You know how you page through those coupon magazines and the pages toward the back are always stuffed with silly ads for everything from creepy porcelain baby dolls to bunion removers? Or how you spend several minutes furiously paging through dozens of full page clothing ads in fashion magazines until you finally find some articles?
Well, I’ve discovered that times haven’t really changed. Fan magazines back in the Roaring Twenties and Edwardian times were also full of silly ads, although admittedly with very charming fonts.
Just like today, the ads were made to fit the magazines’ audiences. So film fan magazines were full of jewelry and makeup ads promising to make you beautiful, while trade magazines hawked cameras and offered money for “photoplay” stories to ambitious would-be filmmakers. My favorite ads so far are from the 1910s, which are quaint and (very) curious things of delight. (Note: The following images are from 1915-17 fan magazines.) Let’s take a little trip down Ye Olde Consumerist lane.
In the mid-1910s studios were constantly looking for fresh ideas, and fans were encouraged to send in scenarios (screenwriter Anita Loos famously got her start this way). This of course lead to ads like this, from obviously-not-shady “companies”:
Of course, instead of writing to a shady address in New York you could always pick up a free instructional booklet on how to strike it rich writing successful photoplays:
Of course, you couldn’t do any successful writing without a shiny new typewriter:
But maybe your creative skills went in a different direction. Cartoons were a huge part of popular culture in the early 20th century, having a big impact on slang and both stage and film comedy. Quite a few aspiring cartoonists dreamed of seeing their work in print, and ads for “cartooning schools” like this would’ve gotten their attention:
And if your artistic skills leaned more toward fancy lettering, you could learn how to hand-paint signs, posters, and more (the great Windsor McCay was once a poster designer):
Hmm, maybe the creative arts just aren’t for you. Maybe you’re looking for a job that would guarantee untold-amounts of disposable income. Buddy, you could become a travelling salesman and make up to ten grand a year!
But let’s say you’re a wife and mother with a household to keep in order–a big job in the days before electric appliances. How to bring in a little extra income to help your family? You could always sell ladies’ hosiery, probably in Mary Kay rep fashion:
Speaking of wives and mothers, back then babies’ health was a big concern, especially since much of the medicine we take for granted today didn’t exist. Ads for infant formulas that promised “robust and happy infants” were prominent:
Not only the young ‘uns were supposed to be robust. If you were a typical Edwardian man your ideal was to be strong, muscular, and full of vim and vigor. Basically, you wanted to be like Douglas Fairbanks crossed with a barrel-chested champion wrestler. Various brawny-armed men became a fixture in ads promising “muscle development” and “vitality,” which were written by “specialists.” Here’s one from the ’10s:
Just for comparison, here’s a similar one from the twenties (they didn’t change much):
Have you ever deplored the modern trend of thin models and declared that back then “bigger curves were thought of as normal and healthy”? Well hold onto your Spanx, because plenty of 1910s gals wanted to “reduce” too:
And they wanted their figures to be sleek all over. That’s right, my friends–let us behold together this old-timey ad about shapely ankles. That’s right, an honest-to-goodness shapely ankles ad. Puh-raise God for vittory!
Now, all this feminine svelteness is useless if you have a crummy complexion, and back then a nice complexion involved creams or light makeup (which was becoming more accepted). This was when fair skin was still prized, rather than thought of as “pasty” (Irish/Scandinavian me would’ve fit right in):
And don’t forget to remove any unwanted hair from that dainty lilylike skin! You could simply use…holy Buster’s porkpie, what is that?!
After the trauma surely caused by using that device, you’d need to unwind with a nice cup of tea:
And maybe once you were relaxed enough you could drift off to dreamland with your head on a pillow emblazoned with your favorite actor’s face:
People always say “times have changed,” and I believe it’s true. But there are always some things that don’t change. The next time you lament the ludicrous amount of ads that shove their way into our daily lives, you can comfort yourself with the fact that your great-grandparents had to wade through plenty of advertisements too.
p.s. I had so much fun with this article that it just might be the start of a new series. Cheers!