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Before e-mail there was émail

01 November 2001Written by ATG Reporter

Enamel Advertising Signs by Christopher Baglee and Andrew Morley, published by Shire Publications. ISBN 0747805105. £4.50

THAT ‘Idol of Suburbia’, arbiter of good taste and Queen Victoria’s favourite author, Marie Corelli disdained advertising art as vulgar, brash, crude and commercial and a distasteful crossover from high to commercial art, while Pears’ use as a soap advertisement of Millais’ Bubbles, a portrait of his grandson, caused a scandal in the 1890s. Many now collect enamel advertising signs or ‘street jewellery’, as it is known, which has its own society – the Street Jewellery Society, – where more than 100 dedicated collectors buy, swap and sell enamel advertising signs.

This book is packed with pictures of this once-free-for-all art gallery of signs that appealed to every aspiration: children as sweet advertising pull, “Oh Mamma, don’t forget to order Bovril”; the snob element “Chivers’ Carpet Soap, Prized in Royal Households” and “Of course, the clergy eat Quaker Oats”. Thrift made you a better person, with the weighty “Buy Brooke Bonds’ Tea and so save money:
A small spoonful of Brooke Bonds’ tea is stronger & better than a big spoonful of other tea” and to serve our eternal panic about our health we drank Wincarnis, “for physical and mental prostration and brain-fag”, while you weren’t a real bloke unless you smoked Crow Bar – a dark tobacco for the “Sensible Man”.

There is a useful key to age, size and maker of the signs illustrated and the book covers origins, manufacture, design and display, themes, collection and restoration of the enamel signs that offer insights into the commercial practices of the signs that cheered the population of industrial Britain... or maybe not as in ‘Funeral Outfits, Ready Made or at Short Notice’.

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ATG Reporter

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