Trade advertisements carried by local newspapers and magazines can provide ‘incidental’ insight into the communities which they served and the history and development of particular businesses and enterprises.
Trade advertisements appearing in early 19th century newspapers tend to be small and consist entirely of text. However, they may reveal the price of certain goods at a given date, as well as the location of the business and owner at that time. They also may suggest the type of shops and businesses operating within a locality at a certain period, which in turn may indicate the wealth or size of population of that area.
The later 19th century saw the increasing use of images in advertising, providing fascinating windows on past fashions and trends in lifestyle and technology. As with earlier advertising, these can help develop an understanding of a community through the businesses operating there at a given date. By the 20th century, photographic advertising was firmly established, and it is possible to trace improvements in wealth and lifestyle as luxury goods became increasingly available.
Advertising can also indicate the development of a business – a successful business may move to larger premises or into a more expensive area, reflected in the address given in the advertisements. The size or frequency of advertisements may also reflect the success of a business – larger, wealthier businesses could afford to advertise more effectively. Advertisements of family businesses may reflect the changing generations, whilst company ‘buy-outs’ may also be reflected through the advertising they put out.
Newspapers are not the only source of printed advertising. Magazines often carried large amounts of advertising to help pay for printing costs, and local magazines, such as parish magazines or newsletters, often carry localized advertisements. National magazines, such as The Graphic, may carry fascinating period advertisements designed to appeal to a much wider audience, but which also reflect the changing tastes and technologies of local populations. Examples of such magazines can be found scattered through parish collections and family papers held by Staffordshire & Stoke on Trent Archive Service, as well as in more formal runs (especially of local interest magazines) held by the William Salt Library.
Additionally, local advertisements often appear in the front and back of local trade directories, guidebooks and handbooks. More recently, advertising can be found amongst the pages of modern trade directories such as The Yellow Pages, which was published nationally in localized segments.
The majority of printed material relating to Staffordshire, including newspapers, directories and magazines, can be found at the William Salt Library, Stafford. Additionally, local history collections at Lichfield and Stoke on Trent City libraries also contain printed material of this nature.