Advertising Saponine: an example of colour wood engraving

Colour printing began to be widely used in commercial printing from the second half of the 1830s. One approach was to use a set of wood-engraved blocks, each one dedicated to a particular colour. The engraver could produce a range of tones for each colour through lines and other marks engraved on the wood blocks. When printed one after the other the colours blended visually.

Saponine advertisement, 1865
Saponine advertisement, 1865. JJColl: Soap 12 (59)

This modestly sized magazine insert for Harper Twelvetrees’ soap substitute ‘Saponine’ is a fascinating document.  Not only does it include a rare image of a working laundry, but it is also interesting as an example of one of the experimental colour printing techniques that competed with chromolithography.



Saponine detail
Saponine (detail)



In this example, just four blocks – red, yellow, blue and black – create a range of colours, shades and tones.

Tomlinson's Butter Powder, c. 1867
Tomlinson’s Butter Powder, c. 1867. JJColl Food 3 (27)






Soon to be supplanted by the commercialisation of chromolithography, examples of colour wood engraving in advertising are not very common. There are, however, others in the John Johnson Collection, including this advertisement for  Tomlinson’s Butter Powder, from c. 1867.





Harper Twelvetrees was an interesting man. In 1863, as Chairman of the John Anderson Committee, he edited The life of John Anderson, a fugitive slave (published by William Tweedie, London). He was also a staunch advocate of the Temperance Movement. Saponine was produced in his factory in Bromley-le-Bow.

Label for Harper Twelvetrees' Soap Powder, showing his factory.
Label for Harper Twelvetrees’ Soap Powder, showing his factory. JJColl: Window Bills and Advertisements folder 5 (2a)

However, by 1878, he had given up soap making and had moved from Bromley-le-Bow, though not entirely from the East End. His works and East End showroom (the Paragon Show Room) were at Burdett Road, Bow Road (shown in the illustration). However, styling himself ‘Laundry Engineer and Machinist’, he also had a City showroom at Finsbury Circus.

1878 illustrated catalogue for Harper Rowntrees' washing machines, etc.
This 1878 catalogue for Harper Rowntrees’ washing machines, etc. is fully illustrated. JJColl: Ironmongery 2 (12)

His speciality was laundry equipment, such as washing machines, clothes wringers and mangles.  He also made knife cleaners and sold meat, suet and vegetable choppers, lawn mowers, fret-work scroll saws and treadles, lathes, and boot- and shoe-cleaning machines.

He offered free trials and hire purchase for his washing machinery.


An 1878 Harper Twelvetrees washing machine
An 1878 Harper Twelvetrees washing machine

An 1878 Harper Twelvetrees washing machine









But to return to laundries and the question of soap, the other laundry image in The Art of Advertising exhibition evokes some of the same problems: heat, steam and chapped hands. Harper Twelvetrees’ solution was a soap substitute (presumably, given the name, a saponin) while Lutticke’s appears to be a soap. Both resonate with us today, as we are encouraged to do cold water washes (albeit for different reasons). And Harper Twelvetrees got something else right too: one of our favourite labour-saving devices is surely the washing machine!

Lutticke window bill, c. 1884.
Lutticke window bill, c. 1884. JJ Coll: Window Bills and Advertisements folder 5 (12)

Lithographic printing: new possibilities

Lithography, was invented in the final years of the 18th century. The process is a chemical one which relies on the principle that water and grease do not mix, rather than difference of relief (as in woodcut, wood engraving and copper engraving). First a design is made on stone (later a metal plate) in greasy ink or crayon or, alternatively, on specially prepared paper for transferring to such a surface. It is then subjected to a chemical process, which reinforces the difference between printing and non-printing areas. The process is extremely versatile, and allows for impressions from type to be transferred to the printing surface. Taking a print involves two procedures: dampening the stone or plate and then rolling up its surface with greasy printing ink. The greasy ink is attracted by the greasy marks and repelled by the damped surface.

