The Most Beautiful Advertisements of Pre-War Poland
small, The Most Beautiful Advertisements of Pre-War Poland, "Radion sam pierze" (Radion Washes By Itself) advertisement, photo: archive materials archiwalne, radion_sam_pierze.jpg
It's impossible to imagine a world without advertising, even if it may seem that it would be better without it. There are also advertisements that each of us remembers, knows, or even admires. In such cases, it's the art of advertising that we're dealing with – and in Poland this art blossomed in the interwar period of the 20th century.
Polish advertisements were distinctively elegant in their content and very original in their form. Some true masters were among their authors, such as Melchior Wańkowicz, who coined the tagline for sugar advertisements ("Cukier krzepi", meaning "Sugar invigorates”), and the visual artist Tadeusz Gronowski, who created the unparalleled imagery of posters for Radion, a washing powder. Two ingenious ideas for addressing viewers' imaginations through the shorthand of word and image.
Polish pre-war advertisements were addressed to a concrete audience – the most numerous target audience constituted the well-to-do intelligentsia. Worded argumentation reigned, adorned with an appealing visual setting. The advertisements inspired jokers, who would add to the taglines (Such as "Sugar invigorates – but vodka does it better"), or create riddles based on puns (such as: "What is it? It hangs from the ceiling and threatens? A lightbulb made by Osram" – here translation from Polish to English is necessary to grasp that the word Osram means "I will shit on it"). There were some who moved as far as parody, with Antoni Słonimski and Julian Tuwim in the definite lead. Alluding to the classic laxative pills called "Reformatist with a monk", they proposed their own – "Tamare indienne – Cleanses delicately without disturbing sleep".
Made for a kiss – an appeal to appearance
A catalogue of techniques for winning over clients could be devised based on the ads from the past. The majority of offers for women appealed to their sense of value. One text which accompanied a young woman’s portrait said: “If beauty is the first gift that nature provides us with, it is also beauty which is first taken away from us. A lady who desires to preserve this wonderful gift, should not forget that…” followed by a list of assets possessed by the face powder.
Another idea: a young woman’s profile drawn in a fine line, with a slender and elegant man looking at her. The eyes of the lady are not directed onto him, but onto the round little box. And underneath, the content reads “Yesterday, at a party, the envy of women and the awe of men was triggered by her beautiful, flawless, matte complexion…”
And then “The delicate, clean face of a youthfully fresh appearance is made for a kiss…”, or: “A beautiful and smooth complexion will be yours by drinking the spring juices of blossoming burdock …”. And, “Szach’s lipsticks are a guarantee of beautiful and luscious lips. Made in natural shades” (One could ask why use them at all they give the shade you already have, but let’s not be too petty).
There were numerous pastes, creams, elixirs, and powders for teeth, recommended by the “Benedictine Fathers of the Soulac Abbey”, or by anonymous “Doctors and Dentists”. On occasion, comic strips were made, with a feminine protagonist who was first avoided at dances, and then could not get any peace from an eager crowd after she started using the right toothpaste. The advertisement for a tube of “the most tender guardian of your teeth” must have neighboured advertisements for sweets for a good reason.
It stimulates the mind – an appeal to the intellect
"I received what I believe must have been the world’s biggest salary for the two words, “cukier krzepi”, 5 thousand pre-war złotys, which was 500 dollars at the time – that’s how precious words can be”, the writer Melchior Wańkowicz would later reminisce. It was a big sum indeed, considering that the president of the state, Ignacy Mościcki, received a salary of about 3 thousand złotys. With time, the precious theme gathered different variations:
“Mother! Don’t skimp on your child’s sugar. Sugar strengthens the bones. In all of its forms: candy, marmalades, confitures, juices, etc, sugar provides health and stamina”
“Fry fruit”. “Christmas is a feast of sweets. The Old Polish Christmas tree was adorned with goodies”. Next to the telling picture of a crying baby, medical authority Dr. R. Stankiewicz announced the verdict, “Limiting sugar in an infant’s diet can have unpredictable consequences.” (Warsaw Medical Journal, 1928)
The ‘sweetest’ of these slogans announced “Sugar stimulates the mind’s work”. And the conviction that “Great minds only employ the acknowledged recipes of Dr Oetker” once again couples the intellect with sweets. So, how could one resist?
