||The astute Cornishman recognized the potential of a purer, more gentle soap which would treat more kindly the delicate alabaster complexions then in favor (the upper classes unfavorably associated tanned faces with those of the lower orders who were obliged to toil out of doors for a living). He set about perfecting a manufacturing process for such a product and after much trial and error hit upon a method - which remains substantially similar even today- involving removing impurities and refining the base soap before adding the delicate perfume of English garden flowers. Not only was this product of high quality, it also possessed the great novelty value of being transparent. And it was this latter aspect which gave Pears Soap just the image it needed to be clearly identified by the public.
Though other products were manufactured alongside the transparent soap for many, many years (examples can be found in the following pages), it was clear almost from the very start that Andrew Pears' fortune would be vested in his shilling and half crown squares of amber soap. In 1835 he took on a partner, his grandson Francis Pears, and they moved to new premises at 55 Wells Street, just off the busy shopping thoroughfare of Oxford Street. The business had consolidated to such an extent that three years later old Andrew was able to retire, leaving Francis in sole charge.
Andrew Pears' legacy was a solid, if not particularly extensive or go ahead trading concern. Like many Victorian small businesses, it catered to a particular class of customer, whom it respected and wished to please. Andrew Pears was a cautious man, and he cared more for the quality of the products that bore his name than the number of people who bought them. Dogged by inferior imitations, at one stage he even went so far as to sign personally every package he sold. Because of the high price of his products, the market for them was necessarily an exclusive one, and there was little need or point in extensive advertising to try and widen this. Expenditure on sales promotion in the early Victorian period rarely exceeded ,80 per annum.
Sensing the impending stagnation of the firm, and recognizing the increasing buying power of the middle classes, Francis Pears realized that unless he developed and expanded the family firm he would soon be pushed to one side by more competitive rivals. New offices were opened in Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury, and in 1862 he bought a house and land at Isleworth in Middlesex, where he built a factory which he placed under the dominion of his young son Andrew. Widespread changes soon took place in the sedate and gentlemanly atmosphere of the West End offices, and into the firm came a new partner, Thomas J. Barratt, who had married Francis Pears' eldest daughter Mary. Barratt was far sighted, aggressive, willing to take risks and infinitely resourceful. Within months he had completely revolutionized Pears' distribution system and was turning his hand towards improving the firm's sales performance by means of expensive and highly original publicity schemes. All this was too much even for Francis Pears, who, fearing imminent bankruptcy, withdrew from the firm, taking most of the money and leaving only 4000 pounds as a loan to be discharged equally by his son and Barratt, who were to remain in sole charge of the business.
Barratt has many modern counter parts in the advertising agencies of Madison Avenue, and his methods were to become widely followed. He imported a quarter of a million French ten centime pieces (accepted in lieu of a penny in Britain), had the name 'Pears' stamped on every one of them and put the coins into circulation. Since there was no law forbidding the defacing of foreign currency, his scheme earned Pears much valuable publicity until an Act of Parliament could be hastily introduced to declare all foreign coinage illegal tender. The offending coins were withdrawn from circulation and melted down. He persuaded prominent skin specialists, doctors and chemists to give glowing testimonials to Pears Soap; among these were Sir Erasmus Wilson, President of the Royal College of Surgeons, and Doctor Redwood, Professor of Chemistry and Pharmacy to the Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, who personally guaranteed that Pears Soap possessed 'the properties of an edicient yet mild detergent without any of the objection able properties of ordinary soaps'. Such endorsements were boldly displayed in magazine and newspaper advertise meets, as handbills and on posters. Lillie Langtry, a highly popular actress of the day, cheerfully gave Barratt a commendation for Pears Soap (for which, as with the other illustrious patrons, no fee was asked) and he broke into the American market by persuading the enormously influential religious leader Henry Ward Beecher to equate cleanliness, and Pears Soap in particular, with Godliness - Barratt promptly buying up the whole of the front page of the New York Herald on which to display this glowing testimonial. It seemed no stone was left unturned in Barratt's endless search for good publicity. Infants whose arrival in the world was commemorated in the columns of The Times received a complimentary cake of soap and pictorial advertising leaflets by courtesy of Barratt. His most audacious publicity scheme, which in the end failed to get off the ground, was the offer of ,100,000 to the British Government to buy the back page of a contemporary national census form for Pears' use. Had he succeeded, Barratt would have put his firm's name before 35,000,000 people's eyes.