In Britain, lithography began to be taken up as an alternative to both
intaglio engraving and wood engraving from the 1820s, especially for
relatively short-run printing.  It was ideal for circulars, giving the appearance of handwritten text, and especially for seamlessly combining images and text, tables and diagrams. Even before the mechanisation of lithographic printing, it was quicker and cheaper than the alternative process for combining text and image in one print: copper-engraving.

This two-sided Jennings advertisement for ‘patent capsules or covers for family jars’ cleverly shows all available sizes in a series of concentric circles on the verso, while the recto combines a table of sizes and prices with illustrations and elegantly curved text.

Jennings patent capsules.
Jennings patent capsules. JJColl: Housing and Houses 9

This mid 19th century two-sided trade advertisement for John Porter’s Grove Iron Works, Southwark shows that lithography was ideal for drawing the delicate straight and curved lines of ironwork. Some firms advertising their products at the Great Exhibition of 1851 used the process in similar ways.

John Porter, ironworks (verso)
John Porter, ironworks (verso)
John Porter, ironworks (recto)
John Porter, ironworks (recto) JJColl: Window Bills and Advertisements folder 4 (56)

However, the application of monochrome lithography in advertising was not widespread. It was the commercialisation of lithographic printing in colour (chromolithography), aided by the widespread use of powered machines, that was to take the advertising world by storm.


“My Queen” Vel-Vel

“My Queen” Vel-Vel, Felstead & Hunt, London and Manchester, [1887], [1 p.], 258 x 194 mm. Letterpress with wood engraving on coloured paper. J
“My Queen” Vel-Vel, Felstead & Hunt, London and Manchester, [1887], [1 p.], 258 x 194 mm. Letterpress with wood engraving on coloured paper. JJColl: Women’s Clothes and Millinery 3 (7).
Wood engraving, developed in the late 18th century, allowed highly skilled engravers to simulate a range of tones by means of very much finer lines than could be produced by woodcutting. Their technique involved working on slices of wood cut across the grain using a variety of steel tools, such as the graver or burin. As in woodcutting, it is the parts of the block that are not cut away that print. Blocks could withstand long print runs and were frequently printed along with type. Such blocks could be cloned mechanically, making it possible to speed up production.

"My Queen" Vel-Vel detail
“My Queen” Vel-Vel detail

Wood engraving was the mainstay of journal illustration throughout the 19th century. By the 1880s, journal advertising took a multiplicity of forms, from brief (letterpress) newspaper-style inserts to full-page illustrated advertisements such as this. Many such images were ‘borrowed’ from chromolithographed posters and handbills. Engravers re-interpreted both images and text as best they could to preserve the strong branding associated with images. There is no reason to suppose that this is the case here, but this advertisement does reflect a sea-change: the image was dominant, the text subservient. Although this example maintains the verbosity associated with earlier advertising (replacing testimonials with quotations from fashion journals), the letterpress text is imaginatively disposed around the contours of the wood-engraved image.

In the late 19th century, Queen Victoria’s image appeared in many advertisements and countless souvenirs. The 1887 jubilee was a chance to capitalise on her increasing popularity  and perhaps to see the monarch in a new light. In Consuming Angels, Lori Loeb writes: ‘in advertisements her unique political role is rarely highlighted: instead, advertisers promote the leveling theme of her feminine nature’ (p. 85).

Whereas most advertisements state or imply that the Queen is a consumer of the advertised product, this image is unusual in showing the monarch as a potential shopper. There is good reason for that. Despite the brand name “My Queen” Vel-Vel, it is highly unlikely that the monarch would wear substitute velvet, no matter what its stated advantages over the real thing. Her approval is implied, although she is looking elsewhere, unsmiling. She is surrounded by the trappings of monarchy, from the subservience of her attendants to the comfortable décor. These associations are transferred to the product and increase its desirability.

To me, one of the most interesting aspects of advertising is the subtext. In claiming to have overcome deficiencies in products hitherto, advertisements reveal problems that (supposedly) blighted the lives of previous generations. Here, it is the problems of true ‘silk Lyons velvet’ and previous velveteens that are evoked. They were too heavy, prone to spotting and difficult to dry as they should not be exposed to direct heat. The ‘Lee finish’ of “My Queen” Vel-Vel solves these problems and is light enough for evening wear all year round and for fancy dress and theatrical costumes.