A vacuum cleaner for Christmas – an appeal to family feelings
Thanks to pre-war advertising, we have an idea of the scale of the market’s offerings. When it came to modern electronic household equipment, it was indeed impressive. If only money allowed, one could pick from a variety of products: “What do you think, Daddy, what will bring mommy the biggest joy? An electronic iron, or a quiet vacuum cleaner…”
In the domain of practical gifts, all sorts of savings and insurance companies advertised. A kid was portrayed seated under a Christmas tree, directing his joyous gaze onto his new toys, but what he was clutching in his hands was a new insurance policy.
For those better off, there were the newest technological developments, with the radio and home cinema topping the offers. “A great joy in the house, as father knew…” which type of radio would be accepted by his wife and children.
Bakeries and confectioneries devised all kinds of strategies for conquering the Christmas market. One of the most certain moves was to underscore the special qualities of products which made them capable of bringing the family together, “A merry holiday with cakes from Ziemiańska”.
Having equipped oneself – an appeal to fans of celebrities
Another advertisement of this same confectionery appealed somewhat less to family values – let’s say that is was addressed to single men. It employed the image of cartoon character Betty Boop to praise its doughnuts. The Betty Boop character was created by Grim Natwick from the Fleischer Studios and Paramount Pictures companies. A series of 99 short black and white cartoons were created starting August, 1932. The Hayes’ Codex, which was released in 1934, imposed strict rules limiting the showing of sex and sexual allusions in American film. Hays’ office ordered the closing of the Betty Boop series in 1935, but the last film with her was produced in 1939.
Our celebrities – albeit those made of flesh and bone – didn’t drag behind Betty Boop in the advertising business. The master of pre-war cabaret, Fryderyk Jarosy, was thus remembered by Jerzy Jurandot:
Where are those times when actors came out onto the stage dressed from head to toe, in exchange for publicity in a programme, and then Jarosy came out in front of the curtain and said “As you can see, I am wearing a beautiful suit. And this is how it happened: A Mr. Borkowski of 27 Żurawia street approached me, and said “I will make you a new suit for free, but in exchange you will say on stage that it was tailored by Borkowski, 27 Żurawia street.” To which I responded, disturbed, “No, Mr. Borkowski, 27 Żurawia street, I cannot say that this suit was made by Mr. Borkowski, 27 Żurawia street, because we don’t accept this kind of advertising in the theatre. You remember that, Mr. Borkowski, 27 Żurawia street!”
[Jerzy Jurandot, "Dzieje śmiechu" , Iskry, Stańczyk Library, Warsaw 1959]
Járosy and Kazimierz Krukowski also happened to advertise fur coats by Apfelbaum, with numerous photos preserved as proof. Among the dancers hired by the Herse Fashion House, was the writer and actress, Stefania Grodzieńska.
The iconic pre-war actress, Hanka Ordonówna accounted for the idea that “the refined snow boots and Pepege’ shoes are the pride of every woman” with her own signature. And another celebrity’s photograph was accompanied by the handwritten declaration that “the decoration of my new apartment is made with beautiful wallpaper from Rosenbaum, 16 Rymarska street.” (Zula Pogorzelska)
“I am very proud, because having equipped myself at the Komispol, I look 100% an athlete”, Adolf Dymsza declared. His belongings were decorated with personalised monograms, sewn in the tiniest, most modest font. And the truth of this declaration is confirmed in the boisterous face of the comedian, who leans against his upright skis with charming nonchalance.
Mieczysława Ćwiklińska, the “greatest artist of the Polish stage, declares …the vitamin creams of Dr. P. Pruski not only beautify, but also heal…” And how could you doubt such a legend?
Meanwhile, Pola Negri constantly uses “Tatra Snow’, a grease-free skincare cream. Available in pharmacies, perfume stores”. Brand logos – Falk, Falkiewicz – accompany the drawing of the tube of cream.
