This article has been transcribed from a copy of the Cardiff Times in the online collection of scanned Welsh newspapers 1804-1919 in the National Library of Wales, with grateful recognition of the free access accorded to all readers. Paragraph breaks have been introduced for easier reading.

Samuel recognises that advertising makes false claims and creates new desires in consumers for their products, all for profit, but his irony about them is very gentle, and the article proposes that pictorial advertisements do nonetheless diffuse an appreciation of beauty throughout society. How seriously he expected this to be taken, it is difficult to say. His examples are not very topical, dating from 1881 to 1886. The illustrations are more pointed than the text. The first is mildlly sarcastic, the second depicts a safe-breaker, and the third shows a distinctly sinister Bovril drinker. This is one of the clearest examples of editorial intervention to adapt the writer's message to the newspapers' target readership. —— David Skilton

Explanatory notes

There are as usual a couple of Shakespearean allusions:

'Sweet are the uses of advertisements' is a parody of Shakespeare, As You Like It II.i.12: “Sweet are the uses of adversity”

'the ills that flesh is heir to' derives from Hamlet 'the heartache, and the thousand natural shocks / That flesh is heir to' (III.i.64-5).

'Even artists of repute have turned their serious attention to the cleansing necessity,': the most celebrated case is Bubbles by John Everett Millais which was not created as an advertisement, but renamed and used in one for Pear's Soap.

The Pears advertisement, 'The Nightingale, the Lily and the Rose', included endorsements by Adelina Patti the opera singer (the Nightingale), Lilly Langtry, socialite, actress and producer, and mistress of the Prince of Wales (the Lily), and the actor Mary Anderson (the Rose).

'I used your soap ten years ago, and I have used none other since': The caption to this very famous Punch cartoon of 24th April 1884 reads, 'I used your soap two years ago; since then I have used no other'.

'the boons and blessings … patent pens' is a glance at the doggerel 'They came as a boon and a blessing to men, / The Pickwick, the Owl, and the Waverley pen', by which Macniven and Cameron Ltd. of Edinburgh, (later known as Waverley Cameron Ltd.), advertised their pen-knibs. Their advertisement over the entrance to Waverley Station in Edinburgh ensured its international celebrity until the last quarter of the twentieth century.

'one of England's greatest artists kept his family during the early days of his career by producing carpet designs': this was George Charles Haité (1855-1924), who from the age of sixteen headed his family’s design business, on the death of his father from smallpox. —— David Skilton

Decorated initial M

r William Tirebuck of St Margaret’s fame, once sent out a circular announcing a lecture, entitled 'Blank Walls,' and I doubt not that he would draw, in his own peculiar and graceful style, a graphic picture of the disadvantages, from an intellectual point of view, arising therefrom. No one knows better than Mr Tirebuck the pleasure missed by the possessors of blank walls.

Professor Herkomer, years ago, went further than the domestic rooms touched upon by Mr Tirebuck, turned his serious attention to [the] hoardings of the highways and bye-ways of the large towns, and tried in vain, to inculcate in the minds of those responsible for the adornment of the posting-stations the lesson that wall-posters should be treated in the same way all a picture on the artist's easel.

He draws a poster in the Greek fashion, but as it related to nothing in particular it failed to attract the attention of the commercial advertisers, who consider that [in] any artistic merit in a poster is a waste of time if it does not throw into the relief the particular virtues of the article they desire to sell

Pictorial pill taker.

'Sweet are the uses of advertisements,' said a well-known scribe, and he spoke with knowledge and accuracy. Advertisements bring before the public notice the value of many things they want and many things they do not want.

If a man desires to furnish a house when on the eve of matrimony, he has but to turn up the pages of a magazine or cast his eye over the first hoarding he passes, and he will find advertisements of how to furnish a cottage or a mansion, with illustrations of how the mansion will look when furnished, not forgetting sketches of the people who are likely to be in it, and who always appear to me [to me], as though they were having an intensely uncomfortable time of it. It is, however, seldom that he is supplied with a sketch of the cottage 'furnished completely' (or incompletely) for £5. It is a sine qua non [an essential] in designing pictorial posters that nothing shall be shown which is not attractive.

