Vintage Advertising: Selling the Impossible

Love it or hate it, advertising is everywhere – no matter where you look, it’s likely you’ll clock an advert. This is by no means a new phenomenon, commercial messages and political campaign displays have been found in the ruins of Pompeii and ancient Arabia. Today, guesstimates predict that the average person sees anywhere between 3,000 to 20,000 marketing messages a day – content that Europeana is not lacking.

Advertising is often seen as a dirty word, it’s an industry now strictly regulated and often surrounded by controversy. However it hasn’t always been that way, as global economies rapidly expanded during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, advertising grew alongside – with little to no rules or regulations, as you’ll see from the ads below.

At the turn of the 20th century advertising had a positive impact for women; with limited career choices in business, advertising was one industry that welcomed them. Since women were responsible for most of the purchasing done in their household, advertisers and agencies recognised the value of women’s insight during the creative process. Many of the advertisements are works of art in their own right, using early graphic design techniques producing stunning hand drawn and painted prints.

We have delved through Europeana and pulled-out some bizarre gems – all courtesy of the extensive ad collection from our friends at the Wellcome Library – advertising a whole manner of things from fake teeth, painless surgery, and even a cure for cancer!

Advert for the National Children's Home and Orphange.

Advert for Dr Scholl's Foot Powder    Advert for Edward's "Harlene" hair product    Advert for Mr Smaedley's Dental Surgery

Advert for S. Cook's Chemist, Hyson Green    Advert stressing the need for British boys for British ships    Newspaper advert for artificial teeth

Quack advert for the cure of cancer

Advert for De Witt's Kidney and Bladder Pills    Advert for Wigglesworth "Golden Tan" sun screen cream    Advert for Liebig's Beef Wine

Advert for Hall's Coca Wine    Advert for Harness' Magnetic Corsets    Advert for Lifebuoy Soap

 All images from the Wellcome Library and licensed as (CC BY-NC 2.0)

One thought on “Vintage Advertising: Selling the Impossible”

  1. Really interesting post! Good to hear advertising is one of the fields that appreciate women’s creativity. Looking forward to see massive women presence in any kind of career 😉

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.