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.
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.
In this example, just four blocks – red, yellow, blue and black – create a range of colours, shades and tones.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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
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).
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).
Other examples of images of bellmen in advertising, include the following.
There are 27 boxes of Christmas cards in the John Johnson Collection and a further 7 of Christmas cards: trade. Christmas cards are also represented in our Albums, notably in a Jonathan King stock book, a S. Hildersheimer & Co. sample album (1880-81), and in a beautiful Hildesheimer & Faulkner competition album (1881-1882). This post aims to contextualise some of these cards.
The Victorians are often credited with (or blamed for) inventing the modern Christmas. Before the Victorian era there was no continuing tradition of celebrating Christmas. In the church calendar Easter was the more important festival. However, as most Christmas celebrations have their roots in traditional, even ancient, British and European customs, the Victorian Christmas was in reality an amalgam of novelty and nostalgia.
The Christmas card, however, was a true Victorian invention. The commercial Christmas card can be dated precisely to 1843, to a commission by Henry Cole (1808–1882, later knighted). Cole had worked with Rowland Hill on the Penny Post (1840) and was later famed for his contributions to the Great Exhibition and to the founding of the South Kensington Museum (subsequently the V&A) of which he was the first Director. The card was designed by John Callcott Horsley (1817–1903) and departs from the intricate lace paper and elaborate composition of the contemporary and well-established valentine. The hand-coloured design encapsulates the central elements of the Victorian Christmas in a pseudo-triptych. It shows a wealthy family toasting the viewer, flanked by two scenes of charitable giving to the poor. It is notably secular. Since first writing this post, we have acquired a proof of the card (JJColl Cundall 2). For more information about the Cole-Horsley card, I refer you to the V&A’s excellent online article.
Despite good sales of the Cole–Horsley card (1,000 copies were lithographed and hand-coloured and those surplus to Cole’s personal needs were sold at his own shop, Felix Summerly’s Home Office, for the princely sum of a shilling each), the next commercial British Christmas card was not produced until 1848. In the 1860s, Christmas cards were typically similar to visiting cards, with scalloped edges and small embossed images of robins, holly or flowers. Note headings with similar designs embossed at the top were also popular at this time with matching scalloped envelopes.
It was not until the 1870s that the tradition of sending cards was finally established, coinciding with the flowering of colour printing (in the form of chromolithography). The halfpenny postage for unsealed correspondence boosted sales of Christmas cards and marked the birth of the postcard in Britain. The Post Office first asked the public to ‘Post early for Christmas’ in 1881, and in 1882 The London Reader still referred to Christmas cards as the ‘latest development … of late years.’
The newest cards from publishers such as Marcus Ward, Hildesheimer and Faulkner (both famed for their superior artwork), Sulman, and Rimmel (whose offerings were often scented sachets) were eagerly awaited and discussed in the press. Cards were usually single rather than folded sheets with printed verses and space for handwritten messages on the back.
In the 1870s to 1880s, they became more complex, sometimes incorporating lace paper, decorative scraps, mechanical devices (cards with paper ‘springs’ to create a three-dimensional effect, or with strings to activate moveable parts or pop-ups), and gold and silver printing. They were the province of the wealthy, but were less expensive than valentines.
Marcus Ward’s artists included Walter Crane (brother of its artistic director) and Kate Greenaway. Several publishers ran competitions for card design or artistic arrangement of cards in the albums that were so popular among women.
It is surprising that, in such a pious age, the imagery of most Christmas cards was not religious (although the accompanying verses sometimes were).
Certainly there were some nativity scenes, angels, crosses with flowers or religious sentiments, but these were well outnumbered by images of children, Father Christmases, wintry scenes, flowers (often looking forward to spring rather than winter), robins, food and anthropomorphic animals and birds.
Humorous cards were also common. Did the Victorians find the secular nature of most of their Christmas cards odd? There is little evidence that they did. ‘The diffusion among one’s friends and relatives of things so well adapted to cultivate taste is a real Christmas Charity’ wrote Thomas Hood about Marcus Ward’s latest cards in the journal Fun. Church attendance (and charitable giving) would have been taken for granted, and the secular and the sacred seem to have co-existed comfortably.
An invaluable contemporary account of Christmas cards is this extra number of The Studio, 1894.
The Christmas card has continued in popularity, although the flights and fancies of Victorian invention and paper engineering have given way to much simpler, folded cards. A few years ago it was almost unthinkable that the Christmas card might disappear, despite the secularisation of greetings as well as images on some cards in order to avoid causing offence. However, environmental concerns and the viable alternative of the e-Card may result in its decline. As Librarian of the John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera (in the Bodleian Library), I find a gentle irony in the gradual substitution of the ephemeral by the e-phemeral!
Such is Shakespeare’s fame, that he has, inevitably, permeated the culture of our land. Quotations and misquotations from his works pepper advertisements from cosmetics to shoe polish, artificial teeth to linen mesh underwear. The Bard lent a certain gravitas.
Shakespeare’s portrait graced match boxes and cigar labels, and advertisements for (among others) soap, patent medicines, mustard & candles. In her excellent work Portraits of Shakespeare (Oxford, Bodleian Library, 2015) Katherine Duncan-Jones situates these humble ephemera as derivative of the Droeshout engraving or the Chandos portrait.
A women’s clothing company (The Shakespeare Manufacturing Company of Manchester) took his name and a collar was called after Shakespeare.
Inevitably, many circulating libraries and bookshops bore his name or his portrait on their trade card.
In our ProQuest project (free within the UK), in addition to advertisements, there are sheet music covers, minature theatre sheets, popular and humorous prints, scraps and prospectuses.
However, the major corpus of Shakespeare-related ephemera in the John Johnson Collection is theatrical, with over 2,000 playbills and programmes from London and provincial theatres fully indexed and digitised on our ProQuest site with some playbills from the end of the 18th century on DigitalBodleian. These playbills constitute a major scholarly resource.
Not only can researchers find details of which plays were performed, when and in which venue, but also who performed them, in whose edition and in what context. As all performers are indexed, scholars can find Sarah Siddons in Macbeth, John Kemble in Coriolanus, Edmund Kean in Richard III.
The couplings of Shakespeare tragedies with somewhat lighter works are alien to our current theatre-going practices and reveal much about the nature of an evening’s entertainment expected by Georgians, Victorians and Edwardians. Inserted into these long evenings were songs, dances, ballets, burlettas, masquerades, etc. Musicologists can search for specific pieces or composers of incidental music or discrete works.
In addition to resources available electronically, there are eight boxes and three folders of ephemera and secondary material relating to the Bard, including undigitised prospectuses of Shakespeare editions. The Shakespeare index is online.