“An expansive feeling of gaeity”
One reason I enjoy dipping into the Commonweal archives is to look at the ads. I have long been fascinated by magazine advertisements from the first half of the twentieth century (and earlier). I love the combination of hand-drawn art and hand-set type. I love how print ads from the 1950s and earlier are filled to bursting with irony-free copy — who wanted to read all that? I love the window they provide on the culture they were designed for. And, perhaps most of all, I love the juvenile laughs I sometimes get from their use of contemporary slang. If you’ll indulge me, then, something fun for the weekend…
In the 1950s, the candle-making company Will & Baumer had a regular spot facing the table of contents in The Commonweal for its comparatively art-heavy half-page ads. Most of these advertisements extolled the virtues of their various liturgical candles and candle accessories, designed to meet every conceivable worship need. (In one, there’s a great image of an acolyte using what looks like a miniature blowtorch to light tapers suspended above his head.) But they also encouraged consumers to integrate candles more fully into their secular household routines. Candlelight, as any 1950s homemaker knew, is naturally conducive to wholesome family values… Or is it? This is from an ad that ran in the April 23, 1954 issue of The Commonweal:
If you can’t make out the small text, it says:
Whether the occasion be an informal supper, a Coke party for the youngsters, or a formal dinner, the dining table becomes the social axis of the scene.
Make it gay, inviting, friendly with Taperlights: Simple decorations that add a festive note, that lift the plainest menu to the emotional level of a grand occasion. Taperlights provide the light beauty and romance to capture young imaginations… encourage an expansive feeling of gaiety, and compete with the artfully contrived atmosphere of commercialized entertainment.
Well, I never! (Complete ad, and another fun excerpt, after the jump…)
Not only are ads from this period unnecessarily wordy — the words themselves tend to have a stiff, stilted quality. This little inset, about the positive effects of candlelit dinners on the young, is particularly stilted — it sounds like it’s been translated from the original Russian.
Friendly home gatherings and simple entertainment play an important role in the social context of a civilized and ordered life. But they call for a developed taste, a confident approach and a practiced hand — graces that should be cultivated daily, especially among the young. Taperlites on the dinner table every evening help to create an attitude and an atmosphere that turn young minds homeward for wholesome social contacts and simple fun.
Below is the full ad, in all its lovely illustrated glory. And by the way, you can still buy Will & Baumer candles — though I can’t tell whether they’re still advocating gay Coke parties for the youngsters.