Why We Love Vintage Logo Designs
Vintage logo designs have come a long way. Icons have been part of history since the first coins were stamped bearing the head of a beast or symbol of a ruler. But modern branding and trademarks as we know them did not become a common practice until 1876 when the Bass company applied for protection of its company logo. Through the years that followed, an evolution of design and practices took place. Brand names and icons grew in popularity, and it became important for companies to have a recognizable and relevant symbol. Different fonts and styles appealed to different audiences and even different countries, so designing something that interested the company's target demographic was essential then and remains so now.
Many of today’s logos are crisp and clean, include sophisticated fonts and colors and do a great job at selling products and services. What some may lack for, however, is an element of charm and whimsy — that endearing factor that makes an icon unforgettable for years to come. In fact, some of the vintage logo designs we have loved in the past have undergone upgrades that have modernized, but in the eyes of those who love all things vintage, have not necessarily improved them.
What components classify a logo as a vintage design, other than age? Obviously, there are newly created logos for all types of products that have a vintage feel but are not of an age to be authentically old. Therefore, there must be some individual elements that, when combined, give a nostalgic impression. Specific fonts evoke the sentimental as well as certain color combinations. The heavy use of ornamental borders, banners and ribbons are trademarks of vintage-style logos.
The background, and frequently the lettering, has the appearance of engraving, or etching, and in modern look-alikes, there is a degree of decay or wear, falsely aging them. In fact, today’s vintage logos almost look more vintage than the authentic ones, due to the vast availability of fonts and elements explicitly designed for this application. Some of the best examples of vintage logo designs were created within the last twenty-five years, as our examination of them reveals. For ease of discussion, these logos are arranged by category of the product they promote.
Drinks and Tobacco
Of course, we could not share our favorite vintage logos without talking about Coca-Cola’s famous typographic design. The packaging and flavors may have modernized over time, as has the lettering itself, opting for bold letters that now simply says Coke. But diehard fans of the soft drink still love and appreciate the retro vintage cursive lettering with its swashes and dynamic ribbon underline.
We couldn’t resist the temptation to bring up another example of bold vintage design in the world of beverages. Starbucks’ logo is as symbolic of breakfast as a plate of pancakes, and their coffee wakes half the world. The iconic green circle with a white graphic depicting a mermaid has a mildly art deco flair. No typography is present, nor is it needed. The logo alone says, “Venti Iced Skinny Hazelnut Macchiato, Sugar-Free Syrup, Extra Shot, Light Ice, No Whip.”
The charming design of Vintage Tobacco, encapsulated in a rectangular border, features many of the traditional vintage elements we prize. Engraved oak leaves, trailing vines, swashes and dotted borders emphasize the text. “A Good Day’s Vintage Tobacco – A Good Flavor” is spelled out in a highlighted and shadowed western typeface. Each of the four corners is decked out with a compass type design, while two decorative smoking pipes take center stage.
Lucky Duck is a sporting goods company that makes premium decoys. They call themselves masters of deception. We think they are masters of vintage design. This logo has swashes in all the right places, a bold western-style font naming the company and a rippling banner that says premium decoys. Flying through the center is a nicely illustrated duck. The composition overall makes for an eye-catching design.
In the case of Dover Rod and Gun Club, a few simple outlines and some moderately detailed illustrations of a duck, a fish, and the outdoor habitat combine to make a clean and straightforward design. No color is needed for this black and white logo to deliver its message. The elements tell the whole story.
Enjoying the great outdoors never looked better than portrayed in this San Diego Hiking Club logo. Classic vintage details combined with skilled artistry come together to create this pleasing image. An upside-down triangle forms the back layer. A circle frames a well-executed hiker as he steps up onto the banner anchoring the logo with the words Hiking Club. Beyond the hiker, mountaintops and pine trees are visible. The fonts are simple, and the use of light and dark creates high contrast.
The Mets All-Star Game of 2013 had a great vintage logo. A brilliant royal blue background sets off the orange and crisp white lettering. In the background, the New York skyline and the Brooklyn Bridge are silhouetted against a while baseball, forming an arch. This logo has a secondary logo built in: The familiar Major League Baseball icon anchors the image at the bottom center. This logo is pleasing to the eye and carries a lot of information at a glance. Vintage logo designs are present in sports as well.
Not a sports team but a company that encourages collecting sports memorabilia, Just Collect has a great example of an artistic vintage logo. This one is filled with energy, imparted both by the images of baseball and football players on the move and by the use of bright orange in contrast to the black base. A rigid banner stretches from side to side with the company name in a collegiate font. This is a solid logo with a pleasing balance of design and color.
The Premium Shaving Soap logo from the Lather and Wood Saving Company looks like a seal or stamp. Two mustaches focus attention on the shaving theme. This is a crisp, clean, well-designed black etching on a cream ground.
