Skip to content
Vintage Advertising & Memorabilia: An Insight

Vintage Advertising & Memorabilia: An Insight

Little captures the zeitgeist of an era better than its advertising. It might be the product – Sunshine Soap or Palethorpes Sausages. It might be the medium – the petrol pump globe or the soda fountain. It might be the typography – the familiar Cadbury signature or the red and white Coca Cola logo. Or it might be the artwork – the Spratts dog or the Fry’s Five Boys. Together they evoke the sense of a bygone era while providing a big helping of decorative appeal. It’s no surprise that in the internet age, today’s cafes, bars, restaurants and shops are bursting once more with ‘vintage’ style signage and lettering – a homage to a pre-digital lifestyle.

The 20th century was the golden era of the advertisement – be it the billboard sign or the ‘point of sale’ promotional device.

Vitreous enamel signs were the most common form of street signage from the 1880s into the 1950s. The technique of enamelling on iron had been developed in central Europe in the early 1800s but it took on a new guise with pioneering UK factories such as the Patent Enamel Company in Selly Oak and the Chromographic Enamel Company in Wolverhampton.

The days of the barn find or the profitable visit to the scrap metal merchant are fast disappearing – and so is the era of pocket money collecting. Instead, says Phil Mires of PM Antiques & Collectable “we have a sophisticated market where the best pieces can command four and even five-figure sums. While once collectors focussed on the earliest examples from the pre-war era, the field is broadening to include material from the 1960s, 70s and 80s.”

Some dyed-in-the-wool advertising enthusiasts will focus on a particular brand or a particular subject, be it confectionary, breweriana, tobacco or agriculture. However, the vogue for the industrial style and the trend towards eclectic interiors has sent advertising and related memorabilia into the mainstream. The outsize letters in bold typefaces used to create shop or building names are a favourite device to make a quirky interior statement. Grab them while you can from PM Antiques at around £25 each.

Signs promoting tea, coffee and groceries provide an immediate focal point for any retro style kitchen while vintage transport notices or signage from public buildings can, when taken out of their intended context, add a light-hearted touch to home decoration. Consider the ‘Gentleman’ gilt metal and glass cinema foyer sign in stock at PM Antiques for £400, or the ‘Spratts, Meat Fibrine Dog Cakes’ enamel sign (illustrated left) for £150.

As with most collecting areas, rarity is a key factor. However, straightforward visual appeal and condition is an equally important determinant of price. Pictorial signs will generally outset those that display only typography. Pieces that have survived with only minor signs of decay and retained original colouring, will bring significantly more than heavily ‘play-worn’ counterparts. However, Phil Mires cautions against the ‘miracle’ survivor. “It’s worth remembering that some popular signs have been reproduced since the 1980s and some are showing a few signs of age. Originals possess a charm and patina that modern-day designs cannot compete with.”

Petroliana is always popular for ‘man caves’. Many of the most highly prized pieces of vintage advertising fall into this category: the record for a British enamel sign currently stands at £28,000 bid for a rare BP sign depicting a racing car crossing the finish line titled ‘The Winner ‘BP’ The British Petrol.’

Particularly sought after, as they display so well, are the glass globes with printed logos that adorned most petrol pumps into the 1970s. Every collector wants the classic examples for Shell and Esso but then the search is for the more obscure marks. PM Antiques recently sold two lozenge-shaped examples promoting the merits of National Premium and Power Regular. The firm is always interested in hearing from members of the public with similar pieces for sale.

PM Antiques also offer a range of related automobilia objects from car mascots (a rare Lalique ‘Coq Nain’ Crouching Cockerel model in topaz is priced at £2500) to contemporary pictures of classic cars by Berkshire artist Roz Wilson (her acrylics on canvas of a Mini Cooper S and Mark I MGA 1500 are each priced at £1000).

Looking to purchase vintage advertising and automobilia? Take a look at our product pages to browse our current range. Feel free to contact us on 01932 640113 or if you have any questions or enquiries.

Previous article Lladro For Sale – Our Latest Collection