I have a great appreciation for the history of graphic design; I find that exploring designs of the past is a worthwhile endeavor in my quest of making informed and inspired new design solutions. Old print advertisements are of special interest to me because there is so much to be discovered in them about the history of typography, design, and printing methods. By inspecting them closely, you can gain a new perspective on design — whether it is through small discoveries or through connecting the dots of key milestones in design history.
Print ads are a form of ephemera, which are a unique classification of short-lived printed items, used in daily life but not meant for people to save or preserve. Interestingly, when a piece of ephemeron is preserved, it can be a valuable source of historical information about the time period in which it was created. Some of the world’s largest libraries and museums collect, organize, and preserve ephemera as part of history.
I would like to share with you a small collection of mine. These are vintage trade journals published in the year 1877, given to me by a friend who worked for a publishing company. The pages are chock-full of old advertisements with unique typography and wonderfully detailed artwork created to sell jewelry, watches, clocks, and silverware. The collection consists of 12 issues of The Jeweler’s Circular & Horological Review, a publication established in 1869. Today it is known as the Jeweler’s Circular Keystone or JCK and it remains the jewelry industry’s leading trade publication and industry authority.
Take a look at some of my favorite specimens below.
I hope you enjoy these as much as I do!
The interesting mix of typography shown here fascinates me. These ads were published in 1877, on the heels of the Industrial Revolution which brought notable changes to printing and typography in the 19th century. The mass production of consumer goods demanded a new kind of print communication to assist in selling products to people of the growing cities. This new form of print media exploded and advertisements were published in magazines, newspapers, and trade journals. The growth of advertising demanded type styles that were bold and distinctive enough to capture the reader’s attention. By the end of the 19th century, typography had expanded to include a variety of slab serif or workhorse fonts as well as overly ornate display fonts influenced by the Victorian era. The experimentation in the combination of these fonts can be seen in these ads. Enjoy!
For more inspiration on the subject of printed ephemera, check out these websites:
Duke University Libraries, Advertising Collections
Library of Congress, The Printed Ephemera Collection
Harvard Business School, Baker Library, 19th Century American Trade Card Exhibit
University of Oxford, John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera
The Ephemera Society of America