A big thanks to Bryan Eisenberg for giving me the heads-up on Vintage Ad Browser, a directory of over 120,000 vintage ads available at http://www.vintageadbrowser.com/. Once I got into it, I found out it was put together by Philipp Lenssen, he of Google Blogoscoped!
The front page of the site has a huge list of topics to browse through, from Airlines & Aircraft to Xmas. You can also search by keyword or open up a color box and browse by ad color. I chose the “Future” ads. I got one ad from the 1920s but a timeline across the top of the page to direct me to more ads in the 1930s, 1940s, etc. There seemed to be the most ads available for the 40s, 50s, and 60s. I liked the 50s ads the most, especially the one about telephones.
If you’re used to browsing university-created collections like this, you might find yourself a bit disappointed; Virtual Ad Browser does not offer metadata, information on who created the ads, or transcription of print. (Can you imagine if one person had tried to get all that data together for 120,000+ ads?) Instead, each ad has a URL for direct linking, a URL for source (I saw ads from eBay, from poster stores, from library digital collections), and sometimes a link to zoom in on the ad or buy it somewhere.
After all the time I’ve spent lately looking at digitized newspapers, I appreciated this extra look down memory lane with more recent ads, but at the same time I wanted to go back to the digitized newspapers and pull out a bunch more ads for Philipp to use.
One warning: the ads here do reflect the outlooks and prejudices of their times, and as such some of them are offensive. Pay attention to what categories you decide to browse. I wouldn’t let a kid go through this site on their own.