The Best and Worst Magazine Ads of January 1921

The thing I miss most about reading ONLY as if I were living 100 years ago is the Best and Worst posts. I just don’t do enough hundred-year-old reading anymore to determine what’s the best magazine or short story or woman swimming with a red scarf on her head of the month. (Well, I could probably do that last one.) But then it dawned on me that I can judge to my heart’s content if I just narrow the field. To, say, advertising, which I vowed to write about more often anyway after my only 2020 post on the topic ended up being the most popular post of the year. (UPDATE 2/6/2021: Oh, wait, there was also third-place post My Dream 1920 Summer Vacation.)

So, having looked through the Ladies’ Home Journal and Good Housekeeping, I present you with the best, worst, and various other superlatives of January 2021 advertising.

Cutest Old-Timey Product

Having this in the kitchen would ALMOST be worth the incredible hassle of cooking with it.

Florence oil stove ad, Ladies' Home Journal, January 1921.

Ladies’ Home Journal

Least Cute Old-Timey Product

We can all be thankful that we don’t live in a world where linoleum rugs are a thing.

Armstrong linoleum rug ad, Ladies' Home Journal, January 1921.

Ladies’ Home Journal

Congoleum linoleum rug ad, Ladies' Home Journal, January 1921.

Ladies’ Home Journal

Worst Product Name

Merely dumb-sounding

Tweedie boots ad, Ladies' Home Journal, January 1921, woman's boot.

Ladies’ Home Journal

and incomprehensible

Fels-Naphtha soap ad, Ladies' Home Journal, January 1921.

Ladies’ Home Journal

lose out to pure evil.*

Vollrathware ad, Good Housekeeping, January 1921, white crockery.

Good Housekeeping

Least Convincing Advertising Claim

There are plenty of dubious claims, like this

Sun-Maid raisins ad, Ladies' Home Journal, January 1921, raisins are a beauty food.

Ladies’ Home Journal

and this

Pillsbury's ad, Good Housekeeping, January 1921, gee I like bran muffins.

Good Housekeeping

and this,

White and Whyckkoff's stationeary ad, Good Housekeeping, January 1921.

Good Housekeeping

which, if you can’t read the small print, is about a woman who decides to go to a party based solely on the quality of the inviter’s stationery. Strong contestants all, but I’m taking an Italian class at the moment, and one of my classmates recently sent us pictures of his Italian grandma’s gnocci preparations,

Gnocci on tray.

Tomato sauce preparation.

Gnocci with meat sauce.

Karl Robert Schaberg

so I know whereof I speak when I award top honors in this category to

Good Housekeeping Quaker macaroni ad, January 1921.

Good Housekeeping

Most Absorbing Narrative

Helen and her friend muse about men, gas mileage,** and socialism on their way to pick up Helen’s husband Harry at the station.

Overland Ad, Ladies' Home Journal, January 1921.

Ladies’ Home Journal

Most Distinctive Advertising Trend

Trompe-l’oeil curling pages were apparently all the rage.

Mazola oil ad, Ladies' Home Journal, January 1921, curling page.

Ladies’ Home Journal

Faust instant coffee and tea ad, Good Housekeeping, January 1921, curling page.

Good Housekeeping

Most Retro Ad Design

As I’ve mentioned, the perfume industry hasn’t gotten the memo that Art Nouveau*** is over.

All-the-Petals perfume ad, Ladies' Home Journal, January 1921, dancing fairy.

Ladies’ Home Journal

Least Cute Kid

In this always-competitive category, here are the runners-up

Beech Nut peanut butter ad, Ladies' Home Journal, January 1920.

Ladies’ Home Journal

Baker's cocoa ad, Good Housekeeping, January 1921, children making cocoa.

Good Housekeeping

and the winner.

Burnett's vanilla ad, Good Housekeeping, January 1921, girl holding vanilla.

Good Housekeeping

Least Appropriate Literary Reference

Because what says “let’s go whitewash some fences!” like a necktie?

Tom Sawyer ad, Ladies Home Journal, January 1921, boys wearing neckties.

