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Screevers in advertising!
Benjamin Brooke’s Monkey Brand Soap was a versatile product with the capacity to clean almost any object or surface but “It Won’t Wash Clothes” that was an unusual strap line used first and foremost to tell you what it couldn’t do. It was a ‘scouring soap’ as opposed to a ‘soft soap’ in that it contained pumice that was ideal for washing pots & pans and almost anything else according to the adverts. A Victorian equivalent of Brillo Pads or VIM perhaps.
Between 1899 and 1901, The Monkey Brand Soap Co, under Sidney & Harry Gross & Lever Brothers released a series of adverts based around the idea of PAVEMENT ARTISTS. Three in total that where published in various Victorian publications; The Graphic, Black & White and The London Illustrated News. Society papers of the day. Each advert featured a monkey/human hybrid acting in various guises as street artists
The advertising was dependent on use of line engraved images of a monkey/human hybrid of the type that exercised a powerful grip on the Victorian imagination.
Living creatures in human clothing were the subject of many an illustrated book and their appeal was not restricted to children. Taxidermy tableaux were especially popular with Victorian audiences. The enduring power of these images is confirmed by the continuing survival of the PG Tips chimps into the present day. (PG Tips is a Unilever company)
The artworks are mostly unsigned, with the initials G. E. R. appearing occasionally but the identity of the original artist remains a mystery. Some, like the one above, appeared in magazines hand-tinted in colour.
Monkey Brand soap was introduced in around 1888 as a scouring soap. Sidney & Harry Gross opened a small factory in Philadelphia, USA
Lever Brothers bought the company in 1899 and transferred the production of Monkey Brand soap to Port Sunlight on the Wirral. The name ‘Benjamin Brooke’ was used to promote the Monkey Brand soap both in the States and in Britain.
The soap was a popular product, as were the adverts which usually featured monkeys washing dishes, or involved in other household tasks.
There is a lot more that could be said about the advertising for Monkey Brand Soap and the use of pavement artists and monkey/human hybrids…this was certainly a fascinating and almost surreal advertising campaign that brings to the surface certain attitudes regarding Victorian tastes and social order.
Researched & written by Philip Battle