Edwardian Emporium
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Edwardian Advertising

Advertising grew in extent and sophistication throughout the Victorian and the Edwardian periods. In part this was a reflection of improved print technologies which made it easier and cheaper to have brand names printed on tins and boxes of household items, and to typeset and to illustrate newspapers and magazines. Companies were able to decorate their tins of toothpaste and bottles of coffee essence with colourful, striking designs printed directly or on to labels. Once the trend for eyecatching brand markings had been established, it would have been difficult for any company to have opted out, as shops now displayed the ranks of colourful tins and packets of their competitors. Customers could choose between Groote's cocoa, Fry's, Cadbury's, or Rowntree's, whose packets and cannisters were all jostling on the shelves. Some of the designs endure as classics, such as those for Camp Coffee, Huntley and Palmer's biscuit tins, and Palmer's sugar, tea, and coffee tins. Given the higher cost of pictures, prints, and furnishings than today, colourful well-designed packaging would have made more of a visual impact as in Edwardian households. Showcards were also produced for trade fairs and became highly collectable items in their own right.

Increased advertising also reflected higher levels of literacy. By the Edwardian period, newspapers and magazines were reaching mass readerships, while the Daily Mirror, the Daily Express, and the Daily Mail were all founded in the 1900s. Newspapers and magazines all relied for income on advertisements, and their pages were full of adverts from everything to pills for the nerves to self-improvement physical exercises. The adverts themselves were often wordier than we would consider normal today. The Nestle Cats postcard in the Edwardian Emporium with its little rhyme gives a good example of this. Nowadays, the emphasis is on slogans and easy to remember catchphrases. Although Edwardian advertisers did use these, they also expected their readers to read more text, such as a paragraph extolling the virtues of their product, sometimes in a laborious or high register style. Manufacturers were not the only ones to advertise; the numerous charitable organisations and self-help societies of the time also did so, as did theatres, music halls, the government, and political parties. The striking design and the ubiquity of Kitchener's famous recruiting poster on the outbreak of war simply encapsulate this trend.

Interesting themes characterised Edwardian advertisments. One was the growing acceptability of military figures on posters and packaging. Earlier in the nineteenth century, soldiers had been associated with roughness and unruliness, but by the Edwardian era, soldiers and sailors on adverts had become very popular, representing upright, efficient, trustworthy figures, who were used to sell almost anything from beer to soap. Many organisations of the boys' brigade type promoted martial behaviour and appearance, encouraged by concerns over national efficiency and a love of pageantry. Domestic servants were also popular figures to represent on advertisments, carrying trays, or using domestic equipments such as cooking ranges. Needless to say, like soldiers, domestic servants could not represent themselves, and so were depicted as unfeasibly clean and unruffled rather than in a life of toil. Another dominant theme of advertisments was medical self-help or self-improvement, in an era when medical care was exclusive and expensive. Some advertisers made expansive claims for their products in a catch-all way, that would not be allowed today. For example, vegetable purifying pills were claimed to ease an array of problems from headaches to dull spirits to a sluggish liver. One concern for the Edwardians was the adulteration of food and even of other items, such as cleaning pastes. So it is common to see adverts warning the reader against inferior products masquerading as their own, or claiming that their own particular brand of mustard or of table salt was free from adulteration. In these cases, a brand represented not so much a lifestyle choice, as a guarantee of safety.

By the Edwardian age, the ubiquity of advertising is striking. Adverts covered packaging, while appearing prominently inside and outside stores, and in newspapers and magazines. They also filled street hoardings, and covered both the inside and outside of trams and omnibuses. In his book, 'Living London', 1900-3, George Sims states that the amount of advertising was such at on railway station walls and on omnibuses, that strangers in London would not be able to make out the names of their destinations. Occasionally, Edwardian advertisments were knowingly self-referential, themselves depicting people reading advertising posters. In the illustration from 'Living London', pictured here, Sims has cleverly included a photograph of his own book being advertised on a London street hoarding.


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