July 17, 2015

Jay Paull’s online advertising archive shows how much — and how little — Americans’ priorities have changed.

By Dan Morrell • Ads courtesy of Jay Paull '92

When Jay Paull ’92 was a kid, he would get so excited by certain magazine ads that he would write to companies and ask them for copies. “I liked the creativity,” says Paull, whose requests were often fulfilled. “And I liked the psychological element of selling someone.”

His grandmother, noting his interest, offered him a treasure trove: boxes and boxes of print ads from the late 1800s and early 1900s, collected and meticulously preserved by his great-grandmother, who seems to have shared his interests. “They are a window into history,” says Paull. “You see what products they bought back then, what their concerns were, what their interests were.”

Though Paull didn’t pursue advertising as a profession — he currently runs the D.C. office of a telecommunications startup — paging through his cache of ancient ads remained a favorite pastime. In 2011, he launched jaypaull.com to share the collection with a wider audience. “I wanted to create something dynamic,” he says. “I really wanted to create a repository and a resource.” So far, he’s posted around 4,000 of the ads, with about 9,000 more scanned and awaiting posting when his schedule frees up — those numbers still representing but a fraction of his great-grandmother’s collection.

And 13,000 ads later, the excitement remains, each scan spurring a mini historical research project. “That’s part of the intrigue,” he says. One of his favorites: Ads for turn-of-the-century electric vehicles — a long-dead idea now once again gaining traction. “It’s come full circle.”

Click on the images below to see larger versions of these vintage ads.

Images courtesy of Jay Paull '92.

OLDSMOBILE – 1905

An early Oldsmobile ad illustrated by Karl Anderson. “There were a number of artists who were very well known in that era who were engaged in advertising. Karl Anderson was one of them.”

MARION HARLAND COFFEE POT – 1900

Ads from this era for mechanical products commonly contained diagrams showing how they worked, such as this ad showing how a coffee pot operates. The ad also touts health benefits of non-boiled coffee with recommendations for the product from “the highest medical authorities.”

LEONARD CLEANABLE REFRIGERATORS – CIRCA 1899

“I thought that this was interesting because it describes a refrigerator as elegant and scientific. You wouldn’t see a refrigerator described as that today.”

IVORY SOAP – 1903

“This is very professional. These ads tell a story. They capture a moment.”

FOULD’S ARSENIC COMPLEXION WAFERS – 1901

“This gets a lot of inquiries on the site because of the concept of using arsenic as a beauty treatment. This is probably a very early forerunner of the cosmetics industry we have today.”

BOSTON GARTER – 1899

“I have a lot of garter ads, and the majority are for the Boston Garter —— and they’re typically a picture of this guy’s leg.”

NORTHERN PACIFIC RAILWAY – 1902

Early railroads were the primary mode of long-distance transportation. Many ads featured destination tourism pictures, and some contained copy we would certainly consider offensive today. A few included photos of historical significance, such as this one for the Northern Pacific Railway showing a rare photo of White Bull, the most famous Cheyenne Indian medicine man and sun dance priest.

MELLIN’S FOOD – 1903

“There are quite a few Mellin’s ads on the site, and they typically picture children. Some of the ads would actually give the child’s name and the city that he lived in, which would never happen today because of obvious privacy concerns.”

OXYDONOR – 1899

Dr. H. Sanche, one of America’s most notorious quacks, sold Oxydonor, devices claiming to cure virtually all diseases by forcing oxygen into the body. Sanche moved around, evading authorities and fraud orders by marketing his devices from Detroit, New York, Montreal and other cities. “A year or two ago, I got an email from a guy who had been going through his parents’ garage and found one of these devices. In researching it, he came across my site and found all the ads for it. He sent me a picture of it. That was pretty cool.”

JENKINSON’S PITTSBURG STOGIES – 1899

Stogies were a cheaper version of a cigar, and as a bonus, this ad claimed they were cleaner and healthier, too.

H&H PNEUMATIC BUST FORMS – 1902

Early version of a modern push-up bra: “Produce perfectly the full bust and slender waist decreed by the latest fashion.”

REDFERN CORSETS – CIRCA 1900

A product from The Warner Bros. Company. “Not the entertainment Warner Brothers. Warner’s is still in business today.”

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