Meat lozenges and custard: advertising during World War One

Ilka Heale pores over advertisements found in the Library's Special Collections.



We've all seen this advert on the side of a building near Monk Bar in York:

Bile beans sign by Andy D'Agorne
Used under a Creative Commons license
Purporting to keep you "healthy, bright eyed and slim", Bile Beans was a laxative and tonic first marketed in the 1890s. Amongst other cure-all claims, Bile Beans promised to "disperse unwanted fat" and "purify and enrich the blood". Something after a winter of comfort eating, we could probably all do with!

Although the manufacturer claimed that the formula for Bile Beans was based on a vegetable source, its actual ingredients were commonly found in pharmacies. In 1905, a court case in Scotland found that the Bile Bean Manufacturing Company's business was based on a fraud and had been conducted fraudulently. Nevertheless, Bile Beans continued to be sold until the 1980s.

The following photographs of advertisements have been taken by our own University photographer, Paul Shields, from the Library's collection of the Illustrated London News.

The Illustrated London News (ILN) was the world's first illustrated weekly news magazine. The first issue appeared on Saturday, 14 May 1842 and was published weekly until 1971. The magazine continued less frequently with publication finally ceasing in 2003.

These photographs are from issues published during the First World War.

They show the change in the advertising pages to reflect the preoccupations of war. Before radio and television, the engravings and illustrations published in the weekly illustrated papers were often the only images people in Britain could see of the events unfolding. Some advertisements are targeted to families looking to buy a gift for the soldier at the Front and others for the families left at home.

Ever heard of Brands meat lozenges? No, me neither but this advert claims they are a 'meal in a vest pocket'. Who knew?



If that doesn't sound appetising, how about Bird's Custard? Apparently, 'served with any stewed or tinned fruits, it makes a feast fit for a King'!



Finally, these advertisements are aimed at planning for the future, when the war was over.



The newspapers are in the University Library's Special Collections and can be consulted in the Borthwick Institute for Archives.

For other titles on advertising, search YorSearch, our Library catalogue.

The Library also has a large collection of UK and international newspapers available in either print, microfilm or electronic formats. For further details on the titles held, please see About our collections on the Library website.

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