But the best-remembered piece of publicity which Barratt devised was the use of Sir John Everett Millais' painting 'Bubbles' as an advertisement for Pears. The model for 'Bubbles' was the artist's grandson, Willie (later Admiral Sir William)James, and the curlyheaded little boy made his first appearance at the Grosvenor Gallery in London in 1886; the picture was originally titled 'A Child's World'. The picture was bought by Sir William Ingram of the Illustrated London News for reproduction as a presentation plate in that magazine, and after use it was sold to Barratt for 2200 pounds. Though this gave Pears exclusive copyright on the picture, Millais' permission had still to be obtained before it could be modified (by the addition of a bar of transparent soap) for use as an advertisement. At first Millais, then unquestionably the richest and most popular painter in Britain, was apprehensive about such pointedly commercial exploitation of his work, but mollified by the high quality of the proofs which Barratt brought to his studio, he gradually warmed to the idea. Once the advertisement appeared he was obliged to defend himself vigorously against a hostile art world, and even as late as 1899, three years after his death, the affair was still a matter for debate in letters to The Times.
Barratt claimed to have spent 30,000 on the 'Bubbles" campaign, and the number of individual reproductions of the painting ran into millions. By any standards, it was an unqualified success, whatever the critics had to say. Even today, 'Bubbles' remains one of the most instantly recognizable advertising symbols ever devised, and many of the prints, which Pears later made available to the public, were framed and hung in living rooms around the world. Barratt evidently had a ready eye for the commercial potential of art, for another of his acquisitions, Landseer's 'Monarch of the Glen', though never used by Pears themselves beyond appearing as a color plate in the 1916 Pears Annual, duly became the distinctive trademark of the distilling firm of John Dewar & Sons, with whom A. & F. Pears had links.
Barratt thus held two trump cards. In one hand was an immediately recognizable product, Pears Transparent Soap. In the other was the association (in the popular mind at least) between that product and culture, represented by 'Bubbles'. It was a combination which was to represent Pears' public image for many years to come, and continues today with the tradition of each young Miss Pears (the winner of an annual competition) having her portrait painted by a recognized artist. Barratt time and again capitalized on this association. He brought art to the public eye through Pears Annual, first published in 1891 and surviving until 1920. The Annual was a large-format, limp cover publication containing, in addition to advertising for Pears' and other firms' products, quality fiction (Dickens's Christmas Books were reprinted in early editions), illustrations (as the years went by there was an increase in the use of color plates and second-color tints) and at least two large, separately packaged prints for framing. All this, at least until 1915, for sixpence!
Barratt evidently had philanthropic as well as commercial motives in bringing art to the public eye: the 1897 edition claimed that:
'It is beyond controversy that, before the popular advent of Pears Annual, pictures of the refined quality of our Presentation Plates (which surpass any works of even this high" class order ever previously attempted) were unattainable by picture-lovers at anything less than a guinea a-piece.
Our ambition has been to offer an appreciative and increasing public, which has grown to expect these advantages at our hands, presentation pictures of superior quality and of artistic values, to ensure our extended popularity, and to constitute Pears Annual the foremost achievement of this kind. . . "
The bonne bouche of Pears Annual 1897 will be readily recognized in the two large Presentation Plates, after the late and ever-to-be-lamented President of the Royal Academy, Sir John Everett Millais, whose two chefs-d'oeuqJre, the well known pictures, 'Cherry Ripe' and 'Bubbles', are now placed within the means of the million for the first time, so beautifully reproduced as scarcely to be distinguishable from the original pictures themselves . . . which now have a value of more than 10,000 pounds for the pair. And whilst so long as Pears Annual is produced it will ever be our aim, so far as it is in our power, to maintain its excellence, we do not expect again to have the opportunity of furnishing you with such a pair of pictures as these -worthy, as they are, of being framed and hung in the first and most artistic houses in the land.'
