Let’s buy: An Antipestilential Quilt. Guest post by Lynda Mugglestone

Many thanks to Prof Lynda Mugglestone (Pembroke College, Oxford) for a fascinating analysis of one of the earliest exhibits in the Art of Advertising exhibition. The language of advertising is the focus of Lynda’s chapter in the accompanying book, The Art of Advertising.

Manner of Wearing the Antipestilential Quilt, [1690]
Manner of Wearing the Antipestilential Quilt, [1690]. JJColl: Patent Medicines 16 (19)
For modern readers, the Antipestilential Quilts advertised in the eighteenth century might perhaps suggest a more powerful version of an anti-allergy duvet –– a tempting fusion of warmth and protection in which unwanted symptoms are warded off as one sleeps. The reality was, however, rather different. Quilts of this kind were not comfortable coverings for a bed but portable artefacts worn on the body (near ‘the Pit of the Stomach’, as the advertisement above helpfully clarifies). As the Oxford English Dictionary explains, they are pads or dressings, layers of material used in the aim of medical treatment, and often coated with an unguent or ointment. For the OED, quilts of this kind were last recorded in 1684. The Antipestilential Quilts of Georgian England display, as such, surprising longevity.

They are surprising in other ways, too. ‘The great Art in Writing Advertisements is the finding out of a proper method to catch the reader’s Eye’, Addison declared in the Tatler in 1710. This advertisement proceeds, however, by stealth. The heading suggests, at first glance, a set of instructions for use — a piece of informative prose rather than persuasion. We are told where the quilt is to be worn, and how we might secure it (‘with a Ribband or Fillet’). We might, it indicates, need another ‘Ribband’, too, to go round the body. We are also told the best way to dry it, and the requirements of weekly application. Only gradually are its persuasive claims revealed, along with its stated efficacy against ‘the Small Pox’.

‘An eruptive distemper of great malignity’, as defined by Samuel Johnson in his own Dictionary of 1755, smallpox was the most dreaded – and most infectious — disease of the eighteenth century. Thought to be implicated in circa 1 in every 5 deaths, it displayed two-yearly cycles of virulence between 1750-1800.  In the advertisement above, it is woven into the text on four separate occasions, an insistent reminder of what is at stake. Like Covid-19, it was an air-borne and viral infection, a disease of proximity and contact which accounted for a third of childhood deaths in the seventeenth century, and some 400,000 deaths a year across Europe in the eighteenth. Those who survived were scarred for life.  A ‘pit or scar made by the smallpox’ was a pockhole, another entry in Johnson’s Dictionary confirms. Yet, at least within this advertisement, immunity from pocks and disease alike was extended to those in possession of a quilt of this kind, and who don it as directed. ‘No person who has not had the Small-Pox, or is obliged by his Profession to visit infected Places, ought to be without it’, readers were informed. Anxiety and reassurance are carefully balanced in the narrative which unfolds. For those with an Antipestilential Quilt, infection holds no fear. The quilt is a tangible form of shielding, actively ‘fortifying’ those who purchase it. Conversely, those without such protection are both vulnerable and exposed. Deft, too, is the reference to ‘Convulsion’. For infant sufferers of smallpox, convulsions were a telling – and dangerous – symptom; the ‘Cradle’ referred to in line 19 evokes innocence (and the prospect of innocent suffering) alongside a calculated prompt to parental responsibility and guilt. Being quiltless is made a calculated risk. Across the advertisement, positive verbal constructions work to the same ends, reinforcing the stated efficacy of a product that ‘will preserve … from Convulsions’ and by means of which ‘the Blood purges itself of malignant Humours’ to leave the body at ease.  If further ‘Equilibrium’ is required, a little ‘Wine and Water’ is all that is needed.

