Beauty In Advertising

Beauty In Advertising

The Alluring Images of Ladies from the Victorian Era
by Chris H. Beyer

A wise man once noted that pretty women have been selling us things since the beginning of time.

Images of attractive women have long been used by advertisers to promote a variety of products. Interestingly, the commercial use of artwork depicting attractive ladies to sell products began just before the turn of the century during the Victorian era. Advertising art provides a compelling and interesting chronicle of the styles and cultures of times gone by. For those of us who are fascinated by the beauty of the fairer gender, scarce original advertising pieces featuring alluring ladies of the Victorian era are a rare treasure, which present an exciting field of collecting. Here is how it all began.

The Industrial Revolution in America (1870-1910)
In 1880, the industrial revolution was in full swing. Production line products of all types could be made in such quantities that the need for merchandising and promotion to create consumer demand was growing rapidly. Until this period of history, advertising was anything but sophisticated. Moreover, the only mass media for product promotion had been drab black and white newspaper print ads. The Victorian Era (1880-1910) ushered new technological, industrial and societal changes that would reshape the manner in which businesses would use printed matter to create brand identity and consumer demand.

Early Printing Processes
It was not until the 1860ís that the process of chromolithography or “stone lithography” as it is also known, was made possible by using artist-created images on stone plates which were then transferred to a rubber plate and subsequently to the printed surface. Each color or shade, which the artist wished to use, required a separate stone plate. Colors were painstakingly applied by individual applications to paper, metal or other materials. Often as many as fifteen color plates were used to create the final printed piece. This laborious process resulted in quality, depth and color subtleties to such a degree that more efficient, modern photographic lithography appears pale and lifeless by comparison. As such, some of the more detailed, artistic and colorful printed pieces from this era are masterpieces.

The Birth of Mass Marketing
The earliest tin chromolithography signs were produced during the 1870ís in very small quantities by Wells & Hope Co. Pat. Metallic Advertising Signs, Philadelphia, P.A.. The few that exist are highly sought after and rarely seen in today’s marketplace. Prior to the 1880ís, most trade and advertising signs were individually produced hand painted signs. Hence, mass produced advertising collateral as we know it today such as the volume production of identical signs was not practical. However, new printing processes in the mid 1880ís changed that. With the ability to reproduce high quality color images, emerging industry could take advantage of mass merchandising through the use of colorful and attractive imagery on a wide variety of items to promote a brand. The first advertising pieces for distribution were called advertising trade cards. These small colorfully printed-paper cards were used by local merchants to promote their products. Because trade cards were new, unusual and colorful, there were often saved and placed in albums. Today, these early examples of advertising promotion are eagerly sought by collectors.

By 1887, two small firms in Ohio, (The Meek Company and the H. D. Beech Company) led the advertising printing revolution and began producing stock advertising images on items such as fans, umbrellas, chairs, and school bags. Companies wishing to advertise their products would choose existing pre-printed stock pieces to which their own product and company name could be over printed to individualize the advertising. In 1889, the first twelve sheet calendar (one for each month) designed for commercial use was produced by The Meek Company. Shortly thereafter, in 1892, the first powered press was used for printing on metal. While printing on metal occurred as early as the 1870ís, the process was mechanical, slow and laborious. With technology for mass printing of high quality images blossoming, several companies entered the printing promotion field.

Early Tin, Metal and Paper Lithographers
Companies that produced turn of the century advertising were anxious to promote their brand on the pieces they printed. Today, the incorporation of these printers’ marks (usually in small mouse type) on advertising pieces can be used to verify the originality of an advertising item. Although there were numerous firms who got into the advertising printing trade, the printerís marks most seen on vintage paper and metal advertising pieces include Wells & Hope, Ginna & Co. NY. Wolf & Co, Phila. Kaufmann & Strauss Co. NY, H. D. Beech, Standard Advertising Co., The Meek Co., Charles W. Shonk Co., Passaic Metalware, NJ, and American Art Works.

Colorful Signs, Calendars and Other Printed Pieces Revolutionize Advertising
Beer, tobacco, spirits, and soda water producers were among the first notable users of colorful serving trays, tins, signs and calendars to promote their wares. Many firms hired accomplished illustrators and artists to create the look they wanted to portray. From the start, lovely ladies became the focus of advertising art and were an obvious hit. The Coca-Cola Company and other firms launched their way into business history with advertising pieces, which almost exclusively portrayed Victorian ladies in their elaborate attire. The Coca-Cola Company produced a calendar with attached sheets reflecting each month of the year. Coca-Cola Girl calendars were issued beginning in 1896 and subsequently for each year through the 1970s. The earliest examples of vintage Coca-Cola calendars feature various images of ladies in Victorian attire through 1915 when fashions began changing dramatically.

It is fascinating to note the rather diverse portrayals of Victorian ladies based upon the products being promoted. Saloon advertising for beer, spirits, tobacco and cigars was designed to be daring and bold in those exclusively male dominated turn-of-the-century dens of libation and frolic. An example is the colorful early sign for a brand of whiskey with a caption reading “life’s three pleasures” which depicted a risqué looking woman, a branded whiskey bottle and a deck of cards. One can just picture a trail worn cowboy in town on a Saturday night who, upon seeing such an image in a saloon, would quickly select the designated brand of whiskey to toast to his imaginary fantasies. Because of the saloon environment where beer, whiskey, bitters, spirits, tobacco and cigars were predominantly advertised, many firms engaged in using lady images that were considered extremely revealing and bold for that period in history.

Other producers of products unrelated to what we now think of as vices such as tobacco and alcohol also quickly adapted their signs and advertising pieces to incorporate images of the Victorian lady. A vast array of products including chewing gum, medicinal, clothing, sodas, and many others were promoted using images of the Victorian lady.

Collecting Vintage Victorian Lady Advertising
Collecting early advertising art featuring lovely ladies presents the potential for either a diverse focus or specialization of product categories. Some favored collecting categories include tobacco, brewery and saloon, soda, chewing gum and clothing advertising. A variety of medias featuring the images of vintage lovely women include but are not limited to; tin and paper signs, soda and beer serving trays, change or “tip” trays, cigar box labels, match safes, calendars, pocket mirrors, trading cards and reverse painted glass signs. The best of Victorian lady advertising pieces enhance the appearance of any antique collection. Most collectors frame their prized pieces in antique or contemporary produced frames to enhance their beauty while providing protection for them.

Over the years, styles, fashions and society have continuously changed and evolved. Perhaps that is why antique advertising featuring the images of attractive ladies holds such an appeal to collectors because it captures a different era in our countryís history.

The vibrant and colorful examples which remain today recall another time and reflect images of something which is never out of date… a beautiful woman!

About the author
Chris H. Beyer and his wife Gina are avid antique collectors who focus on early vintage saloon and country store advertising in a variety of medias. Mr. Beyer is also the author of three books on the subject of antique advertising including the book, Coca-Cola Girls: An Advertising Art History. Professionally, Chris H. Beyer has over the past twenty years, worked as a marketing executive for two international companies and is currently a marketing consultant to the construction products industry. Anyone interested in contacting Chris H. Beyer can do so via email at

Copyright 2015 by Chris H. Beyer