Advertising and the Almanack, 1975

Buying back one's past

John I. Marder

It was Oscar Wilde who once said, "No man is rich enough to buy back his past." It may have seemed that way to the inimitable Oscar, but can always make a backward safari through time in the pages of Wisden. The late A. A. Thomson used to say that if he were marooned on a desert island, he would like to have the 1903 Wisden with him so that he could fight the battles of the 1902 Tests again. Rowland Ryder in the 1965 Wisden evoked the pleasure that thousands of cricket enthusiasts get out of re-living old matches and looking up the careers of bygone players. I had a friend, Karl Auty of Chicago, who kept his Wisdens in his bedroom. If he couldn't sleep, he would roll out the rather uniquely designed bookshelf which fitted right under his bed and pick out an interesting year to browse over. Wisden has mirrored the cricket world accurately since 1864 and it has unconsciously brought back another world through its advertising pages -- the everyday world, where it was once possible to live very well on five pounds a week.

For the first fourteen years of its long life, the Almanack didn't accept any advertising from other firms. It was deemed sufficient in those Victorian days to list discreetly on the back pages on Wisden, a List of Articles Stocked. Wisden in those days was one of several annuals fighting for public recognition. It was quite sufficient that if any cricketing gentleman needed any supplies, he could consult the List and make his wants known by a visit to the establishment.

The 1867 Wisden advertised a rather ingenious mechanical bowler -- a Catapulta, which I believe was invented by Felix, the Kent cricketer. It was not until a few years later that a price was appended to the display. The mechanical bowler cost twelve guineas, which was rather expensive, compared with the annual fees paid to a ground bowler at the time.

Advertising in the mid Victorian era, was deemed rather vulgar and there was an upper class aversion to persons in trade. Advertising agents were probably placed in a social niche slightly lower than a circus advance man. They were probably deemed rather a nuisance, advertising being regarded as hawking one's wares, and not having anything like the prestige acquired in this century. The first few advertisements in the Almanack were from other cricket outfitters, which was only to be expected -- and from patent medicines! These remedies were stated to be almost miraculous in their healing powers. Epilepsy, boils, sore legs, dysentery -- even cancerous ulcers, were cured only by application of these magic elixirs. They were described as pleasant tasting too -- all this for 2/6d a box! These wonder cures were of no value whatever to poor Fred Grace, who died in 1880 of congestion of the lungs, brought on, it was said, by sleeping in a damp bed. Such carelessness in regard to health and such carelessness in the attribution of magical cures to patent medicines, is typical of a credulous age. The motto of the day was Caveat Emptor, -- let the buyer beware.

In 1881 an American President was assassinated and the first Boer War began. In some ways the world news showed a curious affinity to our own day. From a sportsman's point of view, games were much less expensive than they are today. A complete cricket outfit could be bought for £2-10-0 and many famous clubs started with just such gear. Top quality bats were 21/- and balls were no problem -- they were 3/- per dozen! Wisden seemed to be rather broad minded with their advertisers -- a Mr. J. D. Bartlett advertised that his premises contained the largest stock of bats in the world, rather an ambitious claim, but no one seems to have challenged him.

Competition appears to have been fierce amongst batmakers. Cobbett's advertised that "some evilly disposed persons are stamping our name on common and inferior goods" which seems to give the lie to the oft believed myth that the Victorians were a more sporting lot than their successors! Cobbett's warned that their bats carried a registered trademark and no Cobbett bat was genuine without it. There were no fair trade laws or any consumer protection laws in those days. Cricketers couldn't be sure of the quality they were getting. Perhaps the vogue for bats with the signature of a famous cricketer dates from this period. Lawn tennis was invented in the seventies and became popular very quickly. Advertisements of the period show ladies playing in the long sweeping dresses of the period, buttoned high at the throat. One wonders how they got enough freedom of action even to play the game, no matter how innocuous it was in those early days. Wisden offered tennis bats for 25/-. Fifty-one years later a similar racquet cost 67/-. Tennis nets cost 40/- complete with poles and balls were 8/6 a dozen.

