Boiled Baby, Hardy Har Har

Product: Waterbury Watches
Date: 1893

*scratches head* You kinda have to wonder what the folks at Waterbury watches were thinking when they ran this 2″ x 2″ plain text ad with its small off-center headline in 1893. Though, honestly, the layout seems to be the least of their worries. I mean, who wrote this??

1893 Waterbury Watches text ad

Maybe their target market was grumpy old men who found the acerbic retort of Charles Lamb, a British essayist and lifelong bachelor, to be the height of hilarity.

And maybe if you lived in the 19th century, you wouldn’t have to read the ad three times before understanding what the hell it meant.

Yeah, that must be it. I’m just not their target market.

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Laptops Are Soooo 1890s

Product: World Typewriter
Date: 1890

I don’t know why I continue to be surprised at finding evidence, way back in the past, of ideas and sentiments that are supposedly so very 21st-century modern.

Take portability, for example. We tend to think of small, lightweight technology as a development of the last 10 or 20 years. After all, it’s our highly mobile culture and our “do anything anywhere” expectations that have both pushed the development of these technologies and embraced them. Isn’t it?

Umm, maybe not.

Take a look at this ad for a portable typewriter from 1890 — yeah, that’s right — 1890. There’s a well-dressed guy using some down time on the train to tap out a bit of writing on a teeny little keypad resting in his lap. (Little does he know that more than 100 years later, millions will be following his lead.)

1890 ad for portable typewriter

In 1890, typewriters were still in their infancy. Multiple forms and designs of type machines abounded; many of them were quite small.

It wasn’t until about 1910 that the typewriter, as we know it to look today, was standardized. Then we moved into the kind of heavy typewriters that most of you will be familiar with, followed by room-sized computers, and then desk-bound PCs before emerging once again into unplugged handhelds.

La plus ├ža change….

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When White Just Isn’t White Enough

Product: Derma-Royale
Date: 1895

So you have a freckle or two. Maybe a pimple or a blemish. A liver spot? A tan? Don’t pout. Your skin can be lily white again with the miraculous Derma-Royale!

Because like the ad says, “Nothing will cure, clear and whiten the skin so quickly as Derma-Royale.” Its “bleaching” and “brightening” properties (and who doesn’t want bleached skin?) are highly recommended by Physicians with a capital P — so you know it must be good.

1895 Derma-Royale beauty ad

And just in case you’re thinking that something so powerful must also be dangerous, never fear! Derma-Royale is “as harmless as dew,” so harmless that a “whole bottle may be drank without the least serious effect.” And since all you have to do is drink it, need it be said that the product is “so simple a child can use it”?

For all you hard-core doubters and nay-sayers, let’s dig into the guarantee. If Derma-Royale does not quickly remove and cure “any case of eczema, pimples, blotches, moth-patches, brown spots, liver spots, blackheads, ugly or muddy skin, unnatural redness, freckles, tan, or any other cutaneous discolorations or blemishes” the company will pay out $500.

What’s that? It must be the sound of a quack being run out of town.


1895 Derma-Royale beauty ad

Click to enlarge.

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Hump, There It Is!

Product: DeLong Hook and Eye
Date: 1896

This ad reminds me of nothing so much as the Victorian equivalent of “SEX! ha ha. Now that we have your attention…”

1896 hook and eye ad

Why else use those two strange words called out in large letters: approximately and hump. Does Approximately hump make any sense as a sentence? No. Does it speak of hook and eyes? No, not really. Does the sentence starting with approximately even make sense?

Approximately the cut below represents the DeLong Hooks and Eyes.

Nope, no sense at all.

But you’ve got hand it to the designer — it certainly is an attention grabber.

And I haven’t even mentioned the clean, uncrowded layout with lots of white space (this during a time when it was common practice to cram your ads with as much copy as possible) and the simple, yet elegant diagram demonstrating the Dramatic Difference of the product.

From the text, we can surmise that randomly popping hooks were quite a problem for well-dressed ladies of the day. Oh my.

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