Ladies’ Home Journal

Most Diet-Busting Ad

If I hadn’t been so hungry when I was judging this category, the prize probably would have gone to this,****

Royal Baking Powder ad, Ladies' Home Journal, January 1921, cake and pastries.

Ladies’ Home Journal

but after seeing this

Welch Grapelade ad, Ladies' Home Journal, January 1921, grape jam on white bread.

Ladies’ Home Journal

I yelled out desperately to my husband, who had just returned from the grocery store, asking him if he had bought any bread. Which, given that we had vowed to abstain from it, he hadn’t. All I could think about was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and my Swedish-inspired smoked salmon salad,

Smoked salmon salad with avocado and egg.

which I normally love, just wasn’t doing it for me. This didn’t help.

Yeast foam ad, Ladies' Home Journal, January 1921.

Ladies’ Home Journal

If you needed proof that advertising, even 100-year-old advertising, works, there it is.

Least Diet-Busting Ad

Morris canned meat ad, Good Housekeeping, January 1921.

Good Housekeeping

Creepiest Ad

Creepiness was a surprisingly popular advertising trend a hundred years ago. I first took note of it in my least popular post of 2018. It’s still with us in the form of these corn medicine drop people

Corn remover ad, Ladies' Home Journal, January 1921, faces in drops.

Ladies’ Home Journal

and, the winner, this giant wall baby.*****

Nujol ad, Good Housekeeping, January 1921.

Good Housekeeping

Best Good Riddance

I’ve been meaning to do a post on Aunt Jemima for months, and have done a huge amount of research, which is a sign I’ll probably never get to it. So I’ll just say that after years of ads where she’s constantly ordered to make pancakes as an enslaved person

Aunt Jemima ad, Women's Home Companion, Last Christmas on the Old Plantation

Good Housekeeping, December 1919

and hassled for free pancakes even after emancipation,

Aunt Jemima ad, Ladies' Home Journal

Ladies’ Home Journal, January 1920

I’m pleased to see her heading up north to finally earn some money.******

Aunt Jemima ad, Ladies' Home Journal, January 1921, good-bye to the old plantation.

Best Multiculturalism

This isn’t a highly competitive category, with only one contestant featuring people of color in non-servant roles. Here it is:

Columbia records ad, January 1921, Ladies' Home Journal.

Ladies’ Home Journal

Most Revolutionary Ad

There I was, flipping idly through the Ladies’ Home Journal, when I saw this.

First Kotex ad, Ladies' Home Journal, January 1921.

Ladies’ Home Journal

“Wait, what?” I said. I had never seen an ad for a sanitary product in a 100-year-old magazine before. Deodorant was about as personal as advertising got.

Mum deodorant ad, Ladies' Home Journal, January 1921.

Ladies’ Home Journal

I did some research and found that, while disposable sanitary napkins had been around in various forms since the 1880s, this was indeed the first advertisement for them in a major magazine and, therefore, their debut as a large-scale commercial product. The ad, which never explains exactly what these newfangled things are for, says that they’re made of a material that was first used for soldiers’ bandages during the war. This struck me as probably bogus but turned out to be true.

Best Ad Artistry

I read an interview with Lionel Messi once where someone asked him who the best player in soccer was. He said that there were himself and Ronaldo and then there was everyone else, and he went on to rank-order everyone else. In 1920s advertising terms, that would be Old Dutch Cleanser and Indian Head cloth. Old Dutch Cleanser is absent from LHJ and GH this month, so the winner by forfeit is

Indian Head cloth ad, woman with child, Ladies' Home Journal, January 1921.

Ladies’ Home Journal

On to February!

squiggle

*Actually there was a worse product name, which was (unintentionally) an ethnic slur, but it was disqualified from inclusion for that reason.

**Twenty-five miles per gallon!

***Which I love, don’t get me wrong. Missing the heyday of Art Nouveau is one of my greatest regrets about the timing of this project, up there with coming along after Jessie Willcox Smith replaced Coles Phillips as Good Housekeeping’s regular cover artist.

****Unless I DQ’d it out of annoyance over its sexism.

*****In fairness, Nujol also has one of the best ads ever:

Nujol constipation ad, 1918, woman with baby.

Woman’s Home Companion, January 1918

******Of course I realize that the whole thing is still highly problematic.

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