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 And when the signs wore out due to weather, or went out of date as advertising campaigns were updated, they could simply be tossed.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

16" Champion Spark Plug Stand Up Sign ---hard Thick CardboardVintage Coca Cola 2-sided 1950s' Cardboard Sign Rare Original No Reserve 20 * 36Rare Hillsboro Pale Beer Tin Over Cardboard Sign Hutter Brg Hillsboro WisconsinRheingold Mcsorley's Ale Toc Beer Sign Liebmann Brooklyn, New York Tin CardboardVintage Original They All Want Coca-cola Cardboard Sign 1941 Very Good ConditionVintage Rare Wehle Mule Head Cardboard Sign12" X 10" Sinclair Hear Now Stand Up Hard Heavy Cardboard SignVintage Coca Cola 2-sided 1950s' Cardboard Sign Original No Reserve 30" By 50"1957 Coca Cola Mobile Cardboard Sign. Coke Die Cut Store Display. Columbia Beer Cardboard Sign Easel Back Shenandoah, Pa MintRare 1960s Coca-cola "zing" Litho Cardboard Sign....nice!Vintage Dr. Pepper Cardboard Bottle 12 Pack Carrier Soda Cola SignVintage 7 Up Cardboard Flange Sign, NosLong & Beautiful Cardboard Store Sign For Whistle Soda Pop Fm 19481930's Pabst Beer Cardboard Easel Back Display Back Bar Sign Milwaukee Wi Pbr NrCalumet Baking Powder Co Cardboard Adv Sign Chicago Il Indian IllustrationVintage Cleo Cola Cardboard Fan Sign Cool Soda1960's Fina Regular Cardboard Motor Oil Quart Tin Can Canada Sign Garage Gas1940s Drewrys Beer 9''inch"sign Double-sided Cardboard In Good Shape (man Cave)Rare Sign Wortz Penny Pies- Standing Cardboard-wortz Biscuit Fort Smith,arkansasUtica Club Beer Cardboard SignUtica Club Beer Cardboard Stand Up SignSet 1970 Falstaff Bottle/old Pull Tab Beer Can Adv. Display Signs~cardboard~22"tVintage Childs' Razor Blades Cardboard Advertising Sign - Barber ShopVintage Nehi Soda Cardboard Advertising Sign Nehi Bottle Lady Legs Vintage Cleo Cola Cardboard Fan Pull SignVintage Schmidt,s Cardboard Beer Sign - Bucks Fighting. 1950,s/60,sVintage Coca-cola Hot Pizza Cardboard Sign 1950s Original CollectibleRare Vintage Cardboard Dupont Photo Products Advertising Sign Art Store DisplayLarge Coca-cola Cardboard Dangler SignVintage John Deere Exit Sign And Fire Extinguisher Sign Cardboard Great Shape Chi Omega Sorority Vintage Owl Signs 1983-1984 Wood And CardboardWitch City Candy Jumbo Cocoanut Cakes 5c Cardboard Sign Salem Ma Ca 1930s Lionel Trains Cardboard Sign 10" X 10"Vintage 1989 Blue Hill Fair Maine Cow Finest Poster Advertising Sign CardboardVintage Pepsi Cardboard (band) Trolley Sign 1969Hart Brand Canned Foods - Cardboard Advertising Sign-w.r. Roach & Co Gr MichiganTwo Sided Fanny Farmer Candies Valentines Day Cardboard SignVintage 1977 1978 Bmw Motocycle Advertising Dealers Hanging Cardboard SignVintage Gaines Meal Pet Dog Food Cardboard Store Sign "see How It's Better"