Two points in this lurching piece of Victorian prose are worth picking up on. Firstly, the chromolithographic plates were undoubtedly 'beautifully reproduced', since they were printed from no less than 24 separate color blocks; this book, as with almost all modern book production, uses a mere four impositions. Secondly, they were 'scarcely to be distinguishable from the original pictures' through a painstaking process (made defunct by the advent of photolithography) in which the original painting was copied and etched out by craftsmen on to each of the 24 stone blocks in turn. The original artists for these presentation plates included Frank Dadd, J. C. Dollman, Hugh Thompson, Will Owen (of 'Bisto Kids' fame), Maurice Greiffenhagen, Gordon Browne and Tom Browne. They were printed in huge quantities; records survive showing that Pears spent 17,500 on producing the 'Bubbles" print alone and almost all were still available to order by the time the last issue of Pears Annual appeared in 1920. Colored frontispieces, which generally repeated material used in the Annual or as ad advertisements, were also used in the famous Pears Cyclopaedia, first published in 1897 and still issued today.
Barratt died on 28 April 1914, aged 72. He was widely mourned, particularly among the press and advertising fraternities. To the latter especially he had opened up new horizons; he joined Pears at a time when advertising was limited by and large to small newspaper advertisements and crudely executed handbills and posters, and lived to see it-brought, to a great extent through his own example, to undreamed of sophistication. He forced the manufacturing world to see the ad-vantages of paying good money for good advertising; in the 1880s Pears were spending between 30,000 and ,40,000 pounds a year on advertising and by 1907 the figure had risen to 126,000. He pioneered the technique, so familiar today, of saturation advertising; W. E. Gladstone, searching for a metaphor to convey a sense of vast quantity during a debate on a topic now forgotten in the House of Commons, suggested the articles in question were as numerous as the advertisements of Pears Soap, or as autumn leaves in Vallombrosa'. On hoardings and on railway stations, in the press and on buses, the name of Pears Soap was everywhere in Victorian and Edwardian times.
And what of the material which Barratt put before the public and which is reproduced in this book? Much of it strikes the modern eye as unashamedly sentimental, but this was to the taste of the day - a taste which Pears were quick to recognize and cater for. Children (whether angelic or recalcitrant), animals, flowers and beautiful women are common denominators in the market appeal of advertising, especially when aimed, as Pears Soap mostly was, at female buyers. Pears' slogans -'Matchless for the complexion', 'Good morning! Have you used Pears Soap?' were simple and unchanging, reflecting an era of guilelessness and security in which the good things in life might reasonably be taken for granted - at least by the more fortunate. Only the pictures themselves changed from time to time, and it is interesting to look at a 1907 newspaper interview with Barratt in which he says:
'Tastes change, fashions change, and the advertiser has to change with them. An idea that was effective a generation ago would fall flat, stale, and unprofitable if presented to the public today. Not that the idea of today is always better than the older idea, but it is different - it hits the present taste.'
A generation! Modern advertising thinks in terms of weeks, its campaigns changing direction like yachts in a strong breeze.
Pears advertising, to suit its brand image, was tasteful and restrained, needing no recourse to the hyperbolics often encountered elsewhere in the period we are considering. The message was simple: that Pears Soap was safe and healthy and that it made its users beautiful. It savors of prestige advertising, embodying an unquestioned market supremacy; probably there is a good hint of snobbery here as well, for while the middle classes are invariably seen as healthy and self assured, the social inferiors like servants, ragged urchins and in particular black people are frequently seen as figures of fun. In design terms, many of the advertisements illustrated here could be stripped of their typography and considered purely as genre paintings - as some of them indeed originally were. Though the product name and captions are generally in harmony with the pictures, they are typical of this transitional period of advertising design in that lettering and illustration are not considered as a single unified and integrated entity. But their appeal is simple and immediate, requiring no sophisticated interpretation: they provoke an emotional rather than intellectual response. Barratt aimed, he said, to make his advertisements 'telling, artistic, picturesque, attractive, pretty, amusing' - and of course commercially successful. If for nothing more than that they took art out of the galleries and into homes and streets, thus brightening the humdrum lives of ordinary people, they are worthy of remembrance.