Collecting vintage advertising

Rebecca Mayhew.

Rebecca Mayhew. - Credit: Nick Butcher

Under the hammer

Adverts and logos are all around us – from the apple symbol on our phones to the chocolate bars we have been abstaining from during Lent (well, in this household anyway) – we are bombarded with evocative images from dawn to dusk.

It is unsurprising therefore that we can form fond memories and associations with the more complex and beautiful advertising signs of days gone by (rather than so much of the gaudy and brash advertising on the television), and the result is that there is a good market for advertising memorabilia.

The most easily recognisable advertising medium in the early days was porcelain – from the late 1800s manufacturers noted the durable nature of porcelain and its use became widespread – even Coca Cola was first advertised in this way. Cost of course factored into the choice of materials, hence a move towards the use of tin signs became more common. Unlike their counterparts however, tin signs were prone to rust and degradation so many of those that have survived the years are not in perfect condition – a point which should be noted when shopping for this type of memorabilia – if it looks too perfect and the prices seems too reasonable, be suspicious of forgeries!

Companies such as Coca Cola soon realised that advertising could also be put on items that were designed to be used – practical items such as thermometers, calendars, mirrors and clocks, and these became the focus of attention as some store owners kept vintage clocks on display, despite the branding, purely because they were useful. Fantastic free advertising for the manufacturer!

As with starting any collection, try and do your research before setting out to a sale. Think about what you are going to do with your vintage advertising when you get it home – not only do vintage signs look great in a kitchen, but they also look good outside or in your smallest room. Always think about condition and materials. There are lots of reproductions out there - ask yourself whether the period that the item is alleged to have come from works in with what it is made of – this will be one of your biggest clues as to authenticity.