While we are on the subject, Williams Soap, manufactured by J. B. Williams & Co., is a classic example of a vintage label. The shape is a rectangle framed in bright red. The main lettering is also red. There are a variety of font styles letting the reader know that this soap is unsurpassed for shaving and toilet uses. Plentiful swirls and flourishes decoratively fill the space. The focal point is an illustration of a tin shaving cup with a brush in it.
Cars, Motorcycles and Travel
In 1901, a company called Indian introduced a logo for its motorcycles. The original logo consisted of the proud profile of a Native American in full headdress, with Indian spelled out in a bold fancy script. An updated but no less vintage-looking version features a more streamlined rendering of the familiar image, sans details such as feathers.
Another Motorcycle company, Harley-Davidson, has a rather elaborate logo that combines the classic swirling oak leaves and chrome-look frames with orange, vintage-style dots and borders. The bold sans-serif lettering looks engraved, and overall the image has a shape that resembles a well-designed badge or buckle.
There is something so satisfying about the logo for Selma Railroad Days in North Carolina. While the festival has been happening for the last 40 years, the logo design hearkens back to the woodcuts of a bygone era. A black locomotive barrels its way up the track against a backdrop of golden rays framed by a semi-circular frame. Selma, the name of the town where the event is held, appears against the black smoke from the train. Even though it is held in North Carolina, the western font they use feels appropriate to the overall vintage style. Vintage logo designs are synonymous to dependability.
Services and Supplies
Fast Eddie’s Barber Shop employs the clever use of an eagle as a mascot, with its wings becoming the teeth of a barber comb. The black and white image is easy on the eye, and though it features several elements, they are arranged so as not to be confusing.
A classic vintage feel is seen in this mid-century example from the Industrial Supply Company. The logo is bold and well balanced, incorporating both block and Roman style fonts. The date says Estd. MCMLXVI — that is 1967 to you and me. This company, located in Wilmington, North Carolina, has a logo of bold, yellow ochre against a black field.
Wanting to give their logo a feeling of history, Ames Letterpress, Inc., founded in 1981, had their logo redesigned. Richly ornate letters with broad bracketing and flourishes and lines that curl up at the ends all add to the older feel. The logo is entirely done in black and white.
Antler Playing Cards' logo features the traditional draping oak leaves, as commonly seen on family crests, and ornamental lettering. A decorative banner across the bottom clearly states the product is Dan and Dave approved. An upright spear provides an axis for the rest of the design to center on.
A classic sportsmen’s theme is what you will find in the Hunting Club logo. No, this is not a club for sportsmen, but the name of a popular band. The emblem has both vintage and Old-World European elements. Reminiscent of a woodcut or linoleum cut, this logo features two male deer standing off against each other.
Paramount Pictures has modernized the execution of their logo over the years but still adheres to the original vintage design for its layout. A large circle filled with sky and clouds is encircled with stars. Originally based on Pike’s Peak, the mountain portrayed in the contemporary version is thought to be Utah’s Ben Lomond rising through the clouds. An elegant yet easily readable script font spells out Paramount Pictures in the sky. Vintage logo designs are more obvious in entertainment.
The URRVO Media Group of Georgia and California has a very decorative logo. Consisting of an ornate butterfly with wings that are a composite of movie reels, gears and gauges, it is an homage to both vintage and steampunk styles. In true vintage fashion, the date is listed in Roman numerals as MMXII (2012).
Vintage logo designs are visible in clothing as well. Hook and Irons advertises their genuine clothing company with a badge-shaped logo. A scrolling ribbon drapes the company name across the top, and at the bottom, another ribbon spells out the founding year of MMXII (2012). The center image, framed in a traditional oak-leaf design, is of a locomotive, presumably the inspiration for their name.
Started by Loeb Strauss in 1873 as a company manufacturing “waist overalls” (work pants), the Levi Strauss Company has become a worldwide icon for work wear and fashion wear. The logo is just as familiar and recognizable as the clothing and is one of the original vintage logo designs. Because the trousers were meant to be for work, the logo depicts two men working — presumably in a field — with their horses. The company name appears at the top and a banner reminds us that they are the original riveted pants. A patent date parades across the bottom on a banner. A pair of the signature pants stands proudly in the center with an open fly to emphasize the ease of putting them on, as compared to climbing into a pair of cumbersome overalls.
A clothing logo with a softer side belongs to the Omniety Clothing Company. Established in 2012, the logo could lead one to believe the company has been around a good deal longer. A bold scripted typeface, underlined with a swash on the downstroke of the “y,” states the company name. A black circle with a white capital letter “M” stands as a focal point. A ribbon flows across the bottom stating “The Standard of Strength and Quality.” Darts and curlicues finish off the design.
Looking at some of the best examples of vintage logo designs can bring an appreciation for the reliable, timeless principles of balance, line and contrast that create a pleasing design. Nostalgic font styles and a wealth of flourishes and artistic detail add flavor and charm. Whether they are genuinely aged or just designed to look as if they are, vintage logos are an enjoyable and meaningful part of our society.