What's in the Archives

Collecting Toronto: Advertising Toronto


A picture of angels and a lion pulling a sewing machine

Contrary to contemporary impressions, pre-Modern Toronto was awash with advertising. Businessman and Torontophile Larry Becker collected a wide diversity of items promoting Toronto products, businesses, and services. Of particular interest are his collections of Victorian advertising cards, which promoted such diverse products as Wheeler and Wilson Sewing Machine Triumphant, Burdock Blood Bitters, Hires' Root Beer, Antelope Bicycles, and Crompton Corsets; pre-ballpoint era advertising blotters for such equally-diverse businesses as Burnett Pianos, Standard Plumbing Fixtures, and Merchants Fire Insurance; mid-twentieth century advertising matchbooks, which include World War II patriotic covers and post-War girlies; and such diverse advertising artifacts as the trayful of pen knives, nail files, and letter openers stamped with company names like J & J Taylor Safe Works, Dominion Insurance, and Canada Club Whiskey.

A picture of a doll with a pink hat holding Hires Root BeerBecker's wide-ranging collection demonstrates that Toronto was not only the source of businesses, products, and services seeking to advertise themselves, but also Canada's "Madison Avenue," a centre for creating the advertising industry itself. For example, to promote sales of its calendars in the United States, Toronto's multi-national lithographer, Rolph-Clark, created a giant art calendar featuring an American icon: George Washington's plantation home of Mount Vernon. At a smaller scale, American branch plant, The Osborne Company on Bathurst Street, issued advertising blotters to promote its diverse advertising services.

Becker's collection also attests to the fact that such major "industries" as sports and health have long been used to sell commercial products, like candy, newspapers, insurance, and quack remedies. Even "war" has long been used to promote consumer goods, such as Gutta Percha rubbers and hoses during World War II.