The following is a guest post for the Feast Your Eyes series by Mary Mundy, Cataloging Specialist, and Kristen Sosinski, Processing Technician, both of the Prints and Photographs Division.Two advertisements caught our eyes while searching for images of our favorite sweet treat.
This photograph advertising H. McCobb’s Cocoa & Chocolate is interesting for its complexity. The packed product displays and the detached demeanor of the woman who almost blends into the setting make for an intriguing image.
The object is small, a 5 x 4 inch photograph on a slightly larger card mount, copyrighted in 1886 by Henry McCobb, the owner of H. McCobb’s Cocoa & Chocolate. He produced many other photographic advertising cards, providing them as free premiums with the purchase of his confections. Described by McCobb as “Scenes in a Chocolate Factory,” these hand-held amusements for consumers to collect and trade were a perfect advertising tool. Perhaps the details depicted in this scene were meant to elicit close scrutiny of the variety of goods available. The display seems more important than the woman at the center of it.
In contrast, this art nouveau poster, dated 1899, by Belgian artist, Privat Livemont (1861-1936), is nearly 5 feet in length. In it, a woman delicately spoons hot cocoa into a child’s mouth. The cup serves as a focal point because it is placed in the middle of the poster but the steam from the cup swirls up and brings our eye up to the top of the poster to read “Helm Cocoa.” This is no coincidence; while this poster can certainly be admired for its artistry, its primary purpose was to advertise the product.
While the woman in the McCobb’s photo seems to melt into her surroundings, the woman here is prominent, as this ad clearly targets mothers, encouraging them to buy the warm, soothing treat of hot cocoa for their little ones. Notice that the brand name Helm stands out in part because the sturdy block lettering contrasts with the curvilinear illustration.
These ads were made more than a hundred years ago, but they still grab our attention. We’re sold on chocolate!