There were many sporting newspapers during this period. After reading their advertisements one realizes the inroads that television and radio have made to our reading habits. It was a slower and pleasanter world. The Sporting Clipper carried the latest racing information for the venturesome punter and announced that its Saturday edition, at the unheard of price of twopence, was on the streets before the morning trains left for the neighboring courses. One could also read The Sportsman, Sporting Life, Bell's Life Daily and the Cricket and Football Times. This was advertised at 10/- per annum and was said to have been written by gentlemen. This brings to mind the fact that sport was dominated in those days by public schoolboys who founded the great soccer clubs of to-day, started the Rugby Union and administered the M.C.C.

Charles Spencer & Co. advertised a Pangymnasticon which was a practical home gymnasium for ten guineas. It was claimed that this outfit would greatly promote physical health. Seventy years later the successors to the firm were advertising a slip catch trainer which perhaps had more appeal for clubs suffering from a lack of good fieldsmen. Echoes of sporting days in Scotland and on the Yorkshire moors are brought to mind by the advertisement of E. M. Reilly & Co. who sold wild fowl guns for ten guineas and gamekeepers' guns for £6-10-0d. First-class amateurs were always tempted after the Twelfth of August by invitations to join shooting parties and it would be a keen cricketer indeed who could resist the temptations of grouse shooting and agreeable feminine companionship.

Wisden soon carried advertising for cricket literature -- the first books announced were later volumes of Scores & Biographies and Box's English Game of Cricket. There were not too many books published about the game, but Fred Gale's books were always available and there were summaries of the Oxford v. Cambridge match to 1876 which were popular. Until the twenties, there was a modest annual list of cricket books which later developed into a flood. P. F. Warner turned out a book or two on his overseas tours but tour books did not reach real popularity until after the First World War. In 1925 Wisden carried announcements of M. A. Noble's book. The Game's the Thing and of A. C. MacLaren's study of the batting of Jack Hobbs, The Perfect Batsman. Both were priced at 7/6. Tobacco advertisements came in during the eighties and it was still fashionable to advertise snuff. Virginia cigarettes were popular, one advertised brand being the President Arthur variety. It was doubtful if President Chester A. Arthur of the United States had authorized the use of his name.

Wisden committed one of its rare boners in 1884 when the Calendar was headed 1844. Perhaps the editor was buying back his past! The Royal Bicycle and Tricycle Agency advertised light carriages for one or two horses. This mode of transport was termed most luxurious and it certainly was. Motor drawn traffic was non-existent and English roads had not been improved too much since the eighteenth century. In fact they had not been improved since the stage coaches had ceased in the forties. Roads were almost chronically in disrepair. It took the twentieth century with its avalanche of motor cars to bring about an improvement in highways. Adventurous spirits could mount a penny farthing and attain a speed of 20 miles an hour but at the risk of their necks! By 1891 the ordinaries as they were termed, had disappeared from the road. Their place was taken by the safety models that we have known ever since. Something of a cycling craze took place in the nineties and Sugg's advertised bicycles for thirteen guineas.

E. Hawkins & Company of Brighton took many pictures of cricketers, most of them strategically posted near a potted palm or defending an obviously staged wicket. In 1886-87 Shaw and Shrewsbury took out an England team to Australia. Before 1903 these tours were arranged on a speculative basis and this team played at Bowral on January 23 and 24, 1887. Twenty-one years later, one of the Australia's greatest batsmen was to be born there! Towards the end of the tour the Englishmen indulged in rather a novel match -- both English and Australian players collaborating in a match between Smokers and Non-smokers. The Non-smokers batted first and Arthur Shrewsbury and W. Bruce of Australia put on 196 for the first wicket -- this against Brigge, Palmer, Boyle and Lohmann. The Non-smokers showed that they did not miss a puff now and again by rolling up 803 for nine wickets. Quick to take advantage of this, the largest innings on record thus far in a first-class match, Messrs Hawkins offered pictures of the two elevens. The Smokers were proudly brandishing their cigars and pipes. The firm also advertised pictures of the Australians of 1886, taken in the field at an exposure of 1/20 sec., then deemed to be a record.