We are, of course, in the realm of quackery rather than medicine proper. Even so, embedded medical diction draws on the Latinate and authoritative (‘insensible Perspiration’) as well on the time-honoured and traditional. As such, it deploys not the new-fangled inoculation — a word used after 1700 in relation to smallpox, and a process adopted by the pioneering Lady Mary Wortley Montagu in 1718 — but the familiar model of the bodily ‘humours’, and the salience of sweating out ‘ill humours’ such that the balance that illness has disrupted is restored. Superlatives (it ‘may be worn … with the greatest Safety’) as well as economy (with careful use, it will last for ‘twenty Years or more’) do their own persuasive work. Only in the final paragraph do the clinching details appear of where this extraordinary, and exclusive, commodity can be obtained, and by which the ‘Manner of Wearing the Antipestilential Quilt’ is extended to anyone who can afford it. We might begin therefore with apparent instruction in something we already own.  We end with the details by which this potent object of desire can be acquired, alongside the promise it brings.

Promise is, of course, a weasel word in its own right. On one hand, as Johnson noted, it is a ‘declaration of some benefit to be conferred’. Nevertheless, as he added, it is equally bound to ‘hope’ and ‘expectation’ – and to that anticipated but not by any means realized. Here, too, the Antipestilential Quilt proves exemplary. Purchase might, at least temporarily, allay concern but striding into ‘infected places’, even if wearing an Antipestilential Quilt, risked highly adverse consequences. Few, in this light, would be in use for twenty years. The projected discourse of economy was, quite literally, false, as, of course, were the protective merits urged upon potential consumers. As other advertisements for this product in the late eighteenth century make plain, the real promise of the Antipestilential Quilt relied on credulity and the power of belief. It might, as in the London Chronicle in 1773, hence be depicted as ‘an infallible ANTIDOTE against the SMALL POX’ but, ‘worn by way of an Amulet’, it is, in essence, a talisman against infection. In this further strand of advertising, the details of ‘insensible Perspiration’ were removed in favour of prominent scare-mongering. Amulets, like the processes of infection, work in invisible ways. Empirical evidence is provided by an experiment ‘tried in Paris’ in which medical ethics – and childhood safeguarding — are conspicuously absent. Instead, six healthy children ‘put to Sleep with persons who had the Small Pox in the most inveterate Degree’, present proof of efficacy (and pressure to buy). Given the protective immunity of a Quilt, three children retain ‘perfect Health’. Those denied ‘this Preservative’ are less fortunate, being ‘seized with this Disease within 48 Hours’. For susceptible readers, the moral of was plain. The text – and the sales pitch — conclude with directions for purchase, and a reminder to acquire only the genuine article, available from Mr Baldwin in Fleet Street whose monopoly was thereby rendered secure.


*On the historical background to smallpox in Britain, see S. R. Duncan, Susan Scott, and C. J. Duncan, ‘The Dynamics of Smallpox Epidemics in Britain, 1550-1800’, Demography vol.30 (1993), 405-23.

** Edward Jenner’s introduction of vaccination for smallpox at the very end of the eighteenth century gradually reduced mortality. Smallpox was formally eradicated in 1980.




‘Out-of-the-Rut’: Sparling Cut Catalogues and the Fun of Fashion — by Daniel Haynes

Photomechanical Printing in Colour

Sparling Cut male catalogue [c. 1926]
Sparling Cut male catalogue [c. 1926] JJColl: Men’s Clothes 5 (2)
Detail of Sparling Cut catalogue
Detail of Sparling Cut catalogue







In the 1890s, after decades of experimentation, colour and photography came together in the form of photomechanical printing in colour. The constituent hues of the original to be reproduced were separated by means of colour filters (red for cyan, green for magenta, and blue for yellow). A combination of three colours could produce an acceptable colour image. Black was sometimes added to produce what would be called CMYK today, but printing in three colours remained the norm for the first few decades of the 20th century. Such methods of colour printing were applied to lithography a little later than to relief printing.

The Sparling Cut Male

The rise of online shopping has changed the way we browse brands and products completely. Wholesale catalogues are increasingly rare, with the whole thing replaced at any rate by an online search. That’s not so much a bad thing — online catalogues are great in many ways. But I can’t shake that nostalgia for the real thing, and I remember fondly the excited flick-through of an Argos catalogue in the run-up to Christmas, and all those glossy, enticing pictures in that ‘laminated book of dreams’, to steal a phrase from Bill Bailey. Argos stopped producing physical catalogues around 2018. But it was all very fun.

