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Author Charles Dickens
Genres Cross-genre i
Prose: Essay i
Prose: Leading Article i
Prose: Short Fiction i
Subjects Commercial Products (Commodities); Material Culture; Shopping; Advertising
Great Britain—Commerce
London (England)—Description and Travel
Other Details
Printed : 22/3/1851
Journal : Household Words
Volume : Volume II
Magazine : No. 52
Office Book Notes
Payment£1.0.0 to (name unclear)
Views : 1268

'External paper-hanging', or the pasting up of advertising posters on every available square foot of space on walls, fences, hoardings, etc., reached epidemic proportions during the 1830s and 1840s, one of the things that encouraged the practice being the exemption of such posters from the tax levied on newspaper advertisements. Advertising vans, parading the streets at a walking pace, constituted a major nuisance to other traffic. W. Weir, writing a chapter on 'Advertisements' in Vol. 5 (1843) of Charles Knight's London (1841–4), comments:

The rude structure of boards stuck round with placards has of late given way to natty vans, varnished like coaches, and decorated with emblematic paintings. The first of these that met our eye had emblazoned on its stern an orange sky bedropped with Cupids or cherubs, and ... an energetic Fame puffing lustily at a trumpet. Below this allegorical device was ... a placard displaying in large letters the name of 'the monster murderer, Daniel Goode'. There was an apotheosis!

      For an illustration of a van advertising the last State Lottery (1826), see H. Sampson's History of Advertising (1874), opposite p. 464. Sampson notes (p. 31) that 'the huge vans, plastered all over with bills which used to traverse London, to the terror of the horses and wonder of the yokels, were improved off the face of the earth a quarter of a century ago'.
       [T. W.] Hill points out (unpub. notes to Reprinted Pieces [1858], Dickens House Museum) that most of the advertisers Dickens refers to in paragraph 3 regularly advertised in the monthly numbers of his novels. Moses and Son, Mechi, Nicoll, Du Barry & Co. (manufacturers of 'Revalenta Arabica') all advertised in the monthly parts of David Copperfield (1849–50), for example [...]. The 'head eternally being measured for a wig' appears in an advertisement for F. Browne's 'Gentlemen's Real Head of Hair, or Invisible Peruke', which was one of the most regular of all items in the advertising supplements to Dickens's novels (see Bernard Darwin, The Dickens Advertiser [1930], p. 130); there were also any number of 'balsam' hair-restorers advertised (Darwin, p. 135).
      The 'bill-sticking clause' in the 1839 (Metropolitan) Police Act referred to was one that penalised 'every person who, without the consent of the owner or occupier, shall affix any posting bill or other paper against or upon any building, wall, fence or pale'.

Literary allusions

  • 'Belshazzar's Palace': Daniel 5: 5–6;
  • 'Sleeping Beauty': allusion to the fairy-tale 'La Belle au bois dormant' by Charles Perrault (1697);
  • 'taking tea ... according to the song': allusions to the contemporary popular song, 'Come and take Tea in the Arbour';
  • Hood's 'surprising fancy': untraced.

Author: Michael Slater; © J. M. Dent/Orion Publishing Group, Dickens' Journalism Volume II: 'The Amusements of the People' and Other Papers: Reports, Essays and Reviews, 1834-51 (1996). DJO gratefully acknowledges permission to reproduce this material.

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