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 And when the signs wore out due to weather, or went out of date as advertising campaigns were updated, they could simply be tossed.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

Supreme Tin-over-cardboard Button Beer Sign South Bethlehem, Pennsylvania Toc PaVintage 1940s Dr Pepper Fireside Fun Cardboard 10x2x4 Framed Advertising Sign1974 Spiderman Toy Store Display Sign Record Cardboard Shop Poster Original MegoCoca-cola Is Coke Cardboard SignHampden Mild Ale Celluloid Toc Beer Sign Willimansett Mass Tin Over Cardboard MaColorful Fox Head "400" Advertising Cardboard Die Cut Beer Sign Waukesha Wi Nice1951 "pepsi-cola ~ With Pepsi Of Course!" Self Framed Cardboard Hanging SignBallernia And Clown Cardboard Sign For Coca-cola Artwork By Sundblom1960's Hamm's Beer Die-cut Cardboard Sign - St. Paul, Mn - Hamm's Bear1949 Coca Cola Cardboard Sign Advertising Sign Be Refreshed Bathing Suit1950s Hyde Park Beer St Louis Advertising Sign Cardboard 26 X 111941 Coca Cola Cardboard Sign Rare Advertising Sign It's A Family Affair 1935 Coca Cola Cardboard Sign Refresh Yourself Double SidedMiller High Life Cardboard Sign Litho U. S. A.Rare World War Ii National War Fund Placard Poster Cardboard Sign Original WwiiVintage Schmidts Beer Cardboard Sign Tv Bowling Make That Spare Philadelphia Pa1929 Full-o-pep Feed & Seed Co Cardboard Egg Advertising Sign W/adjustable Price1953 "drink Coca-cola ~ Ham Salad Sandwich And Coca-cola" Cardboard SignOriginal Vintage 1946 "yes Girl" Coca-cola Cardboard Ad SignSalem Cigarette Thermometer Sign 1960s Metal Front Cardboard Back Works1957 "serve Coca-cola ~ Sign Of Good Taste" X-mas Bell Cardboard Hanging SignRare 1960's Drewery's Beer Cardboard Hanging Sign W/ Flat Top Can, South Bend InOld Squirrel Brand Nuts Peanut Butter Die-cut Cardboard Advertising Litho SignVintage Dad's Root Beer Soda Pop Advertising Stand Up Cardboard Sign ~ Very Old Die-cut Cardboard Sign Sunkist Lemonade W Large JuicerVintage Stag Beer Sign - Die Cut Cardboard- National Tavern MonthS.s.s. Tonic -cardboard Advertising SignOrig 1941 Coca Cola Home Refreshment Cardboard Store Advertising SignVintage "drink Coca-cola" Bottle Cap Cardboard Hanging SignVintage 60's Rolling Rock Beer Cardboard Sign Great Graphics Hard To FindChew Big Nine Clippings Cardboard Chewing Tobacco Advertisement SignVintage Antique Coke Coca-cola & Royal Crown Cardboard Signs Posters 1950Vintage Red Man Chewing Tobacco 15" Store Cardboard Sign Litho In UsaVintage Eskimo Pie Ice Cream Lot Of 4 Small Light Cardboard Signs 5x8"Vintage Aa American Airlines Cardboard Diecut Airplane Sign MintCarnival Poster Worth County Iowa Ia Northwood Vintage Sign Cardboard RareEarly Holland,michigan/horse Team & Wagon,cardboard Advertising Sign!