• Double the Fun: The Husband-Wife Team Who Made Everyone Want to Chew Gum As a kid growing up in Seattle, art director and design historian Norman Hathaway got his first taste of Otis Shepard graphics the same way most of us did—by chewing a piece of gum. He didn’t know it yet, but from the 1930s to the 1960s, Shep, as Otis was known, designed everything from the slender sleeves that wrapped sticks of Spearmint, Doublemint, and Juicy Fruit to the enormous billboards tha…
  • Kaboom! 10 Facts About Firecrackers That Will Blow You Away Firecrackers are essentially un-American, even though we associate them with our most deeply patriotic celebration, the Fourth of July. The fact is that firecrackers are foreign-born novelties, and have been as long as Americans have lit them for a noisy salute to the nation's birth. As it turns out, firecracker history is as colorful and complicated as the lithographed artwork used to sell them. …
  • Cartoon Kittens and Big-Eyed Puppies: How We Bought Into Processed Pet Food Warren Dotz collects the stuff most people treat like garbage. In years past, he’s gravitated to the noisy graphics of firecracker wrappers printed in places as far-flung as Macau and Manila, as well as the vividly illustrated, deity-drenched matchbox covers of India. These paper products, which normally make a one-way trip to the rubbish bin after their contents have been set aflame, are then met…
  • Awkward! 28 Cringe-Worthy Vintage Product Endorsements There's a moment in your typical advertising brainstorm when the people charged with wrestling the creative elements to the ground cry uncle, settling on a clumsy compromise for the sake of getting on with the really important business—billing their clients. Or so these advertisements fronted by some rather improbable pitchmen and women would suggest. Is a clown really going to convince us to buy …
  • Artisanal Advertising: Reviving the Tradition of Hand-Painted Signs Now that anyone with Photoshop can pretend they're a graphic designer, the art of signage has lost its luster. But before cheaply made vinyl banners took the heart out the sign industry, hand painting billboards and shop windows was a highly valued skill, and literally the only way to go. "Vinyl plotters allowed all of these people to open shops that put out terrible signage." In any urban are…
  • Selling Shame: 40 Outrageous Vintage Ads Any Woman Would Find Offensive One vintage ad warns women, "Don't let them call you SKINNY!" while another promises that smoking cigarettes will keep one slender. If the task of morphing their bodies into the current desirable shape isn't enough of a burden, women are also reminded that they stink. "You’re stuck at the party with a ripped stocking, and it’ll probably end your marriage." In these vintage ads, a woman may be …
  • Before Rockwell, a Gay Artist Defined the Perfect American Male Nobody had to tell J.C. Leyendecker that sex sells. Before the conservative backlash of the mid-20th century, the American public celebrated his images of sleek muscle-men, whose glistening homo-eroticism adorned endless magazine covers. Yet Leyendecker’s name is almost forgotten, whitewashed over by Norman Rockwell’s legacy of tame, small-town Americana. Rockwell was just an 11-year old kid when…
  • Will the Real Santa Claus Please Stand Up? We always think of Santa Claus as an incredibly old man—positively ancient—but the fact is, he’s exactly 150-years-old, born in 1863. Indeed, we might be thinking of Santa’s predecessor St. Nicholas, who is far older, believed to have been a Turkish Greek bishop in the 300s. But the first European winter gift-bringer is even more of a geezer, going back to ancient Germanic paganism and the Norse g…
  • What Were We Thinking? The Top 10 Most Dangerous Ads Often the criticism of vintage ads focuses on their inherent sexism, racism, or other displays of social prejudices, which we find laughable today, despite their continued presence. But what about ads that steered consumers into dangerous territory, espousing outmoded scientific evidence or misleading half-truths to convince people that appallingly toxic products, or even deadly ones, were actuall…
  • When the Wild Imagination of Dr. Seuss Fueled Big Oil Ever had an encounter with a Zero-doccus, a Karbo-nockus, a Moto-raspus, or a Moto-munchus? These fantastical creatures are some of the first Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, introduced to the world in the 1930s. But the beasts didn't romp through the pages of his well-loved children's books. No, instead, they were badgering hapless drivers and boaters in motor oil ads. Yes, decades b…
  • Who's That Kodak Girl? Early Camera Ads Depict Women as Adventurous Shutterbugs My father had a camera store, so I grew up with cameras and used Kodak film. These days I like digital better, but I still have a soft spot in my heart for Kodak. One day at a flea market, I came across a couple of early Kodak ads featuring women with cameras. I was taken by the difference between these early ads and those of today. In the early ads, the women depicted looked like photographers…
  • Signs, Tins, and Other Advertising Antiques How did I get started collecting advertising antiques? My dad was a lecturer and tutor in graphics and art from the 1960s onwards, and was into vintage automobiles and advertising, like vintage signs, pumps, and globes. So I spent the large portion of my childhood going to auto swap meets and antiques fairs, I think it all started from there. The first thing I collected was old bottles. In one …
  • The Disappearing Art of Porcelain Signs I liked to collect things even as a child. Things that didn’t cost anything, like different colors of stones. There was something about the advertising that I liked, so in the mid-1970s, I started to pick up porcelain signs. I got heavier and heavier into that, and by the 1980s, I had a fairly substantial collection. As a result of collecting telephone signs, I would run into other advertisin…
  • Early American Packages One of America's famed industrial designers sat at his quite modern desk (which he thinks was designed in 1936 but which was already old stuff in 1836) and, with his nose well in the air, vented his pontifical spleen upon an humble chap who had suggested Early American designs for use in plastic materials. It was utterly silly, he said. Foolish. Thoughtless. A material as modern as plastics requir…