Topping off our list is: "Miss Polonia Zofja Batycka, Poland's most beautiful woman, constantly uses the ‘Neige de Fleurs’ face and hand cream, which works miraculously for beautifying the complexion. Available everywhere!” Her photograph is accompanied by a handwritten declaration – “I only use the Neige de Fleurs creams – Zofja Batycka".
Books & the radio – an appeal to higher needs
Contact with culture in the interwar period was also possible thanks to the fast development of the radio, which should find a place “in every home. Here is the word of a cultural Pole”. A three-person family had access to culture in their home for 3 złotych per month, instead of the estimated 200 złotys that they would most likely have to spend on tickets to the opera, theatre, or children’s books. This was ensured thanks to the radio transmissions, special auditions, children’s programmes, etc. The radio also provided much more with the daily news.
The menace of the upcoming war didn’t disturb the popularisation of the newest technological achievements. The programme titled “For the First Time in Poland, a Television Show…”(“Po raz pierwszy w Polsce pokaz telewizji…”) was launched at the YMCA of Warsaw just five days before the German invasion of Poland.
The Polish Fiat – an appeal to national pride
The renowned painter Wojciech Kossak shared his talent with the advertising business. In 1934, he painted a little scene commissioned by the Polski Fiat company. The Polish Fiat 508 overtaking a horse-powered mountaineer’s carriage, with the beautiful Tatra mountains in the background.
The same artist also painted an ad for the Zwierzyniec brewery in two different colour variations. While taking a break to grazing their horses, a cavalryman of General Haller’s Blue Army triumphantly shows off his find to his colleagues – nothing other than a bottle of Zwierzyniec, a Polish-brewed beer.
Advertisement as a form of art – an appeal to the sense of aesthetics
Among the advertisements were a few masterpieces. Tadeusz Gronowski, a printmaking artists, became famous for his cat’s ad for Radion washing powder. Apart from the coloured posters he made, there are also quite a few black and white pieces in the art déco style.
Gronowski was aided by Edmund Bartłomiejczyk, an artist known for his stained-glass windows in the Jabłkowski Bros. House in Warsaw. The works of Jan Lewitt and Jerzy Himmelfarb were also distinctively witty in their metaphors and the visual language that they employed. The works that they authored together were signed with the Levitt-Him abbreviation.
For the good of the customer – an appeal to common sense
Apart from imagery and posters, there were also small classified ads in the press which would appeal to the customer’s faith in printed taglines. At times, these even rhymed (or, at least, attempted to – though we will not attempt a poetic translation, leaving the English-speaking reader with the meaning, only).
Święta! Gwiazdka! Choinka! Tradycyjny zwyczaj!
Czeka Cię moc wydatków, więc dobrze obliczaj!
Wszystko wydać – nie sztuka, a potem co będzie?
I po Świętach żyć trzeba – czy masz to na względzie?
Z kredką w ręku, oszczędnie, rozwiąż to zadanie,
do PKO złóż prędzej – wszystko, co zostanie".
Christmas! Holidays! Christmas Tree! The traditional custom!
You have a number of expenses ahead of you, so you better count well!
You will spend it all – that’s not hard, but what will happen then?
You have to live after Christmas, too – are you taking that into account?
With pencil in hand, economically, solve this task,
submit all that may remain to the PKO."
Christmas is the time for offering your wishes. And the holidays are, of course, supposed to be merry, but that is a bit hard when at the same time one is reminded of a crisis. As we can see, this didn’t put off the bank, which decided to show its more pleasant side while at the same time selling its services, in just one ad. Of course, all of this is only for the good of the client:
Kiedy na świecie kryzys się panoszy,
Jedna jest prawda wśród teoryj wielu:
Możesz spokojnie żyć, Obywatelu –
Skoro PKO strzeże Twoich groszy!"
As the crisis spreads across the world
There is one truth among all the theories
You can live peacefully, citizen –
Since it’s PKO guarding your pennies!”
