Monday, November 29, 2010

Sex, Drugs, and Vintage Ink Blotters?

by Stephen J. Gertz

Abbott's ABD Malt, c. 1925.
6 1/4 x 3 1/2 inches.

They are quaint reminders of a bygone era, a time when pens were dipped into an inkwell and, later, fitted with a cartridge or bladder "fountain" filled with ink. Writing was challenging; the ink could easily smear before it dried and it often left blotches on the paper. The excess ink required frequent blotting to prevent a mess; hence the necessity of ink blotters; heavy, highly absorbent papers.

Ink blotters had been around since the fifteenth century, the papers used by themselves or affixed by clips to a wooden block curved along its bottom to allow for rocking motion across the inked document, a more efficient and tidy manner than a flat block allowed. Used with a block, each was approximately 6 x 3 inches.

Abbott Laboratories Ltd. Montreal., c. 1930.
6 1/4" x 3 1/2 inches.

Schering (Canada) Limited. Montreal, c. 1925.
 3/4 x 3 3/4 inches.

By the early twentieth century it became clear that these simple, blank blotting papers provided an excellent medium for advertising all manner of product and service; blotters were found in offices and homes, used daily and often by millions. Ink blotters provided advertisers with a huge potential audience at little cost for maximum exposure. By the 1920s-1930s promotional ink blotters were ubiquitous. 

Merck & Co. Inc. Rahway, N. J., c. 1925.
7 1/2 x 3 1/2 inches.

Swan-Myers Co. Montreal, c. 1930.
5 3/4 x 3 3/4 inches.

Schering (Canada) Ltd. Montreal, c. 1920s.
6 1/4 x 4 inches.
Bottoms Up!

For pharmaceutical companies, advertising via ink blotters allowed for an end-run around laws prohibiting advertising in standard media for prescription drugs, i.e. extracts of digitalis, phenobarbitol; pharmaceutical salesmen calling on doctors handed them out to promote their company's product. And they were widely distributed to heavily promote over-the-counter nostrums to the general public.

Mistol. USA,  1925.
6 1/4" x 4 inches.

Rogerson Coal Co. Toronto, c. 1920s.
6 x 3 1/2 inches.
Joy Coke - A High Grade Fuel.

Swan-Myers Co. Indianapolis. Montreal/Toronto Distributor, c. 1920s.
6" x 3 1/2 inches.

And, no surprise, sex was used to move the merchandise - even a commodity as bland as sand. This Mr. Sandman brought dreams guaranteed to keep a man awake and busy with his fountain pen, defying him to blot these sweet dreams out of his memory.

"My [illegible] Shadow."

"I'm Putting on the Finishing Touch."
c. 1940s.

"Of course you have to use your imagination."
c. 1940s.

Need insurance and bonding? Gance & Wonger insure that wangers will not wilt. A customer service call girl awaits your claim.

"There must be something wrong with my line."
c. 1940s.

Of course, after all the sex and drugs, you may require something to blot out the cost of excess. The following product provides gland treatment for sexual neurasthenia, aka the doused-fire down below, the withered stones, the weathered seed, and subsequent winter of our discontent. Trust Homovir to restore Man Virility.

Anglo-French Drug Co., Montreal, c. 1920
3 x 5 3/4 inches.
"Gland Treatment regulating nerve and essential power."

Ink blotters are about as ephemeral as ephemera gets. Never meant to be saved, they were frequently used and tossed out, literally throw-aways given away by the advertiser for promotional purposes. That any have survived is something of a miracle, more so than the advertising cookbooks we've previously written about on Booktryst.

Vintage ink blotters are a fun, inexpensive entry-point for collectors that capture an era in writing long gone within the context of American pop-culture of the early-mid twentieth century, graphically interesting and fascinating slices of history.

Images of drug ink blotters courtesy of David Mason Books.

Images of 40s pin-up ink blotters courtesy of

All blotters pictured are currently offered for sale by the above dealers.

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