesVintage Kamm's Beer Cardboard Sign Unused & Gorgeous Made By Kalasign Company!Scarce 1930's Genesee Light Ale Cardboard Beer Sign Rochester Ny Hunting Cabin Rare Orignal 1940's Pepsi Cardboard Advertising Sign " Nice " Bigger And BetterVery Rare 1972 Pepsi Cola "say Pepsi Please" Tin/cardboard Sign - Soda RarityAmazing Robin Hood Flour Display Sign Cardboard Die CutBlack Americana Cardboard Smoking Sambo Standup Advertising Display SignVery Scarce—nos Tin Over Cardboard Barber Shop Sign1940s 50s Kelly Springfield Tires Standup 33-1/2" Cardboard Sign Not PorcelainVlintage Cardboard Pride Hybrid Corn SignVintage 1950 Seven Up The Fresh Family Drink Cardboard Advertising Sign Nos NiceVintage Nehi Beverages Cardboard Advertising Soda Sign- NiceRedtop Beer 3pc Cardboard Mobile Sign Atlantic Brg ChicagoVintage Cardboard Ice Delivery Window Card SignVintage Cardboard Sign Now In Zip Tops Holihans Pilsener Beer - Lawrence, MaVint. Butternut Bread Cardboard Store Advertising Display Die-cut Sign No. 20 Vintage Filling Station Gas Pump Cardboard Price Sign 23 Cents Tax 3 1960's Meister Brau Beer Tin Over Cardboard Metal Sign Antique AdvertisingCoca-cola Nostalgic Printed Advertising Cardboard Sign, 16 Inch, New.