Many banks advertised their services. There were also those who looked to the future rather realistically: “Protect yourself and your family from poverty. Save up and store your hard-earned pennies…” This was just one of their ways of winning over not just the elite who made a good living, but also poorer crowds.
Welcome to tough times – an appeal to caution
What is on the mind of every advertiser? – of course, nothing else than the good of his client. At least, that is the tone that we get from most of the ads. That is where the growing amount of tips on how to do well – in spite of a difficult situation – must have come from.
"The economic crisis should not stop the enterpreneur [sic!] and buyer from publishing a catalogue and other advertising prints. They can be published in a more modest form, but one must remember that without printed advertisements, trade in every company will come to standstill before the crisis is over.” – thus goes the warning of a printmaker.
"Pouring out ink onto a badly worded ad in the paper doesn’t require any skill. That’s why we ask you to demand advise from our salesman on how to advertise yourself".
"The current economic stagnation is a chain around the neck of trade and industry. Everyone can be freed from it through skilful advertising in the press”
"In today’s reality, everyone who doesn’t advertise will fall”
But if poverty really strikes you, then there is always:
“Soup made from bread and broth from the practical Maggi cubes. It tastes great. For 4-5 persons. 800g of stale bread, 1 tablespoon of butter, 1 tablespoon of flour, 1 litre of water, 4 Maggi stock cubes, 1 egg yolk, chopped green parsley leaves.
Fry the chopped bread with butter until golden, add the flour and dilute with broth made from 1 litre of boiling water and 4 Maggi cubes. Cook for a while, finally, season with the egg yolk and mix with parsley leaves
That is for the poor on social welfare. For those who still have a job, there was a somewhat more extravagant version: “Vegetable soup with croutons with Maggi broth cubes. It tastes great.” With a few more ingredients, the general idea was similar, with the use of 4 of the aforementioned broth cubes. There was also a recipe for those untouched by the crisis -- “asparagus soup can be made quickly with the practical Maggi cubes.” It didn’t say if the soup would taste good – it must be because anyone able to afford asparagus at a time of crisis would already know.
With no taboo or prudence – an appeal to health and beauty
Pre-war press wasn’t concerned with being politically correct, which made it very straightforward when it came to the advertising of all kinds of medication for conditions “Ugly hair on arms and legs, as well as moustache hair in women, can be removed right away and without any pain…”, similarly to “blackhead embryos, and greasy complexion around the nose”.
It is also possible to find out which brand would guarantee the most reliable condoms. No professional description could ever surpass yet another mastery of words invented by Melchior Wańkowicz, who praised one of the rubber companies, Eros, with the following tagline: “Your heart would break first!”
Unseen wonders – an appeal to the limitless resources of human naivety
Of course, the papers always limited their responsibility for the verity of published ads. Some of those ads can surprise us with their eccentricity, like that of the concept of “A Lady’s friend”, which is “not big, and fits comfortably in a bag!”
This “Lady’s friend and unfailing defender is the Browning Piorun!” A Belgian model. Among the many sighs of awe, some deserve to be recognised for their finesse “A deafening blow! A luxurious finish, a beautifully blued barrel, and a handle covered with shiny bakelite! Manufacturer’s 5 year guarantee.” That must be a reference to the usual jail sentence for shooting.
The offers for some of these products were accompanied by an aura of enigma, and they were made to seem unattainable. A certain African scholar was supposed to have the knowledge about a perplexing matter -- “Is there an instantaneous, and not harmful way to deal with men’s weakness?”. The results of his sensational research was contained in a special pamphlet which could be purchased immediately. The description of payment methods, as well as the sending out of these brochures in double envelopes, could well become a subject of study at a cryptographer’s course. The announcement ended on a dramatic note: “Demand this pamphlet immediately, as the number of copies is limited.”
Pre-war advertising did all it could to convince customers. Thanks to the ads, everyone could feel like a potential consumer. The less you allowed yourself to be drawn into the game, the smaller your future problems with the drama of ownership.
Janusz R. Kowalczyk, July, 2014, translated with edits by Paulina Schlosser, 11/09/2014