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Collecting Mania: Advertising Collectibles

Updated on March 20, 2011

It may seem odd to consider advertisements as collectibles when they are so pervasive - the average American will be exposed to more than 7 million ads in a lifetime. Yet corporate icons and product mascots have managed to find a way into our hearts and collective heritage. From Mr. Peanuts to Coca-Cola signs to Heinz pickle pins, the sales props of corporate America have become pure Americana.

Most advertising aficionados narrow their focus to a particular theme, such as farm- or food-related items, or concentrate on a certain era. Still others are drawn to the stunning visuals of the artwork itself and wind up zeroing in on a favorite artist. Over the years, highly respected artists and illustrators have honed their skills hawking less-than-glamorous wares in day jobs. Norman Rockwell created ads for Coke, Crest, Listerine, and Sears and Roebuck, to name a few. Maxfield Parrish, a highly regarded American artist who blended fantasy and romanticism, helped sell Jell-O and Goodrich Tires. Ads such as these, particularly in poster form, are attracting a groundswell of interest among both buyers and sellers. Personally, I've been searching for some 1973 Harley Davidson posters for decades, (especially the one with the black Super Glide with the multicolored AMF laser beams girdling the tank) since I had them taped up to the door of my high school locker!

The heyday for poster art came at the turn of the 20th century - in the days before "mass media," when posters were generally the most effective means for advertisers to promote their products. At the time, the process for creating posters was lengthy and complicated. The images were first traced onto porous stones and then printed in a process known as stone lithography. The benefit of this painstaking process was that the posters from this period displayed layered textures and rich colors.

Back then, even small companies were hiring talented artists to create the posters. The work of French artist Alphonse Mucha, sometimes referred to as the Father of Art Nouveau, is among the most highly prized. Mucha's ads for Job cigarette rolling papers are celebrated among collectors. His posters are really glorious examples of Art Nouveau imagery, and they come with equally glorious prices, ranging from $15,000 to $25,000.

In the 1920's and 1930's, Adolphe Mouron-Cassandre was to Deco what Mucha was to Nouveau. Among his distinguished body of work are ads for breath mints, shoes, and gramophones. Today, Mouron-Cassandre posters fetch $20,000 to $40,000 at auction. With the exception of these artists' work, quality posters can be found for relatively small sums.

For years, there has been a small group of people who have viewed posters as a respectable, collectible art form. But only recently has product advertising begun to receive legitimacy.

Over the years advertisers have slapped their slogans on just about anything and everything. As a result, the field of advertising collectibles encompasses an amazing range of merchandise - lamps, signs, cards, posters, trading cards, mirrors, tins. Even more impressive is the quantity of output. Some of America's oldest corporations such as Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Busch, and Heinz, have produced literally millions of branded trinkets.

Continued In Collecting Mania: Advertising Collectibles Part 2

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