Antique & Vintage Advertising



2015-06-26 11:12:31

Antique & Vintage Advertising is a highly popular and eclectic field for collectors, including a wide range of items created to promote products, brands, services and companies.

Items can include advertising signs, shop and counter displays, posters, product labels and packaging, promotional items, advertising clocks, catalogues, magazine adverts, badges, vintage clothing and related ephemera.

The category can encompass numerous other collecting areas, including breweriana, tobacciana, automobilia and petroliana, among others.


Some of the first advertisements appeared in weekly newspapers in England in the 18th century, and generally featured books and medicines. The ‘father of modern advertising’ is considered to be Thomas J. Barratt, marketing genius of the Pears Soap company. Working for them in the late 19th century, he raised the brand to dizzying heights, and laid the foundations for some of the most common tactics and ideas in advertising, marketing and merchandising practice. Vintage Pears Soap advertising is popular with collectors.

The history of advertising illustrates changing social attitudes and cultural trends, as well as the influence of artistic movements such as Art Nouveau and Art Deco on advert design and product branding through the years.

Adverts from the 20th century show the changing roles of women in society and the use of sexuality to sell products, the emphasis on patriotism during wartime, the consumer optimism of the 1950s and 60s and the developing attitudes towards alcohol and tobacco in society. As such they are often used as research materials for cultural historians, and can sometimes be found as part of the ephemera collections of museums and libraries.

Modern and contemporary artists such as Andy Warhol, Banksy and Wang Guangyi have extensively appropriated advertising brands in their work, either reverentially or as a comment on the increasingly consumerist nature of society. Richard Prince re-photographed the Marlboro adverts, and his images have subsequently aold for millions of dollars. These artworks have often prompted a surge in collecting interest in particular brands.

Types of collectible advertising

Advertising signs
Advertising signs were produced from the 19th century on wood or porcelain, and into the 20th century, where they began to be mass-manufactured using tin. Large scale neon examples are particularly popular with collectors. Read more...

Advertising posters
Advertising posters first became mass-produced during the late 19th century, and remained popular up until the 1920s and 1930s. The paper posters replaced the porcelain and metal of advertising signs, as it was cheaper and easier to produce on a large scale, and to send out to distant distributors.

Advertising clocks
In the 19th century, publically displayed clocks became a popular place on which to advertise businesses and products. There were certain companies that produced advertising clocks for businesses. Later, clocks with promotional brand messages began to be mass produced for the consumer’s home as items of merchandise. Vintage examples of these are also collectible. Read more...

Advertising thermometers
The first advertising thermometers were designed to be placed in public places so that people wanting to know the temperature would see brand names wherever they looked. The older versions were therefore made of durable metal for outside wear, others of wood. Vintage examples were produced as items of merchandise for consumers to take home. Read more...

Advertising mirrors
From the end of the 19th century, advertising mirrors were produced in pocket sizes as a salesman’s giveaway, in a wide variety of shapes and guises depending on the product they were promoting. From the 1930s and 40s, large sized advertising mirrors were created to hang in bars and shops, with a brand name, logo, and sometimes a tagline applied with a decal on the mirror’s surface. Read more...

Advertising trays

Trays were most often produced to advertise drinks, both alcoholic and soft, as these would generally be served on a tray. Beer trays were produced from the late 19th century, printed with logos, brand names and slogans, for both public and home use.

Advertising packaging
Methods of packaging products, particularly food and drink, have altered dramatically throughout history. It became commonplace to affix promotional messages and brand logos to the outside of a product, as a method of advertising. Many people collect antique & vintage examples of tins, cartons and paper labels for the sake of the advertising.

Advertising calendars
Advertising calendars were first produced by such entrepreneurs as Thomas J Barratt of Pears Soap. From year at a glance pieces to monthly paintings, these became very popular ways of advertising products. Pin-up calendars of the 1940s and 50s are particularly sought after. They are also often the subject of interest because of the artist or illustrator who designed the images, such as Gil Elvgren in the case of Pin-up, and Norman Rockwell for many other companies.

Guide to collecting

Collecting antique and vintage examples of advertising has become increasingly popular in recent years. A nostalgia for advertising from the days before computers and television, before the public was constantly bombarded with marketing, is one potential reason. Collectors also often have a historical interest in the early days of a particular brand’s development.

Many collectors of advertising items choose to focus their collections on a particular area: one industry, product or service, a specific brand, or an era of advertising.

Well-known brands are always popular with collectors, as those with a long-standing history have a wealth of varying material to collect. The most popular categories for collectors are car manufacturers, automobilia and petroliana, for example Shell Oil and Mobil Oil, breweriana such as Schlitz beer, Jax beer and Ballantine beer, food companies like Campbell and soft drinks companies, most notably Coca-Cola.

Due to the nostalgia for vintage advertising, there are numerous reproduction examples being mass-manufactured today. Most of these will market themselves as deliberate imitations, however, there are always some fraudsters who attempt to pass off a modern reproduction as a ‘genuine vintage’ example. While some of them even go so far as to use chemical aging processes, there are ways to scupper them if you know how an item should look and feel. Thus it is essential to research as much as you can about your desired advertisement.

Often advertising collectibles are integrated into a wider collection of memorabilia; for example, posters and lobby cards advertising movies are a popular form of film memorabilia, and promotional items from commercial airlines are collected as aviation memorabilia.

Where to find advertising collectibles

There are a large number of dealers who specialise in ephemera and nostalgia items such as advertising collectibles. The majority of these have online sites along with stores and warehouses. There are also specialist auctions, and many clubs and organizations such as the Antique Advertising Association of America have dedicated collectors fairs and events.

Some auction houses hold regular sales devoted specifically to advertising collectibles. Items can also be found in antique stores, car boot sales, house and business clearance sales, and classified adverts in collecting publications.

Useful Links

  • The Antique advertising association of America - A club for collectors of antique and popular advertising.
  • Morphy Auctions - An auction house that hold regularl specialist sales of antique & vintage advertising.
  • Richard Opfer Auctioneering - An auction house that hold specialist sales of various historical brand advertising.
  • Showtime Auction Services - An auction house that hold specialist sales of advertising memorabilia.
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