Saturday, 25 May 2019

Greyhound Scenicruiser

The great American highway belongs to the private motorist and the truck haulage industry – the humble bus, last resort of the indigent traveller, comes a poor third. Greyhound management was well aware that their core market was of low status and made great efforts to attract a better class of customer. Competition from plane and train was fierce and the long distance bus ride could never compete in terms of travel time. Unlike the airline business, bus and train passengers could be delivered to city centre locations but this was a slender advantage. The introduction of the Scenicruiser in 1954 marked a major effort by Greyhound to upgrade its offer and expand its market share. Passenger visibility was greatly enhanced by raising the height of the rear two-thirds of seats and a generous provision of panoramic windows. The styling could be described as restrained streamline and the stainless steel finish was inspired by the two level passenger coaches that the railroads had been operating for over a decade.

Marketing material made the most of the glorious views that passengers would enjoy as America the Beautiful spooled by. Air conditioning and a modern washroom completed the package. Raymond Loewy Associates were employed for their expertise on internal finishes and upholstery. A thousand examples were built by General Motors and despite being beset by technical and structural problems they remained in service for 20 years – the last of them being withdrawn in 1975. The illustrations in the brochure exclusively feature the clientele Greyhound were desperate to attract – high earning, clean shaven professionals in Arrow shirts with suits from Hart, Schaffner & Marx, accompanied by wholesome spouses and obedient offspring. The reality could hardly be more different – low income families, migrant workers, servicemen on leave, fugitives, drifters and vagrants. You might have found yourself sitting next to John Lee Hooker or Townes Van Zandt but you would never share a seat with Aaron Copland or John Updike.

Two Scenicruisers at a rest stop at Speck’s Café in Northern California between Redding and Sacramento. Somewhat motley clientele – a queue for the payphone and at least one naval uniform.

Thursday, 9 May 2019

Bovril – British to the Backbone

This is a second selection of vintage advertising and publicity for Bovril and includes something from every decade between 1900 and the 1950s. To see a selection posted in 2007 please follow this link. Our survey begins in 1909 with a postcard from the The Imperial International Exhibition. It shows Bovril flying the flag for empire from the battlements of the Bovril Castle. Three Highland cattle are posed in the first floor window apertures under the well-worn slogan: “We hear they want more”. When Britain went to war, Bovril stood ready to play its part. In 1917 the company produced a booklet for distribution to the troops in the field in the form of a War Diary. Inside was a list of day by day events in the war from 1914 to 1916 and several pages listing Ranks, Badges, Medals and Decorations. The bovine theme, with its handy associations with strength and virility, remained popular and served with distinction in the Second World War. Pyjama Man, star of the “Sinking Feeling” ads was another regular and turns up here, escaping the unwanted attentions of a furious beast. A sober realism prevailed in the late 1940s, being succeeded by a typical example of 1950s whimsy, where the sacrificial ox has been embedded in a stained glass window, accompanied by some lazy doggerel. S H Benson, the advertising agency for Bovril throughout these years, was notorious for providing a refuge for self-indulgent, tweedy, pipe-smoking copywriters, happily engaged in turning out bad verse by the yard. In their off-duty hours they would busy themselves writing thrillers and mysteries involving white slavers, debutantes with a taste for the demi-monde and sinister Orientals. It’s impressive how this unprepossessing product has survived for almost 150 years. Whether it lasts much longer is a matter for conjecture – it could be that the last Bovril consumer on Earth has already been born.

Sunday, 5 May 2019

Coney Island After Dark

When the sun sets over New York’s peninsular playground the lights come on and the fairground rides and attractions are transformed by spectacular displays of luminescence. Darkness conceals the blistered and faded paintwork while the patrons adapt to life in the shadows. Fairground folk, carnival freaks, counterfeiters, pickpockets and cardsharps take full advantage of the nocturnal opportunities for mischief and mayhem as the crowds stream into Luna Park, the Palace of Joy and Dreamland. Postcard photographers recorded the scene by day and employed retouching artists to add all the elements to turn day into night. Thousands of pulsating light-bulbs following the contours of the Cyclone and other amusement rides, painstakingly added by hand. There’s a steady traffic flow along Surf Avenue, streetcars like glow-worms, taxi-cabs and jalopies jostling for space and sidewalks packed with punters in search of excitement.

Friday, 3 May 2019

Choosing a new car – 1928

1928 was the last full year of boom time prosperity in the US economy before the Wall Street Crash the following October. It was the decade in which the auto industry was consolidating into three major players – General Motors, Chrysler and Ford. Madison Avenue was hard at work persuading motorists to buy new cars while manufacturers were introducing a plethora of new models and special features to attract new business. The link between choice of vehicle and social status was embedded in the public consciousness. This is a selection of models on sale in 1928 as advertised to the readers of mass circulation magazines. Some brands would not outlast the Great Depression (Stearns-Knight, Pierce-Arrow, Marmon) but more than a few can still be found on sale today.