Cadbury's sign

Cadbury’s Pure Cocoa Essence sign – £14,000 at BBR.

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And for some of the UK’s leading collectors of enamel advertising signs, that call to action was not ignored.

The small-size pictorial sign made by Falkirk Iron Company to promote Cadbury’s Pure Cocoa Essence is something of a classic.

Measuring an accessible 18 x 12in (45 x 30cm), it depicts the first product to make the Cadbury brothers famous alongside a realistically coloured vignette of cocoa pods and leaves.

This sign is desirable in almost any condition. A few ‘good’ examples have appeared at auction in the past decade including those sold for £2600 at Cheffins in 2014, £2800 at Moore Allen & Innocent in 2018 and, most recently, £1900 at GWR Auctions in November 2021.

However, there is a gulf in price between just good (some rust, chipping and dulling of the colours is the norm for items that were made to be displayed outside) and near perfection.

Bottles and advertising specialist Alan Blakeman, proprietor of BBR Auctions in Elsecar, South Yorkshire, who offered this sign for sale on November 27, deemed it perhaps the best he had ever sold. It had been found in a London property many years ago and had never been exposed to the elements.

“I know of one other that is remotely near to it condition-wise that I would rate at 9.5/10 as it has some flaking to a fixing hole. We gave this one 9.9/10. Condition has become the driving factor in the top end of this collecting field; like so many other areas, everyone wants the best.” He did not give it an estimate but was not surprised to see the sign contested by several bidders (all of them from the UK) towards five figures. It went to a buyer over the phone at £14,000 (plus 15% buyer’s premium).

Separating cocoa butter from the cocoa bean with a new process in 1866 led the Cadbury brothers to the creation of Pure Cocoa Essence.

This was the product that made the Quaker family business a household name with today’s staples, Dairy Milk and Bournville, arriving in 1905 and 1906 respectively.