A Refreshing Collection: Coca-Cola Advertising

1907 Coca-Cola pocket mirror, woman raising glass, from the painting by Wolf & Company

1907 Coca-Cola pocket mirror, woman raising glass, from the painting by Wolf & Company

So many historic events have strange beginnings and truth truly is stranger than fiction. Who would have believed that a drug-addicted Confederate soldier would create an elixir that would turn a generation into low-level cokeheads, help popularize the modern image of Santa Claus, and line the pockets of celebrities from Anita Bryant to 50 Cent? Seriously, I couldn’t make this stuff up!

John Pemberton, a wounded Civil War vet and trained pharmacist, was looking to supplant his morphine addiction when he started dabbling with the byproducts of the coca plant. After a reformulation to eliminate alcohol but not the coca, in 1886, 125 years ago in April, Pemberton created a concoction of coca extract and kola nuts to create Coca-Cola.

And the marketing machine kicked into gear almost immediately. (So did the cocaine, which wasn’t removed until 1903, but helped make the drink immensely popular. Even today, Coca-Cola includes a cocaine-free coca leaf extract.) From the very beginning, Coca-Cola has appeared in that familiar script, as it does on this early clock. While early advertising objects from Coca-Cola bring some of the biggest prices, the company had so many successful marketing campaigns that there’s a great deal available for a collector to choose from today. There are all sorts of giveaways with the Coca-Cola “It girl” of the moment (like the one pictured above on a pocket mirror) and fun things like Tarzan’s Tarzan and Jane (Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan) enjoying a nice cold Coke. And Coke’s ad campaigns reflect the changing times; ads like this one take advantage of the company’s trend of advertising with beautiful young women to place a World War II female machinist front and center, while later signs reveal early efforts to target an African-American audience. With that iconic, cheerful red and the distinctive script, Coca-Cola advertising can refresh just about any collection!

-Hollie Davis, Senior Editor, p4A.com

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