There are many lessons to be learned from the contents of the hoardings and from sources one would little dream of. For instance, the hoardings have long impressed upon the public the importance of asking for some particular commodity and seeing that you get it. 'See that you get it.' Do not be put off with worthless imitations, but see that you get it. What a lesson in firmness may be learned from these simple words placed beneath the flaming picture of a box of a well-known starch. Do not be weak-minded – do not be deceived by the bland persuasion of the enterprising tradesman with a desire to p[al]m off an inferior article at an extra profit. No, be advised by the poster, and, asserting your manliness, 'see that you get it.' You will then be able to go home with the conscious feeling that you have defended your rights, and when your shirts and collars are washed and ironed you will be able to grumble because they are not stiff enough for your fastidious taste. This will probably lead to a lesson in forbearance, and if you be an honest man, you will feel that the pictorial poster is capable of producing results not thought of by a casual observer. No article of commerce has had more pictorial attention paid to it than soap. Even artists of repute have turned their serious attention to the cleansing necessity, and poets and artists have been laid under contribution for the purpose of testifying to the virtues of a particular make which is publicly stated to be 'matchless for the hands and complexion.' 'The Nightingale, the Lily and the Rose' have united to sing its praises, and I once saw a drawing of a dirty-looking individual who had written to the makers, 'I used your soap ten years ago, and I have used none other since.' His appearance bore witness to the veracity of his testimonial.

He won't be happy till he gets it.

From pictorial advertisements connected with this soap one may get a pretty definite idea of infantile happiness. A child in its bath has lost a cake of this soap, it is announced that 'he won't be happy till he gets it,' and on a companion picture where it is shown that the child has recovered the lost tablet it states 'he's happy now.' What a concrete summary of life, and all from a soapmaker's pictorial advertisement. All men are unhappy when they lose anything they prize, and their sum of happiness is not complete until they gain or recover the things they desire. Judging from the specimens of beauty depicted on the pictures as resulting from the use of this soap, it appears to me that it only requires a constant use of the commodity to insure universal loveliness throughout the length and breadth of the land.

Other soaps there are for which equal merit is claimed, and one brand I have noted, the advertisement, of which, with conspicuous honesty, states that it 'will not wash clothes.' There is something surprising in the fact of there being anything modern soap cannot do. In fact, I have often wondered it was not announced that the latest invention in soaps would cure all the ills that flesh is heir to.

But that is, not unnaturally, left for the pills and patent medicines to accomplish. Wonderful things these.

If half they say upon the walls
About the pills were true,
All folks would be so jolly well
They'd not know what to do.

In fact, if all the posters state were ever partially carried out there would be no work left for the doctors, and the vendors of pills would have to retire from the fact that nobody was ill. In this direction all the pictures are those of people who, having taken patent pills and medicines, have been restored from the brink of the grave to the height of good health.

Pictorial votary of Bovril, beef tea, etc.

The one striking thing about the pictorial and other advertisements of these patent healing preparations is their modesty. Here is a specimen of one of them:— 'The Nun-such Pills, the most certain preserver of health, a mild, yet speedy, safe, and effectual aid in cases of indigestion and stomach complaints, and, as a natural consequence, a purifier of the whole system.'

Now what could be nicer than the above. You are out of sorts, you take a dose of these pills and at once your whole system is sweetened, and you feel a new man.

People who pass a hoarding with its scores of pictorial advertisements and note not with care its varied announcements do not know the lessons they are missing, and the boons and blessings, from, patent pens to electric belts, they are allowing to pass unnoticed.

Attraction is the watchword of the modern advertiser, and it is to the craze for distinction that the development of pictorial advertisement is due. Thousands of pounds are yearly spent on it; and if young artists would turn their attention to pictorial posters and fling to the winds tall notions about Art (with a capital A), when they are barely existing by the production of pot boilers, they would be able to live in comfort, and gradually improve their art work in their leisure time. To those who turn up their noses at the notion -- if any such the[re] be to-day — it will be interesting to know that one of England's greatest artists kept his family during the early days of his career by producing carpet designs, while during the intervals of his labour he worked at his pictures, which he could not sell than, but which were destined to take the world by storm in later years. Pictorial advertisement taken seriously is a phase of the age in which we live, and shows that the producers of soaps, pills, and other commodities are prepared to encourage art productions when they are suited to their purposes. If this only resulted in pleased senses through the medium of the street hoardings it would convey a boon on thousands whose eyes are rested by the pictures, but it is doing more than this — it is training the eyes and mind to appreciate beauty and colour.

Last modified 11 April 2022