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Advertising Prescriptive Literature: 1896-1925

Hartman Center: Prescriptive Literature, 1897 - 1925

Each book in this eight-volume set opens with a brief essay outlining the benefits of advertising in the stated industry. While the essays vary in their content, each contains a section dedicated to store layout, the use of newspapers, booklets and other circulars in advertising, as well as how much to spend on advertising and how to construct unique, yet accessible advertisements. Following this brief essay, each volume collects hundreds of “ready-made ads for busy merchants.” These small clippings, feature both text and pictorial representations, and can be customized to reflect the specific information of a given seller. In the back of the book, the publishers have included space for the retailer to record advertising contracts as well as “Daily Sales and Advertising Record.”

This two-volume set represents a comprehensive account of the various aspects involved in writing, designing, displaying and distributing advertisements during the early 20th century. In volume one, the focus is on the principles of ethical and effective marketing, proper display practices and a series of selling points for various fields, intend to help business owners craft advertisements. In the second volume, the authors address issues related to the crafting of copy and proofs, the value of supplementary mail advertisements and broader subjects such as the rules for conducting an advertising office. Additional topics include the specifics of advertising for department stores, incorporating illustrations and general information about the printing technology commonly used in the advertising industry. Taken together these chapters provide a thorough introduction for their intended audience, students enrolled in correspondent programs across the country. 

The book gives an in-depth explanation of the process behind the production of advertising handbills. The term Block denotes the use of the electrotype mounted on wood. The bulk of the book consists of different examples of advertising blocks that customers could customize for their own purposes, by changing the price and entering in the name of their own business.

This is a thorough study that broaches both the formal issues of copywriting technique and the broader, psychological implications of those techniques. The text offers a clear example of the going conventions for advertising during the early twentieth century. One will find sections pertaining to the acceptability of slang and colloquialism, recommended approaches to punctuation, and careful considerations of such metaphysical concepts as attention, memory and habit.

Unlike many prescriptive guides, this volume represents less an attempt to provide a general overview of the advertising profession, and more an inside-look at the creative process that goes into the production of effective, even iconic, advertisements. Each essay presents the view of one creative advertising executive. They eschew the stiff language of the textbook in favor of a candid personal-essay tone.  In a notable chapter entitled, Bigger Than His Ad, one author argues that the copywriter is more important than his or her copy, that he or she should be empowered by the agency to make the most unconventional, yet potentially innovative, decisions.  Throughout the essays, one finds a recurring tendency on the part of the authors to defend advertising as a vital part of a prosperous community.


The Shoe Book, 1899