Recapturing transient cultural moments like these is at the heart of The Art of Advertising, which explores the production and dissemination of advertisements from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries. Catalogues are valuable compendia of advertisements in their own right (the oldest date to 15th century Europe) and yet their survival rates are slim: generally speaking, ephemera repositories considered catalogues to be books; libraries saw them as ephemera.[1] Adding to this, mail-order catalogues and advertisements were profuse: ‘junk mail’ of this kind is rarely treasured. Not infrequently, the quality of mail-order items themselves was brought into question, even with the zenith of the department store and the upsurge of ‘reach-me-down’ clothing in the early twentieth century. Accordingly, the catalogue’s status as ‘literature’ has been questionable at best, despite evidence of essentially literary endeavours from at least 1863.[2] To add to this ongoing discussion – and to argue the case for a literary revaluation – I am going to focus on one particular example from the exhibition: The Sparling Cut Male menswear catalogue.

The front cover of The Sparling Cut Male is displayed in the first case of The Art of Advertising, representing contemporary developments in photomechanical printing in colour and the advent of the colour-printed catalogue that is so familiar to us today. A full-colour printed catalogue was uncommon in 1926: it was more normal to have art paper covers printed in colour and the rest of the catalogue in black and white on inferior paper.[3] Sparling Cut was by no means the first company to take advantage of the printed catalogue, and certainly made no revolutionary impact on catalogues and consumer culture at large. In fact, it’s hard to find out anything about Sparling Cut: all evidence suggests a small-to-medium-sized business operating out of two premises in the City, arriving on the scene sometime following the First World War[4] and continuing to occupy advertising space until at least the Second World War[5], before winding up in 1974[6]. The Bodleian holds only two issues: Vol 1. No. 5 and No. 6, which features in The Art of Advertising. No. 5 has colour wrappers, but is printed in black-and-white, making No. 6 even more unusual. As an exemplar of the technical possibilities of the three-colour process, this Sparling Cut catalogue provides a window into the fashion culture of the early twentieth century – a period of rapid sartorial change and development – and these publications are unique, even by modern standards, for their stylish design, comic vision and emphatic textuality.

With this gorgeous front cover for No. 6, Sparling Cut sells before anything else the feeling of wearing a Sparling suit. There’s a touch of Bright Young Things tempered with a pecuniary pun on ‘figures’. And note that twee attribution: ‘Edited by Old Man Sparling in his Sanctum’. Where many catalogues of the period offer little more than descriptive lists dressed up in sales jargon, The Sparling Cut Male distinguishes itself with lengthy interpolations of prose and poetry. Upon opening each issue, the reader meets with a reflective address from the ‘Old Man’ on his literary labour of love. Just look at the foliate capital that crowns the first sentence of this issue:

It’s helpful here to adopt Clare Rose’s conception of the ‘frustrated author’ to describe Old Man Sparling (if indeed he is a real person, and not the creation of a penny copywriter).[7] In the introduction to No. 6, Old Man Sparling has ‘[laid] down the shears in favour of the pen’ and welcomes ‘this editing business’ from his ‘Editor’s chair’. He directs us to ‘my special article on page 4’. Every employee has been ‘schooled in a unique method peculiar to my business’; if anything seems a bit complicated, simply consult ‘your friend’ Sparling. From these first pages alone, Sparling catalogues are evidently a playfully erudite affair.[8]

Its literary contributions are a mix of poems, letters of thanks, musings on fashion, jingles, and satirical fiction. The best of these is a ‘Day in the Life of a Sparling Cut Male’, attributed to an ‘ardent supporter’ of the ‘Sparling Cut cult’. In this page-long story, a young man recounts the life-changing power of a Sparling suit: he arrives at work to be immediately summoned by his boss, who offers ‘my salary doubled’, ‘a seat on the board’, and ‘his youngest and prettiest daughter with an income of £10,000 per year’ — all thanks to Sparling Cut! In a similarly ironic fashion, the front cover for Vol. 5 shows a dapper young man (we assume wearing Sparling) utterly failing to win the attention of a woman. In the article ‘—Then I Woke Up’, Old Man Sparling receives a knighthood for ‘making England the best-dressed country in the world’ but (you can guess from the title where this is going) it is revealed to be a dream. In any view, self-deprecation is an audacious marketing strategy. Somehow, Sparling Cut makes it work. This dry, urbane humour is reminiscent of the Fortnum and Mason catalogues praised by George Bernard Shaw.

