Few, if any, corporate entities have generated as many collectible "advertiques" as the Coca-Cola Co. Over the years, there have, for example, been signs made of everything from porcelain to plastic, calendars and clocks, thermometers and trays, lamps and lighters, radios and rulers, games and glasses, bottles and buttons, to name just a few.
Let's take a look at one of the richest areas for collectors -- the advertising sign.
* Paper signs: Any sign dating from before the turn of the century, especially one referring to the concoction's medicinal claims, is particularly rare and valuable.
A 30-by-40-inch 1895 Cameo paper sign printed by J. Ottmann Litho Co. showing a sad-eyed young lady surrounded by the words "drink Coca-Cola . . . delicious . . . refreshing . . . cures headache . . . relieves exhaustion" is now listed at $12,500. A 1908 sign with a much cheerier female subject, displaying the motto "good to the last drop," is valued at $8,500.
* Cardboard signs: Like much of Coca-Cola advertising, cardboard signs provide a virtual visual history of the American woman, from the modest "Victorian girl" of 1897 ("the ideal brain tonic . . . relieves mental and phisical [sic] exhaustion") to the flappers of the '20s to the bathing beauties of the '30s to the crinolined prom queens of the '50s, with early rarities sometimes in the $6,000 to $7,000 range.
* Trolley signs: A subcategory of cardboard signs is the standard-size (11-by-20 1/2 -inch) species used during the heyday of trolley cars. They often were variations of Coke ads used in other media; among the rarest are those displaying the artwork of Hamilton King.
Some early trolley signs pleaded, "Call for it by full name . . . Nicknames encourage substitution." (The firm didn't cave in and use the name Coke until 1941.) Trolley signs can bring up to $2,000 and more.
* Glass, porcelain and tin signs: Many show the iconic logo, sometimes with a Coca-Cola bottle or glass. High prices for those depicting some of the more famous models: a 1904 glass-covered paper Lillian Nordica, $3,000; an 1899 tin Hilda Clark, $7,500; a 1914 "Betty," $3,500. There also are neon signs dating back to the 1930s, flange signs that were attached to the sides of buildings, cutout signs in the shape of a single bottle or a six-pack, arrow-shape signs, disc (also called button) signs and a variety of signs that light up.
Recent references include "Petretti's Coca-Cola Collectibles Price Guide, Eighth Edition," by Allan Petretti (Wallace-Homestead, an imprint of Chilton Book Co.), an encyclopedia guide.
This hardcover volume describes, illustrates and prices more than 3,000 items and also offers an historic overview and collecting tips.
A visual history of vintage advertising in general is presented in "America For Sale: A Collector's Guide to Antique Advertising," by Douglas Congdon-Martin (Schiffer Publishing), through a profusion of high-resolution color illustrations. A price guide also
Linda Rosenkrantz edited Auction magazine and is the author of five books, including "Auction Antiques Annual." Write Collect, c/o Copley News Service, P.O. Box 190, San Diego, Calif. 92112-0190. Letters cannot be answered personally.