Advertising is as old as barter and the marketplace itself, and almost anything can and has been used as an advertisement. When it survives, the mass-produced and supposedly ephemeral object can become rare and prized.
Because there is so much choice of material, there are specialist collectors for all sorts of advertisements from engraved 1700s trade cards to pottery Guinness toucans, labels, posters, large enamelled metal street ´puffs as they became known in the 1800s, and shop signs such as barbers´ poles and opticians spectacles.
There are calendars, bookmarks and paperweights, clothes hangers and shoe trees, thermometers and ashtrays, biscuit tins, bar furnishings and beer mats. Among the first attempts to sell through attractive packaging was the pot lid.
Packaging is a vast subject and in the 1980s a museum devoted to advertising and packaging was set up in Gloucester, UK.
One of the most ephemeral of all advertising media is the cereal packet. From the 1930s there were cutouts to collect from their backs, and the few that were not destroyed or discarded are now sort after, as are some of the tin and plastic toys which came inside the packets. In recent years there has been a proliferation of painted and carved wooden signs, that shout ´fake´, even in theme pubs. Genuine pub signs, on the other hand, are likely to be quite modern. When examined they are often more crudely executed than one might expect, after all, they are not supposed to be seen close up. Enamelled metal signs are expensive but are probably too complicated and time-consuming for reproductions of them to be made.
Advertising has even reached the hallowed halls of fine art with Andy Warhol´s Campbell´s soup can paintings. Such icons are now priced in hundreds of thousands of pounds, whereas the collectors of the real thing can spend as little as £1.00. Even the most expensive will set them back only a few thousand.
Collectors have a wide choice and the smart ones can build a collection for nothing. House clearance skips can be raided for the chuck outs from the kitchen cupboards and there are not a few with an eye to the future who save the giveaways that come with the cereal packets, complete with wrapping. Collectors have a wide choice of items to suit their tastes and their pockets.