Complementing the text are vibrant, full-page colour images. Old Man Sparling explains:

The illustrations in this edition of the “Sparling Cut Male” are from living models wearing “Sparling Cut” clothes, and are the work of that brilliant artist, Mr. Wilton Williams, and to whom we are much indebted for his faithful reproductions.

Wilton Williams (fl. 1915-1930), perhaps best known for his ‘Blackpool’ poster for Great Central Railway, brings here the same vibrant energy to the fore. Thinking about modern catalogues again (I think particularly of the Argos catalogue), part of the magic of those catalogues is not only the visible representation of objects, right there in all their glossy glory, but a kind of emotive mimesis: staged actors bounced with delight on that trampoline you wanted, played the latest games console, built that Lego set you were dying for. Likewise, when you flick through a volume of Sparling Cut you are struck by the sheer activity of its models, who are visibly social, energetic, and (perhaps most importantly) enjoying demonstrable degrees of personal and societal success. Sparling Cut men (and women, too) look like they’re having fun, both at work and at home.

The John Johnson Collection has many menswear catalogues to choose from. By considering how Sparling Cut advertises its products compared to its contemporaries, we learn a lot about changes in fashion in the early twentieth century. As the stuffy formality of Edwardian dress fell out of favour, and a freer sense of style developed alongside relaxed delineations of dress, white-collar men of older dispositions responded with what Maria Constantino calls ‘a mechanised and industrial order’: strictly practical, multi-purpose business suits, in a limited range of dark, muted colours. (One thinks of T. S. Eliot’s crowd over London Bridge in The Waste Land.) For reference, here is a second menswear catalogue from this period, for Clement H. Sunderland, which in contrast to The Sparling Cut Male is practically funereal:

Clement H. Sunderland catalogue, 1921 – John Johnson Collection Men’s Clothes 5 (3).

The hallmarks of a more conservative style are evident here, right up to the neoclassical backdrops: double-breasted jackets, a restricted range of trouser pairings, and spats. However, the ‘speeding up of life’ — strongly associated with the rise of the department store, ‘reach-me-down’ mass produced clothing and, for men, a slim, ‘youthful’ body shape — meant that savvy retailers responded with an emphasis on style and colour, sparking ‘the struggle between youth and age’.[9]  Single breasted suits with two or three buttons (slightly in at the waist) became fashionable, in a range of colours and patterns. The Sparling Cut Male locates itself firmly on-trend against ‘the Dullness of Yesterday’:

‘Mass-produced’ did not need to mean ‘ill-fitting’, and many outlets provided tailoring services as standard. And just as well: ‘a perfect fitting around the hips’ repeats the assertion that a 1920s suit is not only for working – it is also for dancing.

To finish up, here are two phrases from The Sparling Cut Male. The first is “it’s colour we want in the hum-drum of everyday life.” The second is “express your personality” — a provocatively modern slogan, printed on the back pages. There’s no doubting that Sparling Cut offered a wide range of patterns, colours and style for the fashion-conscious male. However, it’s important not to overstate Sparling’s apparent uniqueness. To understand its place in men’s fashion in the early twentieth century (and also in the history of catalogues) it is useful to think about The Sparling Cut Male in terms of what it is not. Despite the dapper outlook, Sparling Cut never strays into the territory of the dandy or the aesthete. Its branding and artwork are definitively not art-deco or modernist, and its male models preserve middle-class decorum and to all extents and purposes ‘fit in’. In this sense, Sparling Cut toes the fine line between the practicable reality of the suit and the freedom of personal style, without veering wildly in either direction. It emerges as a dual compromise — on the one hand, between the price- and fashion-conscious individual; on the other, between the two aesthetic extremes of the avant-garde and conservativism.



[1] See Clare Rose, Making, Selling and Wearing Boys’ Clothes in Late-Victorian England (Ashgate, 2010), pp. 90-2.

