Classic Ads: The Art of Advertising

Ah, the golden age of illustration, when some of the most fabulous artwork can be found…in advertisements.

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“Arrow Collars and Shirts” by J.C. Leyendecker

"Arrow Collars and Shirts” by J.C. Leyendecker from November 8, 1930

“Arrow Collars and Shirts”
by J.C. Leyendecker
from November 8, 1930


It is striking that ads in the old issues of The Saturday Evening Post often boast artwork worthy of a cover on the finest magazines of the period. An exquisite example is this 1930 ad by the great J.C. Leyendecker for Arrow Collars and Shirts. Leyendecker was about as famous for these ads as for his prolific Post covers, and the “Arrow Collar Man” was the American ideal for 25 years.

“Fisk Tires” by Norman Rockwell

“Fisk Tires” by Norman Rockwell from January 13, 1917

“Fisk Tires”
by Norman Rockwell
from January 13, 1917


Although several great illustrators did ads for Fisk Tires, Norman Rockwell did artwork for the company from 1917 to 1925 that appeared in magazines such as Youth’s Companion, Boy’s Life and, of course, The Saturday Evening Post. This winter scene with the boys admiring the cool tires is from 1917. There was always a sign or billboard for Fisk Tires in the ad.

“Cadillac” by T.M. Cleland

“Cadillac" by T.M. Cleland 6/30/1928

by T.M. Cleland
from June 30, 1928


Did you ever think you would call an advertisement “magnificent”? Artist T.M. Cleland (1880-1964) was a decorative designer, typographer, a well-known printer and, oh, yes, a wonderful illustrator. This 1928 ad for Cadillac is probably a depiction of Monte Carlo, suggesting how fun it would be to tool around Europe in your Caddy.

“Cream of Wheat” by Edward V. Brewer

“Cream of Wheat” by Edward V. Brewer from June 30, 1923

“Cream of Wheat”
by Edward V. Brewer
from June 30, 1923



We have come across dozens of great old Cream of Wheat ads. Artist Edward V. Brewer developed a series of these ads based on the black chef who appeared on the box (and still does today). The chef with the great smile would show up somewhere in the ad. In the case of this 1923 example, he appeared on the fancy new sign attracting the local children. The original paintings of vintage Cream of Wheat ads now sell for four to five figures.

“Bottles Ad”

Bottles Ad from August 8, 1926

“Bottles Ad”
from August 8, 1926


This charming ad from 1926 is touting the health benefits of bottles for your carbonated beverages. “Every bubble holds a heaping measure of health,” claims the text, going so far as to quote a prominent chemist’s assurances that the “average bottle of soft drink has the energy value equivalent to 3 ounces mashed potatoes or ¾ pound tomatoes”. Well, we may question that, but a bottle of pop is certainly easier to consume on the golf course than those food items.


Hosiery Ad from April 2, 1927

“Hosiery Ad”
from April 2, 1927


“Full fashioned, of course—giving that slender, trim ankled appearance that every woman wants.” How a pair of silk stockings achieves that is not clear, but no matter: this one is a charmer and a good example of late 1920s fashion and hairstyles. Like the artwork in so many of these ads, this one is not signed by the artist, but we have our suspicions. The lighting from below, as if by fireplace, and the large-eyed beauty is remarkably similar to a 1923 Post cover by artist Pearl L. Hill, who illustrated eight Post covers during the 20s (see below).

“Waiting” by Pearl Hill

 “Waiting” by Pearl Hill from April 14, 1923

by Pearl Hill
from April 14, 1923


One of eight Post covers by artist Pearl L. Hill.

We are amassing quite a collection of these wonderful old ads. Let us know if you’d like to see more!

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  1. Glorious, all!
    Most especially relate to the Arrow Shirts ad, as I have lived in the garments’s birthplace, Troy, New York, practically all my life.
    Diana, your very tasteful choice of subject matter and witty, smartly-styled commentary just continue to improve.

  2. These covers and articles take me back to wonderful memories of my childhood. A bowl of hot Cream of Wheat sitting at the table on a cold morning with a dot of butter in the middle. A glass bottle of soda … we were environmentally “green” and didn’t even realize it! Just love the articles!

  3. I discovered Arrow Shirts when attached to the 7509 Field Depot Squadron USAF at Upper Heyford in 1951. Sorry thats in England and I was a Teleprinter Operator in the RAF. Another apology, you called them Teletypwriters. Todays readers cannot imagine what it was like after 6 years of war when everything was rationed and the post war years were what was known as Austerity Britain. That meant continued rationing. I became an avid reader of the SEP and delighted in the illustrations of a strange New World. As an elderly Gentleman now your Ad has brought back memories of my youth. Very Happy Memories.

  4. These pics were great. I am close on the heels of ninety years old. (Six months.)
    Have enjoyed the SEP for almost eighty years.

    Thanks for the memories.


  5. I love this art deco Leyendecker Arrow shirts ad. The illustration itself, the fonts, the layout. A lot of thought went into this marriage of such beauty combined with such uncluttered simplicity.

    This is another great Fisk tire ad. I’d love to know the make of this car!

    Gorgeous ad for an equally stunning ’28 Cadillac—tooling around Monte Carlo!

    I’ve seen a few Cream of Wheat ads from the early 1900’s, they’re all great. The bottles ad is about as ’20s as it gets, I’d say!

  6. Retired now from 30 years managing an advertising agency, I grew up reading the art and advertising in The Saturday Evening Post as a very valuable part of my art education. I thank you for this continuing education for
    all of us. Young people will especially get both an art and history education. A valuable asset for United States history.

  7. Very interesting. The ads do indeed rival the art work in covers. Fun to see the products sold in years gone bye.


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