The nineties were heralded by an announcement that the International Fur Store would sell a good fur-lined overcoat for £10-0-0. The accompanying cut could have been used in later days to portray a capitalist--top hat, rolled fur collar and all!

Frank Bryan, who are still advertising in Wisden, announced that their batting gloves in future would have a protective covering for the thumb. Bryan would probably like to have buckskin leg guards for sale in the current year of grace, for 6/6d a pair. Serviceable cricket boots were 10/6d and sweaters were 4/6d. Cricket caps were 1/- each, with a few pennies extra for a monogram!

As the Victorian era drew to its close, there were slight evidences in Wisden. The obituaries refer to deaths in South Africa. One of the more prominent cricketers to lose his life was F. W. Milligan of Yorkshire. Some famous cricketers were at the front, but the war did not seriously interrupt the placid flow of life in England. Prices did not move upward, there was no inflation as in our more precarious days.

John Piggott could still advertise a lounge suit for 45/- and an overcoat for 12/6. One can be sure that these coats were not fur lined! Squash was a popular game and rackets were advertised at 17/6. Frank Sugg, the Derbyshire and Lancashire batsman, advertised extensively for some years. His trade slogan was The Reasonable, Practical Man and his prices sound almost incredible seventy-five years later. Running pumps were 4/6d and track suits were 1/11d. Good football boots were advertised at 9/6d a pair and batting gloves were 8/6d. Cricket entered into a Golden Age in the early part of the twentieth century. Every county had its personality and W. G., as the acknowledged Champion was emperor of a kingdom. This was the era of Jackson, Fry and MacLaren, Jessop, Trumper and Warner. South Africa became a cricketing power with her quartette of googly bowlers and the West Indies sent two teams to England. One could foresee their future greatness. Even Philadelphia were welcome tourists, the first and only American team to play first-class cricket. It was an exciting period for the game and the advertising in the Almanack reflected the opulence of the times.

All sorts of bats were on the market. A specially selected one would cost about 25/- and you could choose from Wisden, Gradidge, Abel, Tyldesley, Dark, Surridge and Ayres bats and many others. Wisden Crown cricket balls were 5/- each and leg guards, real buckskin, had advanced to 9/9d. Famous players gave their autographs to bats almost absent mindedly and in one issue of Wisden, C. B. Fry gave his blessing to Imperial Drivers, Stuart Surridge and J. T. Tyldesley bats. His name on any product in the period before the First World War was eagerly sought. He was not only one of the best batsmen in England, he was also a first-class rugby player for Blackheath and played left back for Southampton when they reached the Final of the F. A. Cup. He was the Editor of C. B. Fry's Magazine, which also advertised in Wisden. It was billed as bringing a breezy cheerfulness to English homes. C. B. Fry gave the stamp of his own personality far beyond those times. In 1919 he was seriously proposed as King of Albania. What a monarch he would have made! There is little doubt that the Albanians would have been playing Test cricket by now instead of being part of the Chinese bloc!

The ordinary cricket ground had used horse drawn mowers for many years. There was a time indeed when the Oval turf was cropped by having sheep graze on the ground. The Staten Island C.C. of New York are reputed to own the grazing rights to the Oval, garnered during an exciting poker game in the 1870s, but they have not seriously requested Surrey to use their services.

It was an accepted legend in many grounds that the horses would know when the last batsman had taken his place at the crease. At Trent Bridge, when Fred Morley came in to bat for Nottinghamshire, it was said that the horse would sidle over to the mower, ready for his job! Cricketing legend died when the mowers were motorized. Ransome's had advertised horse-drawn mowers for £32-0-0. By 1909 the same firm proclaimed proudly that they had sold nearly 200 motor drawn mowers. The Automobile Age, for better or worse, was upon us. In 1903 Lord's School of Physical Culture, possibly taking advantage of a more famous Lord's, was advertising physical culture course by mail. It was an era of biceps flexing. Whiteley's advertised Two British Records, Foster's 287, and our Flexten home exerciser for 17/6d.