[2] See the pamphlet On Modern Costume, ‘honestly and avowedly published’ by E. Moses and Son, Ready-made and Bespoke Tailors, London and Bradford, 1863. John Johnson Collection Men’s Clothes 2 (8), online here: http://gateway.proquest.com/openurl?url_ver=Z39.88-2004&res_dat=xri:jjohnson:&rft_dat=xri:jjohnson:rec:20071127120131dt.

[3] With thanks to Julie-Anne Lambert for this information.

[4] Surviving records are slight, and runs of The Sparling Cut Male are undated. Vol. 1, No. 5 can be dated confidently to 1926 from a reference on its introductory pages. This places No. 6 (the exhibition copy) within a year at most, given the pace of fashion. Vol 1. No 14 was sold at an online auction at an unknown date. https://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/original-vintage-1920-1930s-mens-218962059. It is worth noting that No. 14 reprints the same illustrations used in Nos. 5 and 6.

[5] A full-page advertisement in Air Force List for May 1940 (https://digital.nls.uk/british-military-lists/archive/96058150?mode=transcription) still utilises the slogan ‘Out-of-the-Rut’, juxtaposed with merry-looking Navy men, perhaps as morale-boosting propaganda in the face of World War II.

[6] https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/46395/page/10795/data.pdf. This is not to say that Sparling was still in production in 1974.

[7] See John Johnson Collection guest article by Clare Rose, ‘Elias Moses and Son, Minion of the Million 1849’: http://johnjohnson.chadwyck.co.uk/search/displayEssayByID.do?ItemID=66666666666666cr

[8] For an overview of menswear catalogues juxtaposing advertisements with prose, see Clare Rose, Boys’ Clothes, pp. 90-1.

[9] This is an oversimplification of a complicated several decades (see Constantino, Men’s Fashion in the Twentieth Century, particularly page 25 for references to body shape).

Two technologies: the Baird Televisor and Photomechanical printing in monochrome — by Daniel Haynes

Photographic methods began to influence commercial printing in the closing decades of the 19th century. They depended on two developments. One (affecting relief printing only) was controlling the etching of the metal when lowering the unwanted parts. The other was the manufacture of crossed-line screens that could break down the continuous tones of an image into binary dots of various sizes, small ones in light areas, larger ones in dark areas. The main limitation of photomechanical printing in relief was that the resolution of the grid of dots limited the kind of paper used, the commercial norm being 133 dots to the inch (52.36 dots to the cm). From A Brief Guide to Printing Processes in the Exhibition.

The Baird Televisor, leaflet c. 1933
The Baird Televisor, leaflet, c. 1933. JJColl: Television 1. Relief printed halftone block, printed in blue.

Baird Televisor detail
Baird Televisor detail showing binary dots

From cars and aeroplanes to telephones and domestic gas stoves, The Art of Advertising  showcases many great inventions of the early 20th century. The Baird Televisor was the first commercial television, manufactured by Plessor (now BAE Systems), and marketed as ‘the very latest marvel . . . Not a photograph, nor yet a shadowgraph, but an actual moving image’. Its inventor, the Scottish engineer John Logie Baird (1888-1946), was a pioneer of early television who had demonstrated the first live television broadcast in 1926, the first cross-country broadcast in 1927, and the first transatlantic television signal in 1928. The Baird Televisor, sold to the public from 1929, brought ‘the very latest marvel’ into the home for the first time.

The Televisor was a mechanical television — the precursor to analogue. Its black-and-white ‘moving image’ was the result of decades of experimentation and invention, adapting the image-scanning ‘Nipkow disk’ patented by the German inventor Paul Gottleib Nipkow in 1885. As the diagram below demonstrates, a bright light was projected onto the subject through a Nipkow disk. The reflected light was then captured by photo-sensitive selenium cells and converted into an electric signal, which was displayed on the home receiver kit via its own Nipkow disk (the upright drum on the model shown above). This YouTube video from Technology Connections provides an excellent breakdown of the complicated science behind mechanical televisions — though Baird’s 1923 prototype ran on just a few bike lights, old cardboard, and glue — but if you want to skip the science, just know that the earliest screens produced an image not much wider than an inch and a half.

