I’m often asked questions about Coca-Cola® collectible pieces. Many people have items with Coca-Cola on them – items that have been passed along from family members or pieces purchased at flea markets, conventions or online auctions. I’d like to address a few more questions in this column, a follow up to our original Q&A.
Q: A collector friend of mine told me about a prized festoon he bought at an auction. I’d never heard of a festoon. What is it?
A: Festoons are cardboard cutout display pieces used to decorate the back-bars of soda fountains, usually positioned above and around the mirrors.
Beginning in the early 1900s, festoons were considered an integral part of the soda fountain's decorative scheme. Changing at least once each quarter, festoons continued to be used until the early 1960s. They often featured elaborate floral patterns, Coca-Cola girls and exotic images, and toward the end even featured state trees and gemstones.
In creating the festoons, The Coca-Cola Company employed well-known illustrators to create the centerpieces. The same artists who prepared popular magazine advertising for Coca-Cola also developed the striking images used on festoons for the soda fountain trade.
Originally produced in quantities of more than 50,000 – with a cost of approximately $1.00 each -- most festoons were discarded after their three-month use at the fountains. Those that remain in existence are prized collectibles.
Q: I found an old Coca-Cola red disc sign the other day. Can you tell me anything about it?
A: In 1947, The Coca-Cola Company launched a new point-of-sale advertising program using a red porcelain disc featuring the trademark Coca-Cola. The red disc image has been used throughout the Company’s advertising on items such as metal signs, in magazine ads and even on packaging.
The red disc metal signs came in a range of sizes, including 12 inches, 16 inches, 2 feet, 3 feet and 4 feet in diameter. In addition to the red disc signs, a bottle disc was introduced in 1947 that highlighted the bottle against a white background.
The Company felt the circular design, while simple, delivered a powerful advertising message. The discs also were flexible and could be used alone or in combination with a larger advertising scheme.
In 1951, the contour bottle was introduced as a design element on the red discs. It was originally suggested that Coca-Cola bottlers use the bottle version for locations that were near eye-level or at points where traffic moved slowly. The red disc remained the cornerstone of outdoor point-of-sale signs until the introduction of the Arciform (or "fishtail") design in 1957. The disc continues to be used today on licensed items and was an integral part of the Company’s "Always Coca-Cola" campaign during the 1990s.
Q: I saw a movie set around 1900, and the Coca-Cola was being served out of a large ceramic pot. Was Coca-Cola really served that way?
A: What you saw was a syrup urn, used for over a decade to serve Coca-Cola syrup.
In 1896, The Coca-Cola Company started a program offering premiums to dealers -- to those who bought and dispensed as much as 100 gallons of syrup annually. Among the items offered as premiums were these porcelain dispensers. The urn was not simply an early form of the dispenser we know today, but also was a great way to promote Coca-Cola at the point of sale – the soda fountain.
The urns dispensed the syrup through a faucet placed beneath the bowl. The urns were ornaments for the soda fountain and were elaborately designed, reflecting late Victorian motifs.
The offer for the porcelain dispensers generally covered a period of about 10 years -- from 1896 to the turn of the last century. The urns were later replaced by more sophisticated and modern dispensing equipment. One reason these urns were phased out was that they were quite perishable. Because of this, only a few of the original porcelain units have survived to this day. Those that have are considered very collectible and quite valuable. According to Petretti’s Coca-Cola Collectibles Price Guide (11th edition), a complete syrup urn in mint condition could be worth as much as $8,500.
Q: I recently saw a Coke can with a raised top – unlike the shape of any cans we see today. Was it real?
A: Before Coca-Cola cans had the shape we’re familiar with today, they did have a "cone" on the top. From 1940 to 1942, the first cone style can for Coca-Cola was introduced in the United States for experimental testing. There were two sizes of cans (16- ounce and 32-ounce). Testing was discontinued at the onset of World War II, and this style of can was never introduced.
Phil Mooney is the director of the Archives Department.
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