There was a time when it was not enough for a salesman to leave a business card in order to remind a would-be customer to purchase the caller’s wares. At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, it was also customary for salesmen to leave a giveaway, too.
One especially charming giveaway item from this period was the pocket-size advertising mirror, whose celluloid faces advertised everything from cigars to trucks tires. “We Want To Do Business With The Man On The Other Side,” proclaimed one advertising mirror. Other mirrors may have been slipped to an important buyer’s secretary, a surreptitious beauty aid that was presumably offered to help make sure the salesman’s call would be put through.
In their heyday, from roughly 1900 until the Great Depression, oval, round, and square advertising mirrors shared a number of similar features. To begin, the celluloid faces of these promotional items curled to the back until they came in contact with the object’s collet, which was the metal ring than held the mirror firmly in place. The manufacturer of the mirror was often credited on the edge of the curl—prominent names to look for include Whitehead and Hoag, Bastian Brothers, Parisian Novelty, and The American Art Works, which was based on Coshocton, Ohio.
The size of these objects ranged from button-sized ovals and circles to larger, paperweight-type mirrors, which were designed to be a constant reminder of a product or service when sitting prominently atop a stack of papers on a customer’s desk.
The types of firms that used advertising mirrors varied widely. Telephone companies promoted their long-distance services, while chocolatiers, which did not need to sell the idea of eating sweets quite as hard, often placed a portrait of a pretty girl on the faces of their mirrors. There were mirrors with illustrations of Buster Brown and Tige, of ruby-cheeked children holding cylindrical cartons of Egg Baking Powder. “Good for” mirrors could be traded for a dime’s worth of goods or services at hotels from Middletown, Connecticut to Falls City, Nebraska, while mirrors depicting scantily clad women often asked “Where are my Keystone overalls?”
Naturally these pint-size promotions lent themselves to numerous genres. Salesmen in the music business handed out mirrors shaped like records, poultry companies painted images of chicks cracking through their shells (the oval shapes were perfect for this), while sporting-goods companies used circles and ovals to depict basketballs and footballs. Faces ringed with a border of months and birthstones were another popular pictorial device—jewelers used these, of course, but so did furriers, drug stores, and even political candidates.
Later, in the 1930s and ’40s, full-size hanging advertising mirrors were produced for bars and similar venues. Unlike pocket-size celluloid-face mirrors, these had brand names and sales pitches screened or applied via a decal right on the mirror’s surface—there was no front and back...
Beer brands such as Budweiser and Atlas Prager put their logos on mirrors in taverns, where point-of-purchase advertising would do them the most good. Repair shops had a different problem to solve, which is why they commissioned mirrors featuring risque imagery, no doubt to occupy the imaginations of the predominantly male customers confined to their waiting rooms.