Diagram showing the transmission of sound and image for early televisions (Public domain: Wikimedia Commons). An adapted ‘Nipkow Disk’ is seen attached to the ‘Driving motor’, top-left.
Baird Televisor screen, showing the 30-line image (courtesy of the Early Television Museum).

The Baird Televisor had a resolution of 30 lines, corresponding to the 30 holes in its Nipkow Disk. The higher the resolution, the bigger the Nipkow disk needed to be, and this was impractical (and incredibly noisy) for home systems. Although the Televisor is certainly bulky by modern standards, it is important to counter our sensibility for thinner, sleeker appliances by drawing attention to the Televisor’s biggest rival: the cinema, which predated television by over a decade. As Donald F. McLean writes in his re-examination of early television, Restoring Baird’s Image: ‘it is hard for us to appreciate how significant a hold cinema had when television first started.’ That Baird managed not only to capture moving images without conventional film and transmit them over great distances but achieved this in a device no bigger than a moderately-sized CRT is a marvel in its own right, remembering that cinema was not required to transmit beyond the walls of the movie theatre — and it didn’t project ‘live’.

Understood in this context, the ‘DAILY BROADCAST’ detailed bottom-right in our advertisement for the Televisor takes on critical importance as a persuasive device. To justify its high cost and position itself as a valid competitor to the cinema, the Televisor had to give people a reason to stay indoors. Enter the British Broadcasting Corporation, and its first foray into television. On the face of it, the Televisor schedule is conspicuously limited to a half-hour slot on weekday mornings. In fact, the first BBC broadcasts in 1929 didn’t include sound — but a complete broadcasting schedule from 1930 digitised by the Early Television Museum reveals that an additional evening transmission was broadcast from midnight to 12.30am on Tuesdays and Fridays. The schedule is viewable here (content warning: one programme contains the use of a racial slur). These early programmes have more in common with theatre than cinema, with vocal or instrumental recitals and solo comedic entertainers dominating the line-up. While it’s true that ensembles such as ballet troupes occasionally feature, early television favoured the lone performer.

Look back at the advertisement and notice the shape of the screen. Unlike modern televisions, it is portrait-oriented: allegedly, John Logie Baird initially conceived of his invention as a real-time communication device, much like the modern video call, and devised screen-space optimised to the dimensions of the single caller. And, like video calls, it’s more difficult to fit a crowd into a portrait rather than a landscape screen. Whatever the reason, Televisors, and all subsequent models including the 1933-4 Mirror Drum, retained this odd orientation.

So what was early television actually like for contemporary audiences? As this 1928 review of a Televisor demonstration suggests, the answer is perhaps ‘not great’:

1928 review of the Televisor’s image quality (courtesy of the Early Television Museum).
John Logie Baird in his laboratory with ‘Stooky Bill’ (Public domain: Wikimedia Commons).

For however groundbreaking it was, mechanical television could not match the high definition and manoeuvrability of the film camera, and a clear display could be difficult to achieve. The Baird receptor could not move (i.e. it could not pan), regular synchronisation was required, and its reliance on bright artificial light confined it to dim indoor studios; as such, a static actor or performer aided by high-contrast makeup and lighting produced the most reliably watchable content, especially on early Baird models. In fact, the first television image, transmitted in 1925 from John Logie Baird’s laboratory, was a heavily made-up ventriloquist’s dummy called ‘Stooky Bill’.

The first British radio play, Luigi Pirandello’s The Man with a Flower in His Mouth, was staged in July 1930 on a Baird Televisor. This incredible 1963 recreation by the original producer using a refitted Televisor demonstrates the slow, characterful acting demanded of 30-line resolution:

By 1930, higher-definition electronic analogue televisions were in commercial production, and Baird himself demonstrated 120-line projection television in colour at the Dominion Theatre in 1938. By the 1940s, electronic analogue television had completely replaced the inferior mechanical systems (the BBC switched to electronic Marconi-EMI systems in 1935).

Despite its short lifespan, the original Baird Televisor achieved something extraordinary. It introduced televisions and broadcasting to the public, and paved the way for greater invention and competition. The Televisor promised technology ‘only dreamed of by writers of fiction’: live, moving pictures, transmitted near-immediately across land and sea. Its futuristic claims were supported in its advertising material by the use of photomechanical printing which, just like its product, brought a true-to-life image before the viewer’s eyes.

