Nov 2014 14

Sign History: Coca-Cola

Sign History - Coke According to the Coca-Cola Fun Facts page, over 10,000 Coke products are drank every second of every day around the globe. Staggering. Coca Cola enjoys one of the most recognizable brand images on the planet.

How did a wounded Civil War veteran create one of the biggest marketing successes of modern history?

You may have guessed it from the title – the answer is signs.

…Okay the fact that the original mixture had cocaine in it may have been the reason, but aggressive signage is also a big part of the reason.


Bold Beginnings


The story of Coca-Cola begins with wounded Civil War colonel John Pemberton who first formulated the mixture under the name “Coca Wine.” at a drugstore in Columbus, Georgia. This French Wine Coca nerve tonic (containing trace amounts of cocaine) was registered in 1885.

The name Coca-Cola came with the passage of prohibition legislation in 1886. At the time, the Coca-Cola formula was being used by three separate businesses.

Though the other two were allowed to keep producing the formula, only one of the three (owned by his Pemberton’s son, Charley) was permitted to keep the name Coca-Cola

In lieu of his father, Charley Pemberton filed for incorporation of the Coca-Cola Company in 1888.

Though the company did not stay in Charley’s grasp for long, this is the same Coca-Cola Company that is in existence today.


A Collector’s Cola


Coca-Cola’s status as a marketing icon has earned the brand a privileged spot in the annals of American history. The ubiquitous cursive white writing on a red background has marked the highs and lows of American history (read more about signs throughout American history here)

Unlike similarly antiquated brands, Coca-Cola has always prided itself as an American tradition. The logo, the shape of the bottles and the flavor are nearly the same as your great great grandparents would have seen, purchased and drank when they were young.

Because of this, Coca-Cola offers collectors an uncommon commodity – a historically unchanged brand that traverses the movements and trends in American advertising. This unique characteristic has contributed to highly-valued antique signs which routinely sell for over $1000.00 on virtual and brick and mortar auctions.

Whether it’s the taboo nature of the orginal formula, the timelessness of the brand’s aesthetic or simply Coca-Cola’s large focus on being “classic,” collectors have been flocking to the cola giant for years, with little signs of slowing down.


Coca-Cola Signs Gallery


Sign History - Coca Cola
Image Credit to LittleRedBarnGiftShop | eBay

1889 – The reproduction above of a vintage 1880’s Coca-Cola sign features the original logo. Notice the word “trademark” in the tail of the leading letter. This original logo marks signs advertising the product from 1887 to 1890. Signs from this era are extremely valuable.

Sign History - Early Coca-Cola
Image Credit to Creative Bloq

1890 – This unique, swirly logo was used for only one year, on a calendar produced by the Coca-Cola company. While no official record of signs bearing this logo exists, the discovery of a sign featuring this logo would no doubt leave the discoverer a very wealthy woman or man.

Early Sign History - Coca Cola
Image Credit to Visit Cartersville

1894 – The world’s first painted wall advertisement for Coca-Cola in Cartersville, Georgia on the side of the Young Brothers Pharmacy. The sign still stands today and was given substantial restoration work in 1989.

Sign History- Coca-Cola
Image Credit to Kettlecat | eBay

1930s – It’s a little hard to imagine an era of American history when you didn’t instantly have information about the weather or temperature on hand. Before smartphones, the internet and even widespread television adoption, one of the best ways drug stores and soda shops could service their clientele was by providing the temperature on a sponsored sign. This antique Coca-Cola sign uses the theme of cold to remind people how delicious a cold Coca-Cola will be.

Sign History - Coca-Cola 1930s
Image Credit to Penhook | eBay

1934 – This sign shows the sideways rectangle logo that Coke used from the 1890s all the way through the 1940s. The sign shown above features a popular campaign that used images of children to illustrate that adults, involved in business, and children alike need to stop for refreshment.

Sign History - Coca-Cola 1942
Image Credit to OldJunque74 | eBay

1942 – Coca-Cola’s metal signs became even more ubiquitous at diners, filling stations and bars. “Drink Coca-Cola” was kept as the slogan.

Sign History - Coca-Cola 1952
Image Credit to OldJunque74 | eBay

1952 – The Coca-Cola sign here shows the slogan “Drink Coca Cola” combined with an image of the iconic bottle. A sign like this is listed at just over $200.00, so if you stumble across one be sure to “Buy Coca-Cola.”

Sign History - Coca-Cola 1960s
Image Credit to OldJunque74 | eBay

1960 – In 1958, Coca-Cola changed their logo ever-so-slightly to be included in a fishtail type shape in place of the forward-on or angled rectangle. Also, the slogan created for this campaign seems a little self-aware as the brand’s aggressive marketing strategy from day one seemed to define how important signs would be for the company. This design would last through the late 1960’s when…

Sign History - Coca Cola 1970s
Image Credit to ClassicEddys | eBay

1970s – Coke introduced the wave design element in 1969. It has gone through a few revisions since then, but aside from the logo has been the longest running design element since its inception. As you can see, the signs of the 1970s took on a longer design in line with the contoured wave. At this time, “Drink Coca-Cola” was replaced with “Enjoy Coca-Cola” perhaps an unintentional homage to the amusement the brand provides beyond it’s namesake beverage.

Sign History - Coca-Cola 2003
Image Credit to Water Resources Weblog

2003 – In line with the animated, textured design trends of the early 2000s, Coca-Cola revamped their wave design, nearly thirty years old, in 2003. The company added a yellow shock pattern and small bubbles to the wave on their signs which accompanied the bubbly TV advertising campaigns. The word “Classic” was added to further express the company’s pride in their rich history.

Sign History - Coca-Cola 2007
Image Credit to Logopedia

2007 – These days, Coca-Cola’s logo and signs have adopted a more simple, flat design. In addition to the introduction of a more streamlined wave, Coca-Cola began to recycle some of their classic signage and printed advertisements to appeal to the brand’s nostalgic fandom.