Garvey, Ellen Gruber. (1996) The Adman in the Parlor


In the 1880s, advertising became a part of daily life and it socialized women and children (mostly girls) into adopting the new consumer culture.


In The Adman in the Parlour, Garvey (1996) examines socio-cultural changes in the late nineteenth century to better understand the origins of women’s consumer culture. While most historians point to a turn-of-the-century boom in women’s magazine advertisements as the catalyst for Progressive era consumerism, Garvey instead focuses on the impact of girls’ trade card scrapbooking in the 1880s.

Readers didn’t passively absorb advertising messages but rather actively responded and interacted with them. They used advertising materials to creatively express themselves through scrapbook arranging and design.

Effects on Society

  1. Advertising cards were mixed in scrapbooks with greeting cards and religious cards and often short poems or bible verses were added to the pages. This blurred the lines between advertising and social & religious messages. Scrapbooking was industrious, productive use of time that parents and teachers approved of.   Served to sanction and legitimatize advertising as a valuable leisure pursuit.
  2. Girls were expressing themselves through the language of advertising which taught them that the commercial world was an area of leisure and enjoyment. The lines between advertising and amusement were blurred. This taught girls (women) that shopping should be equated to leisure.   Women grew up to equate shopping with leisure and it has since become our national pastime.
  3. Scrapbooking allowed children to interact with products they may not 9otherwise use (medicines, hair days etc.) there is a little ac t of defiance here. The freedom to express themselves without parental restrictions. This equated consumer culture with self expression. Today we use clothing, furniture etc. to express ourselves but this is not a concept that existed in the industrial era.
  4. Advertising was welcomed into the home and successfully bridged the public/private divide. “The advertiser was thereby granted admission into the family circle on the same basis as a friend or family member” (pg 30)

Garvey provides an insightful framework from which to understand women’s ready adoption of consumer culture in the early twentieth century. Many historians point to the 1890s explosion in the production and circulation of national women’s magazines (largely funded by advertising) as the catalyst that incited the turn-of-the-century boom in consumerism. However Garvey demonstrates that, by this time, contemporary women had already been primed (since childhood) to welcome advertising into their homes. They understood how to process the visual clutter of the magazine and focus on key brand names and messages. Garvey successfully argues that women had already learned to use brands and consumer goods to express themselves as individuals and that shopping was no longer utilitarian but rather a leisure pursuit to be savoured and enjoyed.


Historical analysis of primary sources including scrapbooks


Garvey may have missed an important effect of the practice of trading advertising cards. Trade cards also taught children the fundamentals of commercial culture including basic concepts such as value of goods, currency exchange, trading procedures and bartering techniques. Centuries earlier colonists used playing cards in the place of currency and so the historical link between cards and commerce cannot be ignored. In the same way parents guarded their currency in their wallets and money boxes, their children’s currency was safely contained in their scrapbooks.


Earliest investigation into children’s consumer culture and advertising


One thought on “Garvey, Ellen Gruber. (1996) The Adman in the Parlor

  1. Interesting blog! I just saw this, and I’d like to respond to your critique. Trade card is the archivists’ and collectors’ term for a card advertising a trade or business. It doesn’t suggest that the cards were traded or treated like currency. I did find examples mentioned in the book of children urged to collect the cards for missionary work, or giving the cards as gifts, (see my discussion of My Antonia), and others where children were avid to get the cards, but none where trading was the main activity. The chapter on advertising contests gets at another way children were prompted to play with ads.

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