finding a needle in a haystack
13 December 2016
Regular visitors to the Library and to our website will have noticed The Sell: Australian Advertising 1790s to 1990s. This is the National Library’s exhibition from 23 November 2016 to 25 April 2017, and I can’t think of a more fascinating topic for anyone interested in social history. I personally love the advertising posters in the Pictures Collection, and have even used some in my kitchen.
So I was happy to receive a reference question regarding advertising; this one is about full page magazine advertisements:
We are trying to locate some magazine pages that advertise the Kotex brand. We’re not sure which publication these are from.
The question included an attachment with scanned copies of the pictures. Four of the advertisements were published in the Australian Women’s Weekly, which is digitised and is searchable at Trove. Using the tag-lines to search, I could find them quite easily and pass on the publication details.
One of the other images proved more elusive, and did not appear in any Trove searches. With my girl detective hat on, I looked for clues.
Not a shadow of a doubt
Although I am not a fashion expert by any means, by looking at the styles in the picture, I guessed this might be a mid-20th Century ad campaign.
It’s difficult to see in the image, but the fine print notes the US patent office and shows prices in dollars. As Australia changed to decimal currency in 1966, it was likely that the ad originated in the United States, although the products were also sold in Australia.
Going to my favourite search engine, I searched online for the ad’s tag line, "not a shadow of a doubt." I found a presentation which stated that this advertising slogan was used between 1946 and 58, and the "target is US American Caucasian working women."
The National Library’s collection of overseas magazines is incomplete, but even so, there are quite a few titles to choose from. I needed to continue the online search to try to narrow the field.
The Gallery of Graphic Design, with the tag Feminine Hygiene shows some images with the ad’s tag-line, and indicates dates between 1952 and 1954, in Life, Ladies Home Journal and Woman’s Home Companion.
The National Library has a significant collection of Life magazines, although there are some gaps in the dates. I thought this might be a good place to start, but the task was quite daunting.
In the end, I limited the search to 1953-1955 as I thought these were the most likely dates to find the image. I was unsuccessful, but did enjoy looking at all the vintage advertisements, including home furnishings and televisions, convenience foods including many different cereals, cigarettes and cars in amazing colours.
Life magazine had one Kotex advertisement with the tag-line “Not a shadow of a doubt” published in 1954. I was close, but it was not the right image.
Ladies Home Journal and Woman’s Home Companion
There is a searchable online database at Hathi Trust digital library for Ladies Home Journal and Woman's Home Companion. Unfortunately you can’t see whole pages online for the dates I wanted (1946-1955) due to copyright restrictions. However I could search the text of the magazines using unique words and phrases from the advertisement.
Rather than using the tag-line “Not a shadow of a doubt” which was used in several ads, I picked what I thought would be more unique keywords: Kotex AND Rembrandt AND "You're the picture of confidence."
After several attempts, I found all these in Woman's home companion. v.82, nos. 9-12, (July-Dec.) 1955. p.20. Brilliant!
Sadly I could not find a library in Australia which has the Woman's Home Companion covering July-December 1955; the latest issue in Australia is April 1955 at Monash University.
However a search of WorldCat shows libraries in the United States which have 1955 issues. It would be possible to find one with a copying service who would be able to copy the page – now that we have the date, volume and page number.
On my search around the internet for this advertisement, I came across an item for sale.
This is advertised as ready for framing, in great vintage condition. While I do like my vintage kitchen posters, I’m afraid I’m not in the market for this particular bathroom wall art décor.
Not sure where to start your research? Stuck somewhere along the way? Ask a Librarian.