In an age where even 24-hour cable seems antiquated, and media is increasingly mediated by our own schedules, it’s mindblowing to consider the technological effort that went into making audiovisual entertainment possible. Next time you’re bored of Netflix, remember poor John Logie Baird working overtime just to make a blurry face flicker on a monochrome screen…


Further reading and resources:

  • Donald F. McLean, Restoring Baird’s Image (a selection is available here via Google Books).
  • The Early Television Museum – resource for all mechanical, pre- and post-war televisions and broadcasting.
  • Baird Television – website dedicated to John Logie Baird’s career and inventions.
  • Bonhams – Televisor sold for £21,000 at auction in 2017.
  • Wikipedia entry for ‘Stooky Bill‘.
















E. Ewen & Son: an exquisitely hand-coloured window bill

Colour printing did not immediately end hand colouring in advertising: both methods continued until print runs grew so large that hand colouring became impractical. In this example from the 1820s, all the colour has been added by hand.

E. Ewen & Son's hand-coloured window bill.
E. Ewen & Son’s hand-coloured window bill. JJColl: Window Bills and Advertisements folder 5 (1)
E. Ewen & Son's hand-coloured window bill (detail)
E. Ewen & Son’s hand-coloured window bill (detail)

Relief printed by [John Vandenburgh] Quick, with the letters of the word SOAP wood engraved, this 1820s hand-coloured window bill is one of my favourites in ‘The Art of Advertising’ exhibition. Destined to be displayed in E. Ewen & Son’s shop, it was a one-off, hence the elaborate hand colouring and superior printing.

With the exception of the letter S, which could represent the Ewen manufactory, the illustrations that make up the word SOAP bear little relation to the product. They are of a style often associated with alphabets. I have been unable to discover the significance of the Pink and Blue Saucer Manufactory, and would be delighted if historians of ceramics could shed any light on this.

I have also discovered nothing  in the subsequent work of John Vandenburgh Quick (fl. 1823-1853) approaching this calibre. It was an early work – perhaps a show piece, symbolising his aspirations before the reality of jobbing printing took over. Certainly, it is fitting for a shop patronised by royalty and nobility. We have several examples of his crime broadsides, songs, entertainment handbills and bellmen’s verses in the John Johnson Collection and 39 of his street ballads in the Bodleian’s collections. He produced a series of ‘candle-light amusements’ and is said to have printed peep-shows, dioramas, flap-books and pop-up books.  He did, however, print in interesting places including Hyde Park and 76 feet below high water-mark under the Thames in the Thames Tunnel.

Statue of Achilles inStatue of Achilles in Hyde Park, c. 1822 Hyde Park, c. 1822
Statue of Achilles in Hyde Park, c. 1822. ‘Printed on the spot’. JJColl: Printed on the Ice 2 (3)







The Thames Tunnel Paper, March 25, 1843
The Thames Tunnel Paper, March 25, 1843. JJColl: Printed on the Ice 2 (7)



















Exquisite hand-colouring was usually reserved for high-quality prints or for costly items such as valentine cards. In advertising, early exponents of hand-colouring include lottery agents, who used a range of techniques to introduce colour into lottery bills. There are also hand-coloured inn tallies and trade cards, although these are rare. The two examples below are crude in comparison with the E. Ewen & Son’s window bill.  However, they exemplify the desire for colour that was to galavanise printers to experiment with printing in colour.

Lottery bill, hand-coloured
Lottery bill. JJColl: Lotteries vol. 13 (25)
Red Lion Inn. Hand-coloured inn tally.
Red Lion Inn. Hand-coloured inn tally. JJColl: Bill Headings 17 (69)




“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: http://johnjohnson.chadwyck.co.uk/geoLocSubscription.do

Crime Broadside (detail), Durham, 1828.
JJColl: Broadsides: Murder and Executions folder 2 (10) http://gateway.proquest.com/openurl?url_ver=Z39.88-2004&res_dat=xri:jjohnson:&rft_dat=xri:jjohnson:image:20090318150211kg:1

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)