Bicycles had declined in price from ten years previously. They were advertised for eight guineas each, although motor cycles were beginning to be popular. Club secretaries may have groused when they brought grass seed at a pound a bushel, little realizing the troubles of their successors. They could console themselves by smoking Alliance tobacco at 5d an ounce. It was advertised as the most exquisite blending of the finest tobaccos. Steel razors were 7/6d with ivory handles but many cricketers were beginning to use the new safety razors. Beards and moustaches were going out of style. By 1910 most cricketers looked very youthful and were cleanshaven, a style which persisted into our day. In the 1906 Wisden, a Mr. T. N. W. took a half page advertisement to announce that he had a complete run of Wisden for sale. One hopes that he got a good price for his set.

During the First World War, organized cricket stopped after the season of 1914. Wisden shrank in size but it continued to appear, a symbol of hope for more normal times -- sooner or later, the Rolls of Honour were fearsome but the 1916 edition carried the obituaries of A. E. Stoddart, Victor Trumper and of the Champion himself -- W. G. Grace, dead at 67. He had seemed immortal to most cricketers. Even the enemy announced that his death was due to an air raid, which was not true.

Although first-class cricket was finished, the game was still played and other sports equipment was also advertised. Prices were little changed for the first year or two. Golf clubs were advertised at 6/6d, either woods or irons, and golf balls were 15/- a dozen. By 1918 post war inflation was beginning. Golf clubs were 8/6d and by 1919 prices really started to climb.

That year saw an experiment. County matches were restricted to two days. The trial lasted for only one year. Until one-day cricket made its début in 1963, the first-class game was to know little change. Bats had advanced to 32/- and balls were double their pre-war price. The twenties saw matters slowly returning to normal. In fact, cricket enjoyed some of its greatest seasons with Hobbs enjoying a new career, closely followed by George Gunn, Mead, Hendren, Hearne and Frank Woolley. Wilfred Rhodes was still wheeling them over for Yorkshire and he was a playing link with the Golden Age.

Charles Pugh Ltd. advertised a motor mower for thirty guineas which would cut 1,000 square yards in twenty minutes. Cricket sweaters were now 23/6d and the latest model Humber motor cycle cost £55.

The thirties were more troublesome times. An obituary in Wisden gave a hint of the disorders in the world, E. R. Sheepshanks of the Eton XI, who died in the Spanish Civil War. Shortage of money was chronic and Wisden broke new ground when a moneylender advertised his services -- loans of fifty pounds and upward! With the start of the Second World War, Wisden again shrank in size. The wonder was that it appeared at all. The continuity of almost a hundred years was not lost. Late in 1940 the firm's factory was destroyed by enemy action but work on the Almanack went on. The article on Public school cricket was destroyed in the raid, the author had also suffered the loss of his notes at another place during the same raid. It was impossible to get another article ready in time for publication. Advertising came to the rescue. Four pages appeared between pp 185 and 188 of the 1941 Wisden instead of the article on the schools. Edwards Ltd. had advertised for many years but wartime restrictions made it impossible for the firm to supply their nets. They continued to advertise as usual although they had nothing to sell! Their display showed a cricket ball with the announcement, "A net regret -- government regulations prevent Edwards from supplying nets for this!"

The forties were characterized by a flood of Brylcreem advertising featuring Denis Compton, particularly after his fine season in 1947. His face not only appeared in Wisden, but on Tube posters and on billboards all over the country.

Cricket schools had advertised in Wisden since 1928, one of the first being the Faulkner School and now Alf Gover's East Hill School became prominent. The advent of sponsored cricket inevitably lead to advertisements by Gillette, Rothman, Esso, Prudential, Haig and John Player, all of whom have done so much to popularize present day cricket.

The advertising in Wisden for the past hundred and eleven years is evocative of the times in which we and our fathers have lived. There is a ticket to buy back one's past implicit in the Almanack. A browse through the advertising pages brings memories of days far different from our own.

Wisden has seen the transition of cricket from a country pastime to a world wide sport. Amateurs have now disappeared from county cricket and one-day cricket is with us. Test cricket will inevitably widen and include some countries not yet in the charmed circle. I think particularly of Sri Lanka who will no doubt merit Test status shortly.

As we "buy back our past" we look forward to Wisden of 2001!

© John Wisden & Co