Adverts in 19th century books: Travel guidebooks to the Alps – from local humour to cosmopolitan glamour.
This is the first post in a new weekly miniseries about advertisements in 19th century books.
The nineteenth century was an incredible period for tourism in the Alps. From the mid-eighteenth century onwards, the Enlightenment and Romanticism attracted a significant number of travellers into the region. Mountains were less and less seen as a threat or natural obstacle, and became fashionable places to explore and embrace. By the 1830s, the Alps were well known across Europe and seen as a ‘must-go-to’ destination for any member of the European elite. The rapid technological progress brought by the Industrial Revolution turned this network of travellers into a proper touristic market. Railways took passengers right into the valleys and resorts of the Alps faster than ever before.
As a result, guidebooks became a genuine travel and lifestyle ‘bible’ for these new tourists: they featured suggested itineraries, train timetables, hotel recommendations and particular facts about all vicinities of the Alps. The final pages of each guidebook were usually advertisements, and their style very much differed depending on the place of publication and the targeted audience.
Burlesque and local humour
In true Belle Époque style, many travel guides featured absurd and burlesque adverts using humour in order to promote products that were in line with their contemporary society. The rise of capitalism saw the development of banking, speculation, credit and insurances. The advert for a Paris-based insurance company shows a woman who just lost her husband but only hopes he did not forget about her insurance policy.
As morals became more and more liberal during that period, controversial practices were at the centre of the humorous references featured in advertising campaigns. The announcement for the guidebook itself shows a man telling his wife that the book’s travel recommendations have made him faithful and wise – which his wife believes was rather unexpected…
Regional humour and local references were also key to attract particular readers’ attention. The advert for Ruolz’s goldsmithery suggests that Paris’s Grand Boulevards are overrated and the Maison Lejeune, in a quieter part of Paris, offers equally good products.
Sometimes adverts were so original that one of them even stated: “At least I understand this advert, because their chocolate is really good!” implying that all other adverts were far too complicated and looking for very niche humour…
Luxury and sophistication
With or without a humorous touch, most adverts clearly targeted wealthy and cosmopolitan travellers. Remaining elegant whilst travelling was a classic concern that advertisers wished to address: therefore, products for general hygiene and preventing travel-related illnesses were very frequent. Discovering a new country was not always an easy endeavour: many adverts therefore focused on the possibility of travellers finding their familiar products abroad. Murray’s Handbook’s page on Geneva shows a chemist and a hotel where British travellers will find the English products and newspapers they so dearly missed.
However, many adverts actually focused on the city where the guidebook was published, with no direct link to travelling. Carter’s in London, although including some carriages and travel objects, also sold and advertised beds and house furniture.
The Chemiserie Spéciale in Paris promoted their high quality shirts through travel guidebooks, without mentioning their relation to the practice of travelling. The place of publication was therefore very important in order to target the right audience.
The late nineteenth century spread the idea that travelling was both necessary and fashionable, and that it could be undertaken in the most luxurious conditions. These adverts allowed these travel guidebooks to become reference points for travellers, knowing what was recommended and what was not. Decades before the rise of marketing, advertisements were already an object of attention and fascination – and it certainly fascinated us whilst coming across these!
Lighting the Past Cataloguer
Jordan Girardin is a final year PhD student in the School of History and a cataloguer within the Lighting the Past team. His thesis focuses on the emergence of travel and tourism in the Alps between the 1750s and 1830s.