Not Made to Last: A Look at Advertising Banners

Much like newspapers, advertising materials have a definite and distinct shelf-life. Products come and go, and for those companies that do stick around for many years, marketing slogans and styles will change with the times, thus deeming periodic updates to advertising campaigns a necessity. As a result, vintage advertising materials were not made to last for very long: they were constructed with low cost materials and quick reproduction methods that make their survival a rarity. That’s why it is so astounding when items like these banners make it decades remarkably intact. Here’s a look at four advertising banners that have come through the doors at The Center over the years.

 Drink Moxie

Dated 1917, this banner is advertising Moxie, a soft drink that once rivaled Coca-Cola and is still available and popular in the Northeastern United States. In fact, in 2005 it was designated the official soft drink of Maine by state statute. Manufactured in New Hampshire, the collector was drawn to the nostalgia of the piece. “I grew up in New Hampshire, but now live in Illinois. I decided to focus on Moxie [in my collecting] as a way to connect back to where I grew up. I started collecting Moxie bottles, but because I really enjoy signs I thought this piece would be a great addition to my collection. The fact that it has survived almost 100 years and is made of such a thin cloth is amazing.”

Upon arrival at The Center, the Moxie Banner showed evidence of its 99 year history; edge creases and fold lines, a grime layer on the surface, and small losses around the perimeter. The owner decided to have the banner conserved so it could be displayed.  He explains, “Given how fragile it was I thought it necessary to bring it to a professional to preserve the integrity of the piece. Hopefully it will last for another 100+ years for people to enjoy.”

Senior Paper Conservator, Brian Kapernekas describes the collaborative treatment efforts between the Paper Department and the Textile Department:

After initial preparations from the textile conservator were complete, we offered some suggestions to materials and methods that might be used in aiding the reduction of the creases and overall distortion. Due to the fragile condition of the textile the banner was supported between two sheets of Hollytex, which is a polished polyester blend fabric.

The banner along with the Hollytex was then placed within a Gore-Tex package.  This form of passive humidification allowed the textile fibers, creases and overall distortion to relax. Once relaxed the banner and Hollytex were placed between heavy cotton blotters and selectively weighted. To ensure proper drying the blotters were changed out on a regular basis. After the banner was determined stable and overall distortion was reduced, it was then handed back to the Textile Conservator who then proceeded in the mounting and stabilization.


The Dodge City Banner

A part of the collection at the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee, this banner was produced when Harley-Davidson motorcycles took first, second, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh place at the Dodge City, Kansas 300-Mile Race in 1915. Every Harley-Davidson rider in the race broke the previous speed record for a 300-mile race, and the first place winner, Otto Walker, set the new world record for miles per hour in a 300-mile race at 76.27 mph.

Before treatment, water stains are obvious through the right half of the banner, and ink migration is noticeable along the right edge. Although the stains could not be safely addressed in treatment, the banner was stabilized, flattened and mounted to a canvas support before being installed into a custom frame to protect it from environmental exposures. 

Tarzan and the Ant-Men and The Argosy All-Story Weekly

Argosy Magazine was a pulp magazine published from 1882 until the late 1970’s, and is considered the first of the pulp publications. Pulp magazines reached the height of their popularity in the early 20th century, and these advertising banners were produced during that time, roughly 1924. As the collector of these banners shares, “original pulp advertising pieces are very rare. They were meant to be displayed at newsstands and then thrown away, and were generally printed on cheap cardboard. Window display signs for various pulp magazines are probably the most common items that still survive, though even those are very hard to find.”

Shown after treatment, both banners were cleaned of surface particulates and flattened before being mounted to a canvas support attached to a custom stretcher. This provides support to the banners, helping to reduce handling and prevent further splits or losses to the delicate fabric. Given their fragility, it is amazing to think that they have survived almost 100 years.  The collector notes, “not only are they fragile, so most have probably been destroyed over the years, but back in the 1920's and 1930's [these banners] weren't produced in nearly the same numbers as ads on cardboard or poster paper, so the number of them was small to begin with.”

Due to the successful treatments, these vintage advertisements will be around for many more years to come.  Have a similar piece?  We'd love to hear the story behind it!


“The Dodge City 300 Mile Race.” The Harley-Davidson Dealer 4.7 (1915) 212. <>

 §224. State soft drink <>