Saturday, 11 December 2010

Huntley & Palmer 1937

As a seasonal concession we present the pages of the 1937 Huntley & Palmer Christmas brochure promoting the finest in factory made cakes and biscuits to the time-pressed consumer. Huntley & Palmer operated what was once the world’s largest biscuit factory in Reading and offered a huge range of products. The packaging and graphic style is predominantly conservative, designed to offer comfort and reassurance through the repetition of historic traditions and the conventionally picturesque. The only concession to contemporary Art Deco-inflected graphics was in the packaging of savoury biscuits where a modest note of sophistication seemed appropriate. The cocktail biscuits pictured on page 10 were styled to look at home in a Sunspan house or a Highpoint apartment.

Novelty items include a chalet-shaped cake on page 8 and on page 4 there’s a colourful biscuit tin in the shape of a delivery vehicle, described as a “most useful toy” and probably worth a small fortune today in mint condition. Collectors of decorative printed tins have an enormous range from which to choose to specialise but for a significant few the holy grail is the pursuit of the “naughty tin”, allegedly the work of an alienated employee bent on subversion. Those with suspicious minds might conclude that it was a carefully executed plan to produce an instant collectors’ item. For me the most attractive examples are those that imitate the real world – stacks of books, garden rollers, cameras, suitcases, handbags and battlefield tanks complete with camouflage.

In line with the general retreat on the part of British business from the mundane activity of manufacturing actual products in favour of manufacturing investment vehicles and derivative trading, ownership of the brand is now in the hands of French-owned Danone. The Reading Museum is home to the company archives and a selection of Christmas catalogues can be seen by following this link.

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