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Early American Advertising Collecting Offers Something for Everyone

by Wes Cowan (05/17/10).

The artwork on these Northwestern Litho Co. Milwaukee art nouveau bock beer posters, circa 1912-14, reflects the fashions popular at that time. Collecting vintage and antique advertising offers a wide variety of categories, which means there is usually something ti interest everybody.

The artwork on these Northwestern Litho Co. Milwaukee art nouveau bock beer posters, circa 1912-14, reflects the fashions popular at that time. Collecting vintage and antique advertising offers a wide variety of categories, which means there is usually something ti interest everybody.

During the past 50-plus years, Early American advertising has become quite collectable. The diverse variety of items in this field is nearly endless, making early advertising an area that truly has something for everyone. The appeal increases steadily as new and innovative promotions are added to the market place. This field of collecting has a relatively broad historical span, beginning with the period just after the American Civil War through present day, but many collectors choose to focus on a particular type of product or advertisement. Coca-Cola and other soft drink product advertising are among some of the more avidly collected items, as are ads for farm machinery, automobiles, tobacco products, beer, whiskey, guns and ammunition, fishing equipment and much, much more. In fact, it appears that there are collectors for nearly every type of advertising offered for sale.

These Cello Match Safes featuring Tiffin Wagons & Standard Oil would expected to fetch $250-$350 at auction.

These Cello Match Safes featuring Standard Oil and Tiffin Wagons would expected to fetch $250-$350 at auction.

While advertising is big business in America today, it certainly isn’t new business. The idea of placing product logos on seemingly unrelated items reaches back into the 19th century, where companies such as Tiffin Wagons would place their logo on a range of items, including match safes. Just like today, companies placed their logos on useful items such as wall clocks or glassware for both home and saloons, which were given to businesses so that every time you ordered a beer at your local tavern or checked the time at your neighborhood store, you’d see the company identification.

Still, in spite of the wide range of items, certain pieces are more desirable and marketable than others. Some of the most sought-after items in the advertising field are porcelain enameled metal signs, chromolithographed metal signs or chromolithographed paper posters. The artwork on these signs and other types of advertising reflects the fashions popular at that time, and typically the earlier and more colorful the sign or poster, the more valuable or desirable it will be.

Once common retail display items like this Flexees Flexaire women’s undergarments countertop display is rarely seen today.

Once common retail display items like this Flexees Flexaire women’s undergarments countertop display is rarely seen today.

Another of those countertop display items is this ironstone Buckeye Root Beer display, circa 1890-1910.

Another of those countertop display items is this ironstone Buckeye Root Beer extract dispenser, circa 1890-1910.

Although rarely used in current day advertising, retired counter display pieces and product dispensers, such as Flexees Flexaire cast plaster countertop display, or Buckeye Root Beer Extract counter dispenser are also hot items with collectors. Similar items recovered from old country stores, such as counter top cabinets for spools, old hardware store nuts and bolts cabinets and large floor-model display cabinets also find their way into advertising collections.

Advertising collecting offers a truly equal opportunity hobby. Many people choose to collect items related to a certain product or a certain brand name, but an advertising collection can also be built around a particular location, pastime or event. Advertising truly can be found in all shapes and sizes, at all prices, and in all places, so it is a wide open door to the world of collecting! Take a look around your kitchen, and you might just be surprised.

Dr. Wes Cowan is founder and owner of Cowan’s Auctions, Inc. in Cincinnati, Ohio. An internationally recognized expert in historic Americana, Wes stars in the PBS television series “History Detectives” and is a featured appraiser on “Antiques Roadshow.” He can be reached via email at info@historicamericana.com.

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5 Responses to “Early American Advertising Collecting Offers Something for Everyone”

  1. Bill Castle says:

    Of course, the beginning collector must be very careful. Vintage advertising is one of the areas currently attracting the most reproductions and outright fakes.

    Before you begin, you should examine as many samples from the period you’re interested in, and learn as must as possible about the materials and techniques used.

  2. Carl Brock says:

    I have a poster from the 20′s. It is an Arm and Hammer baking soda piece. It displays a trout breaking water after a fly. It is a lovely and original piece. Would like more info as to value and origin. If you can help please contact me. Thank you, Carl Brock

  3. ed martin says:

    i have a embossed metal amusement park trade sign it measures 27inches x 21 inches, it is about pontchartrain beach

  4. bob weissman says:

    I’m collecting old condom tins the rarer the better any for sale ?

  5. I HAVE A TIN THATS SORT OF A BARN RED WITH GOLD TRIM AND A
    ELEPHANT ON IT, IT ALSO ROYAL CEYLON JAVA COFFEE. ALSO
    THE LID SAYS NORTONS PATENT 1881 I HAVE BEEN TRYING FOR
    THE PAST 30 YEARS IF ANY BODY HAS HEARD ABOUT OR SEEN ONE

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