Thursday, 14 January 2021

Eno’s “Fruit Salt”

In 1924, a bold and colourful poster designed by E McKnight Kauffer appeared on the nation’s billboards with the slogan “First Thing Every Morning”. E McKnight Kauffer, an American emigré, was Britain’s most avant-garde designer, the first to absorb the pictorial language of Cubism and a brave choice to publicise an antiquated Victorian product.  This marked a decisive break with Eno’s Victorian heritage and would be followed by a long association with contemporary designers including Ashley Havinden, Charles Pears and Austin Cooper as well as an extended series of variants on Kauffer’s original. The version shown above was an adaptation miniaturised for use on a Bryant & May matchbook cover.

Eno’s was a product of eternal Victorian anxieties around metabolism, digestion and bowel movements. Advertising was essential to its success and the name was prominently displayed on Victorian railway station platforms and almost every passing omnibus. The Victorian public had an insatiable appetite for miracle cures and instant remedies.  Pharmacists leapt into action, concocting an enormous range of chemical compounds and magic elixirs, to meet the demand. One of the most successful was a Newcastle chemist, James Crossley Eno who invented an effervescent powder that promised to ‘clear the intestines, rouse the torpid liver and stimulate the mucous membrane’.  Decoratively packaged and relentlessly publicised, it rapidly became the market leader and spawned many copies and imitations.

Eno saw no need to employ an advertising agency, convinced as he was that he could do a much better job himself with a mind well-stocked with aphorisms and received ideas.  His bizarre contributions to the history of Victorian advertising were memorably described by E S Turner thus.

The most eccentric, the most obstinately ‘different’ advertisements in late Victorian magazines, and for a long time afterwards, were those personally devised by the founder of Eno’s Fruit Salts. Three quarters of his space would be taken up by high-flown quotations on the theme of man’s unconquerable mind, from the ancient and modern philosophers.  The underlying theme, so far as it was distinguishable, was the sin of allowing the human intellect to be harnessed to a sluggish gut; but often the quotations came so thickly and haphazardly that it was impossible to trace a continuity of thought behind them. Now and again the compiler would throw in an uplifting poem which had taken his fancy, or perhaps an original rhymed tribute from a retired major-general. He kept an artist busy drawing scenes in which lost wanderers stumbled into forest glades and found words like ‘Integrity’ mysteriously carved on the rocks, or in which seated greybeards solemnly drew the attention of milkmaids to moral phrases graven on the ground before them. Sometimes the descent from the cloudless peaks of the intellect to the mucous walls of the intestinal canal was achieved almost in one sentence. For a generation the strong-minded founder of the firm fought off any suggestion that he should ‘modernize’ his announcements.

(The Shocking History of Advertising, 1965 Penguin edition, page 89.)

This drawing of the goddess Hygeia banishing the evil imps of ill-health marked a rare excursion by Arthur Rackham into the world of commercial art.  Taking a break from his routine of terrorising the children of the Edwardian professional classes with nursery tales transformed into nightmares, Rackham drew a small army of evil spirits, from Inferiority Complex to Raspberry Tongue via the Pip and Housemaid’s Knee, all sent packing by the purgative powers of Eno’s.  The mood lifted in the late 1920s when Eno’s engaged the services of W S Crawford advertising agency and began a dramatic shift to a more contemporary visual approach. After McKnight Kauffer came the young Ashley Havinden, who in 1927, fresh from an extended visit to study modern publicity in Germany, designed a famously dynamic ad in which 3 angular horsemen trailed banners emblazoned with the virtues of Eno’s on a diagonal march across the page.  The result owed more to the Gebrausgraphik tradition than to any Bauhaus influence.  It would be followed by many more ads designed to appeal to the contemporary eye while conveying a sense of breezy optimism about the comforting sense of well-being that awaited the consumer of Eno’s Fruit Salts.  Eno (minus the apostrophe ’s’) is today owned and marketed as an antacid in Asia and South America by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) - a curious afterlife for a quintessentially Victorian patent treatment.


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