The Art of Appeal
by Maxine Carter-Lome
Like many of the topics we cover in this magazine, “Advertising” is a broad category assigned to a wide variety of collectibles, including signs, posters, serving trays, calendars, clocks, product packaging, store displays, and magazine ads to name just a few. In fact, it extends to anything designed and intended to promote a brand or product, overtly or subliminally, and evoke a [positive] consumer response.
Advertising has been a major force in our capitalist economy since the mid-19th century, driving our consumer culture by integrating product branding and messaging into everyday life and onto everyday objects. Over the years, the look and nature of advertising has changed to reflect the changing times and new mediums, which makes it both part of our contemporary culture and, when viewed through the lens of a collection, an historical reflection of our past. Collectors of advertising say they respond to the images, artwork, graphics, icons, and a host of other factors, not the least of which is nostalgia and pride in their regional history and brand.
When it comes to advertising, ‘Coke is King.’ Since 1893 when the Coca-Cola Company registered its Spencerian script trademark with the U.S. Patent office, the company has imprinted its brand on thousands of objects, making it easy for new collectors to take up the hobby and seasoned collectors to find new ways and items to expand their collection. In this issue we interview the president of the National Coca-Cola Collectors Club, who surrounds himself with Coke memorabilia – primarily objects of everyday life – from a collection amassed over a 35-year period of time (Collector’s Showcase, page 50). Dan Deane shares that his interest and passion for collecting Coke memorabilia has more to do with the appeal of the company’s highly-recognized graphic artwork and the slice of American life its advertising represents than an affinity for the company or preference for the beverage. While his collection is impressive by any standard, he’ll be the first to tell you he has friends who can put his collection to shame!
Cultural Historian Marshall McLuhun calls advertising “the greatest art form of the twentieth century,” and it’s easy to see why when you look at the vintage advertising images in Michael Eckles article “Antique Advertising at Auction” on page 23, and learn what some of these items fetch at auction. Today, vintage advertising is coveted by collectors for their aesthetic value, the artists that produced them, the nostalgia they evoke and the history they represent. Collectors invest in vintage advertising like they do a piece of fine art, proudly displaying them on their walls as artwork.
In his article “Advertising Icons” on page 28, Pop Culture Historian Warren Dotz looks at another facet of advertising – brand mascots and product characters – and the role they play in the advertising collectibles arena. The advent of mass production led to a host of brand ambassadors in the early twentieth century that still appear today – think the Jolly Green Giant, Mr. Peanut, Tony the Tiger, Charlie the Tuna, Snap Crackle & Pop, the Michelin Tire Man, the Pillsbury Doughboy, and the many other endearing and enduring product mascots we grew up with. Companies spent millions taking their brand ambassadors off the advertising page to put something 3-dimensional and representative into the hands of consumers. Today these characters in the form of figurines and special-offer promotional items such as toys, telephones, coin banks, and cameras – are fun to collect for their nostalgia value, with rarer items reaching new paddle heights at auction.
The market for advertising road signs is also a sign of our times. After the Great Depression, the federal government encouraged citizens to hit the nation’s newly improved and extended roads and “See America First.” Gas and automotive companies in particular used the new network of post-war roadways and the businesses that sprung up along these new routes to place and advertise their brand and products. Today these signs are, “more than just memorabilia, they are pieces of art from our automotive past and are being celebrated with increased value and collectability, says Dan Mecum, president of the Road Art division of Mecum Auctions. Mecum Auctions takes credit for coining the term Road Art to better represent the growing popularity of automotive paraphernalia, including signs, gas pumps, dioramas, cans, and more among Automobilia and Petroliana collectors, as well as interior decorators looking to turn these road worn items into home décor accents. You can read more about Road Art at Auction on page 30.
The technologies and platforms that have emerged in the past 10 years — Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. — have revolutionized the way brands communicate with and reach consumers, and will no doubt add new dimensions to the market for future enthusiasts, but for today it is the traditional forms of advertising and branding, and their one-off products that attract collectors and bring in the big money at auction.
The Art of Appeal