Edwardian Advertisements

The Strand Magazine appeared monthly in London from 1891 to 1950, with a healthy circulation of 300,000 to 500,000. Famously it was the publication that introduced Sherlock Holmes to the world, but many great names like H.G. Wells, Rudyard Kipling, Max Beerbohm, W.W. Jacobs, and later Dorothy Sayers, P.G. Wodehouse and Winston Churchill also wrote for it.

My two copies from 1907 are crammed with advertising. It’s not spread around as in a modern glossy mag, but segregated into a thick wodge of pages at the front and back, sandwiching the content. They take up just over a quarter of the magazine. There’s an index of advertisers at the back, broken down into categories like “Household Requisites”, “Billiard Tables, Etc.” and “Sweetmeats, Confectionery,” so you could more easily find an ad you passed by earlier.

The advertising gives a fascinating glimpse into middle-class aspirations at the turn of the 20th century. This was an era when kings and emperors presided over most of the world, large hatpins were worn through enormous hats and church regularly attended. The phone, the typewriter and the sewing machine were relatively recent innovations. Edison cylinders cost a shilling each and the motor car was an expensive gimmick.

Considering the copies are over a hundred years old, it’s striking how advertisers played on the same aspirations to social status, cleanliness, attractiveness, health, comfort and enjoyment as they do today. They make the same claims. Our product’s cheaper; it cleans more thoroughly, is better quality, cures you completely – it’s totally unique! The tricks are familiar. Saves you money! Write in for our free booklet now! Let me share with you my secret! A new amazing discovery!

A great many of the long forgotten brand names now seem quaint: Peralia, Plasmon, Crimpolene, Easiphits, Sozodont, Cakeoma. We find Congreve’s Balsamic Elixir; Meldrum’s Hygienic Braces; the No. 0 Midg, the “King of Guinea Cameras.” There are Ludcord Squares; Hill’s Hongroise; Mother Seigel’s Syrup; Calox, the Oxygen Tooth Powder; and the wonderful Carbo Magnetic Razor – “No honing. No grinding. Self-Shaving at Last a Pleasure.”

But it’s also interesting how many of the brands are still with us, or were until recently: Pear’s Soap, Bird’s Custard, Eno, Jaeger, Vaseline, Saxone shoes, and the much-loved Lipton. Some of them have evolved in unexpected ways or been absorbed by different companies: thanks to intensive advertising Beecham’s was a household name in laxatives in 1907, but these days GlaxoSmithKline uses it for cold remedies. You can still buy an Ingersoll watch. McVitie and Price’s Digestive Biscuits survive as plain McVitie’s, as do Atora suet and Cuticura soap, now upgraded into an “antibacterial handwash”. Cadbury manufactures Fry’s chocolate, although the factory that makes it is about to close. Callard & Bowser toffee has sadly just disappeared. Sunlight soap remains popular in Canada, South Africa and Sri Lanka, though it’s vanished from the mother country. And hearteningly Harbutt’s Plasticine is still tweaked and moulded today.

But let me not tire my readers with further maunderings – gather up your skirts and step this way for our splendid collection of Edwardian advertisements ».

Printed from: https://booktracker.net/notes/history/edwardian-advertisements .
© Aethaelwaerd Neen 2018.