Whether its celebrity spotting in perfume campaigns or the cuteness of the John Lewis penguin, Christmas themed advertising is now almost as much a seasonal tradition as the Queen’s Christmas message.
As this bookmark from the 1890s shows, Christmas advertising is by no means a new phenomenon.
The prettily posed skater with the product on her lap is selling Ivelcon, a beef extract beverage. The name of the product combines the name of the brand, St Ivel with the word ‘consommé’. Ivelcon was made by Aplin & Barrett, the Somerset-based makers of St. Ivel cheese.
The back of the bookmark describes Ivelcon as “an absolutely pure Food Beverage, containing the concentrated essence of Prime Beef and Fresh Vegetables”.
Ivelcon was one of many beef-related products that were produced from the mid Victorian period – Vimbos, was another and was hailed as “the prince of fluid beef” and depicted literally in adverts as “the ox in a tea-cup”.
Promoted as healthy, warming and strength-building drinks or tasty cooking supplements, these products were widely advertised. Ivelcon continued to be advertised into the 20th Century. In 1918 an advert in the Illustrated London News promoted the cube’s benefits:
“It’s all in the Cube!” DRINK a cupful of Ivelcon just before going to bed. You will not only find it sufficient as a light meal to carry you over until the morning, but it will bring refreshing sleep”.
Christmas may have been an ideal time of year to sell a nourishing hot beverage, but as Kenneth Florey notes in his book Women’s Suffrage Memorabilia: an illustrated historical study, the makers of Ivelcon were adept at taking advantage of other social and cultural phenomena to sell their product.
They placed frequent adverts in the Women’s Social and Political Union publication Votes for Women. In one advert the suffragette, Christabel Pankhurst is satirically re-named ‘Miss Tinkabel Spankhurts’ and depicted ringing a bell to lure “that tyrant – man… by feeding him with Ivelcon and thus making him so pleased that he will grant us anything – especially votes”.
Julia Nurse is Web Content Officer for the Wellcome Library.