The John Johnson Collection is a treasure trove for historians of dress and textiles. Both our ProQuest and Zegami projects enable text searching of advertisements and trade cards respectively. For those who might like to explore velveteen, for example, there are 139 results in the ProQuest database, revealing manufacturers, rivals (such as ‘Louis’ velveteen), retailers, prices, etc.  More unexpectedly perhaps, crime broadsides include descriptions of criminals wearing velveteen and crimes of theft, including an intriguing reference to Thomas Gales (aged 30), sentenced in 1828 in Durham to 8 months’ hard labour for stealing a velveteen jacket.

The ProQuest project is free to all in the UK:

Crime Broadside (detail), Durham, 1828.
JJColl: Broadsides: Murder and Executions folder 2 (10)

Or you could search for velvet and velveteen in our Trade Cards project: Zegami

Edward Webbe trade card
Edward Webbe trade card. JJ Coll: Trade Cards 22 (15a)
Trade card for T. Wells
Trade card for T. Wells. JJColl: Trade Cards 21 (101)


The virtues of chocolate

This seasonal blog post is based in part on exhibits in The Art of Advertising exhibition (figures 3, 4, 6, 8).

Certain products stand out for the competitiveness of their advertising. Lotteries and soap are obvious examples. The marketing of cocoa and chocolate, although less innovative, was prolific. It is in striking contrast with the perception of chocolate in our own time.

Patent cocoa. Handbill of Anna Fry
Fig. 1. Patent cocoa. Handbill of Anna Fry, JJColl. Cocoa, Chocolate and Confectionery 2 (31)

The earliest cocoa advertisement in the John Johnson Collection is a handbill produced by Anna Fry (between 1787, the death of her husband and her own death in 1803). Joseph Fry had taken over Churchman’s patent (the first in England, 1729) in 1761.  It contains elements common to cocoa advertising for decades, especially claims of health benefits (often with medical testimonials).

This Cocoa is recommended by the most eminent of the Faculty, in preference to every other kind of breakfast, to such who have tender habits, decayed health, weak lungs, or scorbutic tendencies, being easy of digestion, affording a fine and light nourishment, and greatly correcting the sharp humours in the constitution.

Advertisements and labels for cocoa often also included directions as to how to prepare the beverage.

Directions for making ... Cadbury's cocoa.
Fig. 2. Directions for making … Cadbury’s cocoa. JJColl: Cocoa, Chocolate and Confectionery 1 (18)
I never travel without Fry's Cocoa
Fig. 3. I never travel without Fry’s Cocoa JJColl: Cocoa, Chocolate and Confectionery 2 (71a)

Until the 1850s, cocoa was consumed solely as a beverage.

For decades after that, until ways were found of adding less expensive ingredients to cocoa, it was marketed to the rich, as exemplified by two of the items in  our exhibition The Art of Advertising.

However, rather than the self- indulgence that forms the major selling point of chocolate today, the emphasis was on the health benefits.

Cadbury's Cocoa advertisement with nutritional table
Fig. 4. Cadbury’s Cocoa advertisement with nutritional table. JJColl: Cocoa, Chocolate and Confectionery 1 (19)

This Cadbury’s advertisement (fig. 4) is fascinating, not only in showing the benefits of cocoa to all ages (by implication of a certain class: the nursemaid seems to be excluded from partaking of the beverage) but for the scientific table showing the comparative value of foods. Here, Cadbury’s cocoa is favorably compared with raw beef and mutton, eggs and white bread and, in the smaller print below the table, with some of the best meat extracts. The terminology:  Nitrogen (flesh forming!), Carbon (heat giving) is counter-intuitive to a modern viewer only too aware of the fattening effects of chocolate consumption and not attuned to the nutritional value of ‘pure’ cocoa.

Sweetness also became a selling point of chocolate, as in this F. Allen & Sons advertisement produced as a souvenir of the International Health Exhibition in 1884.

