Classic Perfume Advertising 1920-1970 by Jacqueline Johnson ~ perfume book review

Classic Perfume Advertising by Jacqueline JohnsonJacqueline Johnson's Classic Perfume Advertising features a collection of 370 color prints published in American and French magazines between 1920 and 1970. I’ve always admired the work of illustrators from the 1920s and ‘30s, so when I found this book on Amazon for a little under $29, I didn't think twice about ordering it. Although there are many print ad collections on the net nowadays, I prefer to browse through them in a nice, large book. I was also curious about the stories behind these ads, the people who created them, and the impact they had on the public. How did time affect universal themes in perfume advertising, like romance, sensuality, luxury, and elegance? I had high hopes for this book, and was really looking forward to it. But when my copy finally came in the mail, I couldn’t help feeling disappointed.

What you get for your 29 dollars is a book with a lot of beautiful illustrations indeed. Print ads for big houses like Coty, Guerlain, Lanvin, Lelong, Caron, Patou, and Schiaparelli, but also companies we seldom read about, like Lenthéric, or defunct brands I had never heard of: Ellyn Deleith, Marie Earle, Hattie Carnegie, and Mary Dunhill, for example. In the back of the book you’ll also find a small collection of carded samples and soap labels. A dearly missed brand in Johnson’s collection is Chanel, but there are plenty of dedicated Chanel books to make up for that.

What cannot be excused is the poor research that went into this book. The captions provide little or no useful information to the reader, and in far too many cases, the origins of the ads and the names of their illustrators remain unknown. There are errors in historical dates, and the names of several key figures in the industry are consistently misspelled. Which brings me to another problem: the manuscript for this book was obviously not edited before it went to the printers. There are tons of typos (even in product names and brands) that could have been easily avoided. Some of the captions in the last section of the book contain layout instructions instead of normal text. Unless they've shipped the wrong copy, I have to say that the final product is unfinished, and useless as a reference book.

And it doesn't end there. The "price guide" mentioned on the cover is little else than a short comment, five sentences to be exact, on the value of print ads in magazines. The information is so scarce and vague that it will hardly be of use to anyone who is starting a collection of their own; some practical hints (what to look for, what to avoid) would have been welcome. As for the general introduction to this book, I think it fails to give a good impression of what advertising is about.

Enough with the negativity. Despite its flaws and shortcomings, Johnson’s book is great fun to browse through. It’s in dire need of a thorough revision, but if you manage to look beyond that, there’s some great stuff in there to discover on your own. If you’re still interested, I’d recommend picking up a copy from your local library.

Jacqueline Johnson lives in Portland, Oregon. She founded Becker Street Antiques together with her husband, and is a member of the International Perfume Bottle Association.

Classic Perfume Advertising 1920-1970
Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd (2007)
Hardcover, 192 pages

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12 Comments

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  1. Anonymous says:

    I'd been thinking of buying this book, if only, as you said, to get the ads in a nice, bound state. I'm disappointed that there wasn't more research put into it, at least concerning the illustrators, if not an actual study of the ads and their evolution. You were working on something along those lines at one point, weren't you?

  2. Anonymous says:

    Yes, I have a small collection of print ads for unisex perfumes, which I used in my Masters' thesis on perfume and gender. But that was more then 10 years ago! :-)

  3. Anonymous says:

    FYI – Hattie Carnagie was the first African American woman to market her own line of beauty products. Mary Dunhill was Alfred Dunhill's daugher. Passed away in 1981. What a shame that the book is so “thrown together”. Could have been a wonder with all the interest in fragrance and fragrance history today.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Thanks Marlo, but where did you get the information that Hattie Carnegie was African American? Johnson writes that Hattie was born in Austria as Henrietta Kanengeiser, and on this tribute site [ http://tinyurl.com/6y3ax4 ] it says she had blond hair and blue eyes…

  5. Anonymous says:

    Duh, it was Madam CJ Walker. My boo boo. Sorry.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Well, thanks for sharing because Madam CJ Walker's biography [ http://tinyurl.com/5kq6qh ] looks fascinating!

  7. Anonymous says:

    This is an excellent book review even though it points out the many problems with poor editing and research. As an avid reader, I am surprised when a book is poorly done but unfortunately it happens. It drives me crazy. Like most people my dollars are limited and I hate it when I waste money on a book that doesn't deliver what it promises (like my recent $65 purchase of a mental health book; I'm a therapist). Thanks for a valuable review!

  8. Anonymous says:

    You're welcome, clarestella!

  9. Anonymous says:

    I have a perfume customer who has become a friend. She has hundreds and hundreds of perfume bottles of every category and a perfume bottle book library to match! I take about 6 books home at a time and devour them. It is extremely disappointing that some have errors and one coffee-table book has typos and errors glaring all the way through. How can they even get published without editing by someone knowledgeable? It begs the question: does the author really know what he/she is writing about?

  10. Anonymous says:

    It looks like the author has a genuine love for the subject she writes about, but it takes more than that to produce a good book. I think that part of the problem lies with the publisher, Schiffer Books. They're specialized in memorabilia, arts & crafts, design, etc. On their website they encourage people “with great collections and wonderful ideas for new books” to submit proposals. I can't speak for their other titles, but in this case they clearly didn't guide their author in the process.

  11. Anonymous says:

    It was most unfortunate that Jacqueline died the very day that her book was delivered to her for editing.

    Helen

  12. Anonymous says:

    Helen, I'm very sorry to hear that. Where you acquainted with her?

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