Druggist Dr. John Smith Pemberton, of Atlanta Georgia, had already developed his own line of successful medicines and cures. In 1886 he was experimenting with a substance derived from coca leaves, as the coca leaf was supposed to aid digestion and extend life, along with a desire to create the perfect medicine and drink, he soon developed and perfected Coca-Cola. As a couple of Pemberton´s early partners also owned a printing machine, Coca-cola advertising started almost as early as the product itself. The earliest pieces being extremely rare, were; oil cloth banners, newspaper ads, free sample tickets, paper posters and street car signs. Dr. Pemberton applied for the Coca-Cola trademark patent in April of 1887, it was granted in June. In July of 1887 he sold a majority of his interest in Coca-cola, but retained some for his son Charles. On April 14th 1888, Coca-Cola was incorporated, within weeks, Charles was bought out for $550. In the summer of 1888 Dr. Pemberton died of cancer.
Coca-Cola has been advertised on almost every item imaginable, for the first 30 years ads were targeted toward adults, with phrases like "Relieves Fatigue", Delicious & Refreshing", "The Ideal Beverage for Businessmen", etc., but almost always had the word "Drink" with Coca-Cola. It wasn´t until the late 1920´s, early thirties that Coca-Cola began targeting children with advertisements on games and toys. From the beginning Coca-Cola realized the importance of celebrity endorsements, however the use of actors and models became more extensive in the 1930´s, as stars were idolized by millions of movie attendees. Movie star and celebrity advertising pieces are among the most desirable of all Coca-Cola collectibles, especially if it was a custom piece (the star holding or drinking a Coke) VS a stock piece, where the star was in the background with Coca-Cola name in the foreground or on the side. Without exception, movie stars who appear are identified on the finished adverting item.
One of the most desired items by collectors is the serving tray. The earliest from 1887 to 1901 were 9 ¼ inches round, with the 1887 being worth about $30,000. Sizes varied over the years, and rectangle trays did not come out until 1910, no trays were produced during World War I or II. But every little scratch or ding can drastically reduce a trays value. One should be aware of cheap reproductions, which when looked at with a magnifying glass will reveal a octagon honey comb look or fine vertical lines (computerized dot system), VS solid color produced by rubber stamps and silk screen printing (with ink blotches on the edges) of the time. While there had been ads in the 1930´s and 40´s of people seeking early Coca-Cola dispensers and signs, the first book on Coca-Cola collecting did not come out until 1970, entitled "Metal Service Trays and Art Prints Since 1898" and then also in the early 1970´s a book called "The Illustrated Guide To Collectibles Of Coca-Cola".
A few tips to see if you have THE REAL THING (this will not catch all fakes, but it's a start).
From 1887-1941 "Coca-Cola" was script, and "Trade Mark" or "Trade-Mark Registered" was inside the tail of the "C" in "Coca", (exception of two Coca-Cola block letter marks 1880´s to 1892). This same tail should have almost no gap between the tail and the "a", if there is a gap, double check the mark with the time period, as many fakes have a large gap.
2.) A Coca-Cola piece 11" x 20 1/2", printed on lightweight flexible cardboard, might be a "Trolley Car Sign". These were cut this exact size because the trolley cars themselves had frames in which an advertising company would come and change the different ads. An excellent condition trolley car sign of 1918 with an actress, could be worth $6,000.
Different from cardboard cut outs, which are cut to shape, other cardboard signs of that time period with an actress can be worth about:
10" x 14" $2,800
11" x 20 3/4" $5,000
14" x 24" $3,000
21" x 32" $2,800
30" x 38" $4,000
However if cardboard signs are trimmed from their original size, they´re worthless.
There never was:
a.) Any glass door knobs with "Coca-Cola" on the glass.
b.) A 7/8" Coca-Cola marble.
c.) Coca-Cola vendors license coin.
d.) Coca-Cola pieces marked "LA. Stamp" – these are all fakes or fantasy items, no piece like these ever originated from the Coca-Cola Company.
e.) There are also bags of fantasy Coca-Cola marbles with "Always Coca-Cola" card stock on the top of plastic bags. Original "Drink Coca-Cola" marble bags, had a large hole in the card stock, that hung over the bottlenecks.
Information for this article was derived from "Petretti's Coca-Cola Price Guide" © 2008, and Mark Chervenka´s "Guide To Fakes and Reproductions" © 2007, and the internet.