Pears Soap ad, Illustrated London News, March 16, 1895.
I’ve been working feverishly this week to complete page designs for The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities which will be published next year by HarperCollins. This is a sequel of sorts to 2003’s Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases to which I was also a contributor and designer. Ann and Jeff VanderMeer are editing the new collection, and Jeff has posted a couple of teaser introductions to the contents here and here. Gabriel in yesterday’s comments mentioned Terry Gilliam’s animations for the Monty Python TV series, something I was reminded of today whilst leafing through a 1968 collection of old advertising graphics looking for suitable pictures. Victorian Advertisements was compiled by Leonard de Vries and Ilonka van Amstel, and its Pears Soap ad (above) is obviously the source of Gilliam’s animation (below) showing a man lathering his face then beheading himself with a straight razor, a gag which features in both the TV series and the first Monty Python feature film And Now For Something Completely Different.
And Now For Something Completely Different (1971).
It’s easy to see what would have attracted Gilliam to the De Vries book when it’s filled with bizarre or grotesque ads like the Bovril one below; someone evidently decided that the meaty drink ought to be promoted via the novelty of electricity.
Bovril ad from The Graphic, Christmas number, 1891.
De Vries features many ads for electrical products, not all of them genuine or even likely:
Pseudo-science began to play the part it still plays in therapeutic advertising. Electric light was, by the end of the century, being installed in theatres and restaurants and in some private houses. To what other uses could the magnetic fluid be put? Electricity was the new magic and all kinds of quarters began to exploit its possibilities—and impossibilities. The Medical Battery Company Limited, of Oxford Street, assured the public that its Electropathic Belt had “restored thousands of sufferers to health and vigour”, and had “proved an inestimable blessing to the weak and languid”. It was particularly recommended for “weak men suffering from the effect of youthful errors”. Did the weak men in question wear the contraption in bed? Women also could benefit by it, and one is a little surprised to find this and other remedies for “female irregularities” so frankly discussed. An Electric Corset was the “Very Thing” for ladies. One can only wonder how the batteries if there were any operated. And what could possibly be meant by an “electric” towel, and how could failing sight be cured by an “eye battery”?
There’s also an Electric Hair Brush which gives “hope for the bald” without explaining how it differs from an ordinary brush. Several of the pieces in the new Lambshead volume will be exploring similarly eccentric territory. Watch this space for further details.