Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Cadbury Century

When this commemorative brochure was published in 1931, chocolate manufacturers, Cadbury, had a very different relationship with their consumers than exists today. Successive generations of the Cadbury family had presided over the rapidly expanding business, exercising paternalistic control over an army of employees. As Victorians and Quakers they felt a sense of responsibility for the welfare of their workforce for whom they built homes and leisure facilities whilst encouraging a culture of sobriety and self-improvement. The second century was rather different and the family incrementally lost control and eventually, ownership of the business. Global capital took over and the connections with its Quaker origins evaporated.

Not sure how these prestigious brochures were distributed or whether copies went to members of the public or if they were confined to retailers or wholesalers but no expense was spared in the production values. Full colour illustrations throughout, many of them specially commissioned illustrations, and a textured card cover with embossing. The aim was very much to emphasise the continuity of the business and celebrate past achievements – with the onset of the Great Depression, there was little of substance about future plans. The power of our collective serotonin addiction ensures that the industry remains profitable. Cadbury battled for market share and absorbed several of its competitors to the point where further expansion became dependent on moving into other activities. From 1969 to 2008 it traded as Cadbury Schweppes before falling into the clutches of Mondelez in 2010. For Mondelez, Cadbury is just one of a vast portfolio of brands and as long as its performance targets are met, it will survive. If it loses its grip on the market, Mondelez has plenty of ammunition to fall back on – from its corporate HQ in the suburbs of Chicago it controls Toblerone, Suchard, Côte d’Or and Marabou, as well as Fry’s and Terry’s.

The brochure provides a fascinating review of the evolution of graphic styles in packaging and publicity – confectionery manufacturers competed for public attention with eye-catching wrappers and sustained campaigns across a wide range of media. This was the period when railway stations, football stadiums, public houses and High Street shops displayed an enormous gallery of enamel signs. This was followed by the rise of the poster – in the interwar years purpose built poster sites proliferated in town and city centres and suburbs along bus, tram and train routes. Chocolate makers made full use of these opportunities to get their message across. Some idyllic, fanciful views of the factory premises are included – a little steam engine, smartly turned out in company colours, puffs past with a trainload of company wagons on a perfect summer day. It’s the largest cocoa factory in the world, we are assured. The workers themselves are largely absent save for a picture of some white-coated female employees relaxing in a conspicuously sober and responsible fashion.

Friday, 22 June 2018

Past and Present No. 12: Hamburg Hochbahn

The postcard is captioned – Hamburg, Hafen mit Hochbahn. It dates from 1905-10 and shows a train departing from Landungsbrücken station. Over a century later the details have changed but the topography is easily recognisable. I took the contemporary photo on June 6th. and got as close as possible to the viewpoint of the postcard. To enable a closer comparison, the photo had to be cropped, which all but eliminated the latest addition to Hamburg’s river frontage. The uncropped original shows the elevated railway follows the same path but the skyline is now dominated by the Elbphilharmonie, designed by Herzog and De Meuron and completed in 2017. It’s a remarkable building – the glass walled wedge with pointy roof has been constructed on top of a brick built warehouse dating from 1963. There’s a public observation deck at the point where the two elements meet – as well as fascinating views over the port, it offers the visitor a chance to wander through some of the strange interiors where rippling curtains of curving glass confuse the eye.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Lübeck Signage

Lübeck is a port city with an illustrious past as the capital of the Hanseatic League for over 200 years. Today’s city is about the size of Plymouth, although, unlike Plymouth, the city opted to rebuild and restore its architectural treasures destroyed or damaged in the Second World War. The result is a rich heritage of beautifully restored buildings in streets that offer superb perspectives. Although easy on the eye there is a lingering flavour of a museum piece about much of the city. It’s somehow reassuring to look upward and observe that many of the celebrated Brick Gothic stepped gables are one-dimensional stage sets, held in place by all too visible ties. I always look for shop signs – as a place where a business can assert its individuality – and Lübeck was better supplied than average. The selection displayed here is a mix of the traditional and the generic with an occasional eccentricity.