Souvenir of the International Health Exhibition, 1884. F. Allen & Sons advertisement
Fig. 5. Souvenir of the International Health Exhibition, 1884. F. Allen & Sons. JJ Coll: Cocoa, Chocolate and Confectionery 1 (4a)

Another striking advertisement by F. Allen & Sons reminds us that cocoa was strongly associated with the Temperance movement in Britain.  The inclusion of an image of a family in abject poverty (due to the father consuming liquor) is shocking, as it was meant to be. The implication that it was within the power of the family to elevate themselves out of poverty by buying cocoa instead is no less so.

F. Allen cocoa advertisement.
Fig. 6. F. Allen cocoa advertisement. JJColl: Cocoa, Chocolate and Confectionery 1 (4b)

Although filled Belgian chocolates date from 1912, the first chocolate bar was marketed by Joseph Fry & Son in 1847 and chocolates began to be sold in the 1850s. This J. S. Fry’s advertisement gives an idea of the range available in 1859.  Fry’s are also credited with the creation of the first chocolate Easter egg in 1875.

French chocolates, J.S. Fry & Sons, 1859 (recto)
Fig. 7a. French chocolates, J.S. Fry & Sons, 1859. JJ Coll: Cocoa, Chocolate and Confectionery 2 (40) recto
French chocolates, J.S. Fry & Sons, 1859. JJ Coll: Cocoa, Chocolate and Confectionery 2 (40) verso
Fig. 7b. French chocolates, J.S. Fry & Sons, 1859. JJ Coll: Cocoa, Chocolate and Confectionery 2 (40) verso

In 1911, the contents of Rowntree’s Elect Coronation casket looked not dissimilar similar to chocolate selections today.

Advertising adds 1 (15) (Closed)
Fig. 8a. Coronation Casket, 1911, JJ Coll. Advertising adds 1 (15)


Rowntree's Elect Coronation Casket, 1911
Fig. 8b. Rowntree’s Elect Coronation Casket, 1911. JJ Coll. Advertising adds 1 (15)








A catalogue of American trees and shrubs that will endure the climate of England

The Art of Advertising exhibition. Blog post 2

A catalogue of American trees and shrubs that will endure the climate of England, Christopher Gray, Fulham, [c. 1737]

A catalogue of American trees and shrubs that will endure the climate of England, Christopher Gray, Fulham, [c. 1737]

Magnolia detail
Magnolia detail

The second item in our Printing case exemplifies copper engraving and etching, and is accompanied by the following description of the process:

In copper engraving and etching the print is taken from hollowed-out marks on a copper plate. These marks were inscribed through a coating that resists acid, and then subjected to etching, or physically engraved into the copper with a tool known as a burin. Often the plate was first etched and then engraved.
To take a print, ink is forced into the recessed lines, and the surface cleaned of ink. A sheet of paper is laid on top of the plate and pressure from the printing press forces the ink out of the hollows. The process was capable of great delicacy, although the soft copper plate would wear out over time. Text could be engraved as part of the plate, as in this example, but if type was needed, the two had to be printed separately.

This exquisite broadside is unusual in combining masterly etching and engraving with extensive alphabetical and bilingual text. Christopher Gray (1694-1764) specialised in plants from North America. This catalogue, referenced in the DNB article for Gray (odnb-9780198614128-e-37479) includes dogwoods, tulip trees, maples and American oaks as well as magnolias. The illustration of a magnolia altissima (or grandiflora) is based on a drawing by G.D. Ehret.

A catalogue of goods.... Gillery Pigott, 1766. Women's Clothes and Millinery 10 (26)
A catalogue of goods…. Gillery Pigott, 1766
JJColl: Women’s Clothes and Millinery 10 (26)

The title is unusual in explicitly identifying this item as a catalogue. It is more elaborate than a shopkeeper’s bill, but terminology was fluid. Another 18th century single sheet, similarly identified in its title as a catalogue: A Catalogue of Goods, sold Wholesale and Retail, by Gillery Pigott would usually be styled as a ‘shopkeeper’s bill’ or a tradesman’s list.

