One of the most interesting things I have found from reading through advertisements from the 1800s is how much they tell you about another era and culture simply through word choice. I must admit up front that I am an English nerd, and I do love a good word study, but particularly when it ties into the bigger picture in a meaningful way. There are so many little details in these advertisements that make me think of a number of questions that I would love to ask someone from 150 years ago.
For example, if you look at the ads in the "Food & Drink"
section of this website, you will notice a few of these differences between modern day and the 19th century. The "Huckins' Soups" advertisement says, "Send 15c. or 7 two-cent stamps (to help pay express) for 2 sample cans." Perhaps it's just me, but I thought it was a bit bizarre that companies were sending soup cans through the mail! Not only that, but you had the option of sending them stamps or money in order to help with shipping. I can't remember the last time I sent coins in the mail anywhere. It was probably when I was a child sending away for something from a comic book or cereal box. I have included another Huckin's Soup advertisement from 1892 below. By the time of the ad below, the cost was up to 20 cents, and you didn't have the option of sending them stamps this time. I guess they figured out that they could make money off of their "free" sample if they just had people send cash.
One of my favorite ads, for curiosity's sake, is the Hunyadi water advertisement. It is described as the "best natural aperient." I looked up aperient, and it means "having a mild purgative or laxative effect" or "a medicine or food that acts as a mild laxative." The ad goes on to say: "Prescribed and approved by all the medical authorities, for constipation, torpidity of the liver, hemorrhoids, as well as for all kindred ailments resulting from indiscretion in diet." I must admit that this description made me laugh. Perhaps it was because I pictured a torpedo heading for someone's liver or the somewhat condescending and condemning tone of "indiscretion in diet," which would not be very politically correct today. (For you word nerds out there, torpidity means inactive, sluggish, dull, slow, lethargic, dormant, etc., so it is actually the opposite of a high-speed torpedo, however, my mind tends to create word pictures as I read, hence torpedoes.) In any case, the British Medical Journal Advertiser printed a number of testimonials about Hunyadi Janos Mineral Water, which brought a smile to my face, so I thought I would share (see below).
I also found an interesting article on Hunyadi Janos Water in the New York Times
from October 14, 1893. It states that "Hunyadi" became a generic name for "Hungarian Bitter Waters," because the original brand came from the famous "Hunyadi Springs" in Budapest, Hungary (which was apparently named after John Hunyadi
). This era seemed to be plagued with look-alikes and rip offs of original brands, which wouldn't be allowed with modern copyrights - someone would be in for a lawsuit! Additionally, it was interesting that companies would print articles in big newspapers, like the New York Times, in order to distinguish themselves from other companies "hocking" lesser goods of the same type or variety (see below).
Even as I am writing, I am realizing that there are so many more examples (and tangents) on just the "Food & Drink" section that I could write about, so this is going to become "Part I" in a series. Stay tuned for more!