History of Advertising

As strange as I may be, I have always loved adverts. Advert stills; adverts on the tele; adverts on billboards… Similar to photographs in general, they capture a moment in time and can bring us closer to understanding that time – be it our own or one in history. In a previous issue of Best of British Magazine I read an article about ‘Ghost Signs’ and the ‘fading remnants of advertising past’. Ghost signs are old hand-painted advertisements that still remain from a bygone time. They are preserved on a building for nostalgic appeal, or indifference by the owner. They are everywhere when you start to look and I remember noting them as a child.

Ghost sign for a defunct clothing store in Salem, Massachusetts

The History of Advertising Trust has created an archive to record such signs. They encourage all of us to look around our local area, take photographs of any defunct advertisements we may find and send them in to the trust to preserve the history for future generations. The website is well worth a look, and I keep meaning to participate myself! Equally as interesting, on the same website, is an archive of advertising stills from the past, and a selection of their collection that are available to buy. And last but not least, I was also excited to find a link for an online archive of television commercials. Most of us daily let these television commercials into our homes. They seem insignificant at the time, but to a social historian they are incredibly helpful in recreating the feel of an era. The products on offer, the methods, the fashions, the role of women: they are all recorded in these adverts and help us recreate a particular time in our minds. I admit to wasting a good few hours on this website when I first discovered it!

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