What makes a museum piece?

There's really only one rule: For an icon to be included in the permanent collection of our museum it must have been created specifically for use in advertising/branding or expropriated for that use so early that its original intention is all but forgotten.

For example, characters from a McDonald's movie tie-in such as Winnie the Pooh are not eligible. However, characters created by the company for use in advertising such as The Hamburglar and Grimace, clearly, are.

Mickey Mouse, in spite of his role today as corporate symbol, is still primarily a cartoon character designed to star in his own works. He's not museum material.

The Jolly Green Giant is in. But The Hulk is not. Farfel in. Snoopy may be a great spokesdog for MetLife but he wasn't created for that purpose. So, sorry Snoopy, no doghouse here for you.

Collector's Information

What makes an advertising icon a collectible?

The criteria for determining whether something is an advertising icon are debatable. Nearly every collector has his/her own standards and guidelines. there are no set "rules" carved in stone. However, there are a few common denominators.

  1. Premiums are special items offered in association with a certain product.

  2. Trademark characters represent the company symbol, such as Pillsbury's Poppin' Fresh.

  3. Display figures are statues that were intended for use on desktop or countertop displays to increase product awareness and to initiate purchase.

  4. Banks are usually ceramic, plastic or occasionally metal.

  5. Dolls are classified as rag, plush, bean bag or stuffed. There are two-dimensional (pillow-like) and three-dimensional (like a stuffed teddy bear) dolls.

  6. Puppets were popular in 50's-70's.

  7. Bendies are usually plastic or rubber figures with a wire inlay.

  8. Electronics comprise a section of the museum and include phones, clocks, radios and even a flashlight.

When dealing with advertising icons, it is important to remember that some products have been owned by more than one company, some of which may no longer exist. It is interesting to discover the original producer of an item, and follow the character's changes and developments through its successive ownership.

Determining Values

A good collectible goes up in value. For many, that's what makes collecting exciting. By using your instincts and research, you can decide which items will increase in value.

An advertising figure issued in the 1970's might have cost $2-$5 to purchase, with the appropriate proof-of purchase seals, etc. Today, some of those same pieces are worth from $10-$200. A figure or doll usually has greater value if it is in perfect condition, if it comes with its original paperwork, etc. -- all the same standards applied to other collectibles.

But advertising characters are a good investment. Most of them are one-time-issue. So once they're off the market they usually become more valuable. And as the interest in advertising icons increases, prices will continue to rise.

We are not a source for pricing information, but our on-line Bookstore offers many helpful titles.

Types of Collections and Collectibles

The collection focuses on trademark figures -- items which represent a company or product trademark. features company collections both large and small.

does not include these in their museum: Ornaments, wrappers, bottles, cans, matchbooks, plates, posters, reproductions, signs and trade cards.

Condition Ratings

There is a standard rating system for Collectibles: Hake's Americana and Collectibles Chart of Standards. This is a benchmark for rating collectibles.

The ratings range from Mint (Flawless condition) to Poor (Extensive wear or damage). We actually use a slightly different scale, since Hake's has nine rating levels, and we prefer rating things on a scale from one to ten. Our "C-10" rating corresponds to Hake's "Mint," our "C-1" rating corresponds to "Poor."

You will see that every item in our collection has a rating. It's also important to note that even though an item might be rated, say, a C-3, it may be the best specimen available for that particular piece, and it may actually still be quite worth collecting. Much of our collection is quite rare.

When collecting Advertising pieces, beware of reproductions and later re-issues of original items. They may look exactly like the real thing, but they are much less valuable! Sometimes it takes a combination of practice and good research to differentiate.