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Commerce Through A Looking Glass

June 2024
1min read

In the early days of giveaways the pocket mirror was a handy means of promoting a product: the advertisement was on one side, the customer on the other

Who Is the Fairest of Them All?

Pocket mirrors were distributed at shops and department stores to men and women alike, which perhaps explains the contrast in appeal between those on this page and those opposite. The bevy of idealized ladies whose features grace the backs of the pocket mirrors to the left were silent spokesmen for, among others, a dry-goods store, a bookseller, two shoe companies, two candymakers, and—as always—the Coca-Cola Company. (The last, by the way, is one of a series of much-sought-after mirrors distributed by Coca-Cola for which collectors now pay as much as two hundred dollars each.) All very proper. But images changed abruptly when the male was the advertisers’ target. The sight of the beauties at right doubtless quickened many a pulse. There wasonly a dubious connection between the provocative nymph and the digestive aid, or the reflective siren and the cigar, but advertising men have always known that it doesn’t really matter.


Camp on Class

Pocket mirrors varied little in shape, and none was more than a few inches in size. Some of the earliest ones consisted of a simple advertising message printed on paper, which was then sometimes covered with glass and clamped to the mirror backing it. Those shown here and on the preceding pages—from the collection of Burton E. Purmell, of New York—are of celluloid and date from about 1910, when a more sophisticated technique made possible the use of color. At least sixteen major novelty companies were in the business of turning out such mirrors. They labored painfully for humor, achieving mainly sheer camp, and they were not even above the macabre, as in the case of the life-insurance firm at bottom right.


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