This elegant Art Nouveau advertisement from 1911 takes us back to a time when London phone numbers were only four digits long and urgent messages were delivered by telegram.

A magazine advertisement from 1911 for Talbot cars.

It suggests the appearance of a Talbot motor car would be enough to stop horse-traffic and leave newspaper sellers gawping in awe as a member of the metropolitan police waved it through Hyde Park Corner. It would be chauffeur driven, of course, while the affluent owners relaxed in the rear cabin. Perhaps they’re off to some society gathering, or maybe an early dinner before the opera.

The ad is aimed unashamedly at the target market – people with lots of money. Clement Talbot Ltd of Ladbrook Grove didn’t need to advertise their cars to the mass market because, in 1911, there wasn’t one.


Having a ball

I stumbled on this peculiar photograph while browsing the Te Papa image collection recently. Thankfully it comes with a helpful explanation.

Poster ball

The postcard depicts a woman in a ‘poster costume’ advertising Hunky Dory boot polish and Hoxo Pad Rubber Heels for ‘no more sore feet’. While she wears a lady’s shoe atop her head, her feet are clad in roller skates. During the early part of the century, skating rinks frequently hosted fancy dress events, including poster competitions. In 1906 Wellington’s Elite Skating Rink, offered prizes of ball-bearing skates for the best fancy dress costume, the best poster costume and the most graceful skater.

Fancy dress events were a popular form of fundraising in the early part of the 20th century. Poster Balls and competitions were introduced to New Zealand from Australia in late 1900. While one reporter described it as a new ‘species of fancy dress’, another called it ‘a new phase of advertising’. It was a novel combination of both. As the name ‘Poster Ball’ infers, ball-goers were required to wear costumes that represented ‘poster advertisements of well-known goods, or the goods themselves’. For the privilege of advertising their wares, companies paid an entry fee and provided printed material for the models’ costume.

Hailed as a ‘decided improvement on the ordinary fancy ball’, Poster Balls remained a popular entertainment throughout the first half of the 20th century both as fund-raisers and general entertainment. They were organised by a wide array of groups, from patriotic and benevolent societies to sports clubs.

Advertisers are smarter in the 21st century. Now we buy their branded clothing (because it’s cool) and they don’t give us a cent.

Celluloid Bosoms

These advertising cards date from the 1880s.

(Waterproof Linen)

celluloid_professorThe following will commend the use of these goods to all who study convenience, neatness and economy. The interior is fine linen – The exterior is Celluloid – the union of which combines the strength of Linen with the Waterproof qualities of Celluloid. The trouble and expense of washing is saved.

When soiled simply rub with soap and water (hot or cold) used freely with a stiff brush. They are persperation proof and are invaluable to travellers, saving all care of laundrying.

In wearing the turn-down Collar, always slip the Necktie under the roll. Do not attempt to straighten the fold.
The goods will give better satisfaction if the Seperable Sleeve Button and Collar Button is used.
Twist a small rubber elastic or chamois washer around the post of Sleeve Button to prevent possible rattling of Button.
To remove Yellow Stains, which may come from long wearing, use Sapolio, Soap or Saleratus water or Celluline, which latter is a new preparation for cleansing Celluloid.

Don’t you love it when advertisers tell you how marvellous the product is and then give “advice” on how to make it better? Neat and convenient (but you should pop a washer on the button unless you want to rattle like a skeleton at Halloween). “Simply rub with soap and water” (but for those not so simple yellow stains use Celluline) – which, by the way, is now a trade name for a cellulite treatment.

Celluloid was originally a trade name, too, for a pioneering product in the plastics industry but it soon became a generic term as new variations came on the market.

celluloid_chineseThe Victorian advertising industry often relied on cute children to sell their wares. This little chap seems quite innocent but why the Oriental look? Believe it or not, this could be an oblique and subtle reference to the number of Chinese laundries this amazing new American invention would drive out of business. Some of these celluloid trade cards were neither oblique nor subtle. A strong anti-Chinese prejudice was common in the late Victorian period, not just in America, but wherever cheap labourers from that country were found. They were believed to be undercutting wages and taking jobs from locals (usually white). Sound familiar? It seems that some aspects of human nature haven’t changed much in 130 years.

Eventually the chemists found something more useful for their invention than uncomfortable clothing when they made it thin enough to be rolled. The movie industry and photographers were forever grateful. Now early examples of Celluloid products are collectors’ items. Just keep them away from naked flame and beware of the dreaded celluloid disease.

Health and Sunny Hours

An advertising card for Ayer's Sarsaparilla from late 19th century.FOR SCROFULA and all scrofulous, mercurial, and blood disorders, the best remedy is AYER’S COMPOUND CONCENTRATED EXTRACT OF SARSAPARILLA – called, for convenience, AYER’S SARSAPARILLA. It is composed of the Sarsaparilla-root of the tropics, Stillingia, Yellow Dock, Mandrake, and other roots held in high repute for their alternative, diuretic, tonic, and curative properties. The active medicinal principles of these roots, extracted by a process peculiarly our own, are chemically united in AYER’S SARSAPARILLA with the Iodide of Potassium and Iron, forming by far the most economical and reliable blood-purifying medicine that can be used.

If there is a lurking taint of Scrofula about you, AYER’S SARSAPARILLA will dislodge it, and expel it from your system. For the cure of the disorders, lassitude and debility peculiar to the Spring, it has proved to be the best remedy ever devised. If your blood is vitiated, cleanse it without delay by the use of AYER’S SARSAPARILLA.
Prepared by
Dr. J. C. Ayer & Co., Lowell, Mass.

There are some pretty outrageous claims being made here. Scrofula is tuberculosis of the lymph nodes in the neck so equating it with blood impurity and suggesting it can be “dislodged” and expelled from the system with, essentially, a detox treatment is clearly ridiculous. Incidentally, the inclusion of Mandrake, a dangerous narcotic, in the ingredients should raise a red flag as well.

So was this a deliberate fraud? It’s hard to tell given the level of medical knowledge in the late 19th century. It certainly isn’t the worst example of overly enthusiastic claims. The patent medicine industry at the time thrived on a gullible public and a big advertising budget. The Ayer company had one of the biggest, and it shows in the printing quality of cards like this one.