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Collecting Mania: Advertising Collectibles Part 2

Updated on March 20, 2011

Ketchup mogul and founder Henry J. Heinz came up with one of the most popular giveaways in merchandising history: a tiny gherkin charm, which he unveiled at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893. The pickle charm eventually evolved into a pickle pin and has been manufactured every year since its debut. To mark the millennium, Heinz introduced a ketchup pin, mint-marked with the year 2000. Demand was so high that when the pin was offered for sale on the Heinz Web site, collector traffic brought the site to a standstill. Many of these beloved treasures are on display at the Senator John Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, and all have increased in value.
When it comes to brand loyalty, according to some collectors, things really do go better with Coke. The memorabilia of this global company is so popular, there's a non-profit organization devoted to it, the Coca-Cola Collectors Club, with 50 local chapters.

Why does Coke resonate so deeply with so many? Everyone has some memory of Coca-Cola as a child, growing up. It may be a first date, the corner grocery store, a treat given to them. Some of the items on collectors' most-wanted lists include old cardboard advertising pictures and tin signs used for outdoor ads. Condition is critical with both, since these items were exposed to the elements. There's always interest in serving trays, many of which display interesting artistry. A vintage Coke tray can easily top $3,000. Rare Coca-Cola calendars don't stay on the auction block for long either. Early-20th-century calendars can set you back $10,000 to $15,000.

Antique advertising signs have long been a collectibles mainstay. Wood and metal placards generate their share of interest, but just about anything that's porcelain will command a high price. A porcelain gas station sign, for instance, will command a price two to three times higher than one made of metal. Neon is another good seller, he says. Early neon signs easily sell for hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.

The next hot-selling area will likely be tobacco-related items. Tobacciana already has a large constituency, due in no small part to the striking graphics of some cigarette ads. Brands such as Old Gold and Chesterfield sport highly stylized Art Deco designs. As cigarette laws become increasingly restrictive, anything from the 1930's and 40's is going to be worth four to five times its current price in just a few years.

Reproductions have always posed a challenge for collectors. Some are so good, it's nearly impossible to distinguish them from the real thing. The key to building a good collection is self-education. Newcomers need to be able to identify and date vintage items. There are countless online guides as well as books which will serve to provide handy guides to the value of virtually any ad collectible item you are likely to come across. A little background is also the best defense against overspending on your investment. Condition is paramount. It's better to pass on than to settle for an item of questionable quality. Always examine objects carefully for signs of excess wear, rusting, cracks, or tears.

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