About the exhibition
The Art of Advertising tells the story of British advertising from the mid 18th century to the 1930s through an incredible collection of handbills, trade cards, novelties, posters and much more.
Advertisements were not made to be preserved. Their chance survival transforms them into unwitting historic documents, often revealing tiny, sometimes unexpected, details of the lives of our ancestors. Advertisements can also capture in their design the spirit of their age.
And yet… we must not forget that adverts are rife with hype and idealization. They conceal as much as they reveal. The women, men and children who smile at us from so many of these images represent an ideal, a way of living enhanced by the product being advertised.
Advertisements have other stories to tell too. Developments in printing were critical to the creation of a new form of art — commercial art — and to the generation of the wealth of striking and iconic images we now associate with the art of advertising.
Nearly all the exhibits are drawn from the Bodleian’s renowned John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera, one of the largest and most important collections of printed ephemera in the world.
The galleries below show almost all the objects in the exhibition, including trade cards, posters and novelty advertisements. They reveal the changes advertising went through from the 18th century to the 1930s, and provide fascinating insights into British social history. We hope you enjoy browsing through the exhibition online until it reopens.
We have created The Art of Advertising activity trail for older children and their families which explores some of the themes of the exhibition. There is an accompanying answer sheet which provides some suggested answers.
You might also like to try The Art of Advertising Quiz.
We are also creating a series of blog posts, exploring objects and themes of the exhibition in more depth.