The John Johnson Collection is fairly rich in Horticultural ephemera. Early seedsmen’s lists are kept in two guard books (Bodleian shelfmarks: Johnson a.50 and Johnson d.1640). These are catalogued on SOLO (advanced search by shelfmark) and were listed by John Harvey in his Early Horticultural Catalogues: A Checklist of Trade Catalogues Issued by Firms of Nurserymen and Seedsmen in Great Britain and Ireland Down to the Year 1850, Bath, 1973.

There are also trade cards, such as those of Arabella Morris and Humphry Repton.

Trade card of Arabella Morris, 1748.
Trade card of Arabella Morris, 1748. JJColl: Horticulture 8


Trade card of Humphry Repton
Trade card of Humphry Repton. JJColl: Trade Cards 14 (5)

The main trade card sequence of the John Johnson Collection can be searched through our Zegami project.

Lotteries End for Ever

The Art of Advertising: an exhibition in waiting. Blog post 1


Sadly, The Art of Advertising closed, due to the Coronavirus pandemic, just 12 days after it opened.  While awaiting events (and, we hope, its re-opening) we are bringing you a series of blog posts featuring the exhibits, with additional contextualisation drawing on related material in the John Johnson Collection.

One of the three principal themes of the exhibition is Printing and we were very fortunate to draw on the expertise of Prof. Michael Twyman for the descriptions of printing processes in the first case, which is devoted to the major printing techniques used in the 18th century to the 1930s (the period of the exhibition).  Michael also identified the printing processes of all the 230 exhibits. 

The other exhibition themes are the birth of Commercial Art and advertising as a resource for social history.

Lotteries End for Ever

Lotteries End for Ever poster
Lotteries End for Ever poster
JJColl: Posters, Lotteries


This poster combines a striking woodcut image with lettering cut on wood in imitation of the latest display types of the period.

Woodcutting is the oldest of the processes used for printing images. Parts of a wood block are removed by gouges and knives, leaving the areas to be printed standing in relief so that they can be inked and printed under pressure on a press. Though woodcutting was capable of refined images, by the early 19th century it was mainly used, as in this example, for relatively crude popular work. Wood blocks were capable of withstanding long print runs and could be printed along with type.

Lottery advertising was often innovative, incorporating printed colour (as here), hand-colouring, Congreve compound plate printing (fig. 3), stick men, verse, acrostics,  etc. The last state lottery was drawn on 18 July 1826.  The John Johnson Collection includes an extensive collection of lottery bills, all digitised and available through our ProQuest project (free in the UK).


Carroll lottery bill for the last lottery, 18 July 1826
Fig. 3. Lottery bill for the last lottery, issued by Carrroll (Congreve Compound Plate Printing). JJColl Lotteries vol. 3 (3)
Hazard lottery bill, showing the drawing of the last lottery.
Fig. 4. Hazard lottery bill, showing the drawing of the last lottery. JJColl: Lotteries vol. 13 (6)











At Christmas or New Year, in the hope of a gratuity, bellmen and lamplighters distributed verses, known generically as Bellmen’s verses.  There are some 132 of these in the John Johnson Collection. Minimal records can be seen on our online catalogue   (Browse: set scrollbar to Shelfmarks: type Bellmen).

A copy of verses, from C.H. Reynell, Printer, No. 21, Piccadilly, London, for the year 1815
Fig. 5. Bellman’s Verse
A copy of verses, from C.H. Reynell, Printer, No. 21, Piccadilly, London, for the year 1815. JJColl Bellman’s Verses.

Other examples of images of bellmen in advertising, include the following.

Advertisement for Tregoning's Museum of Fancy Goods
Fig. 6. Advertisement for Tregoning’s Museum of Fancy Goods, featuring a bellman. JJColl: Provincial Booktrade 1 (37a)



Advertisement with image of a bellman: T. Dutton
Fig. 7. O Yes! O Yes! O Yes! T. Dutton, boots and shoes. Advertisement with image of a bellman. JJColl: Bazaars and Sales 1 (36)