A Window to History: The Wonderful World of Old Newspaper Ads

Ads of old = a lot of fun


This month’s Window to History gives me the opportunity to talk about one of my favorite aspects of historic newspapers: the advertisements. Fear not! Advertisements of old are often entertaining, unwittingly funny (at least to me), or just plain fascinating, especially armed as we are with our modern day 20-20 hindsight.

As we’ll see, outlandish claims in ads are not a 20th century invention, but old ads were much more direct than the fare of today – what you see is what you get (most of the time). What makes old ads so interesting to me is they give insight into the fashions and tastes of the day that the newspaper content itself might not so obviously showcase. And maybe they can let us imagine, even for a second, what it was like to live in that particular locale at that time. History seems a little more tangible – and that, after all, is something we history buffs care a lot about. And those prices!

For this, we turn to three new publications recently included on the Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection (CHNC) website, all from a particular locale – Florence, in Fremont County, Colorado – and all from around the turn of the 20th century: the Florence Daily Herald, the Florence Daily Tribune, and the Florence Refiner.

From the Daily Herald, the Arkansas Valley Electric Company promises “the best and most economical light” to all.


Elsewhere, the Bank of Florence “Does a General Banking Business.” (I told you: direct.)


Hungry? Well, for the “Best dinner in town,” look no further than The Idlewild. Those with strong stomachs should definitely partake of the oysters, which are “as fresh and fine as you can get anywhere on either coast.” No mention of where the oysters were sourced though. You might need some sort of medical attention after dining there.



Ads of old have you covered there, too! Of particular interest are the miracle cures. One should expect to see adamant claims that [insert new serum here] will take care of pretty much any ailment that comes to mind. This ad, titled somewhat terrifyingly (given that it was published in 1897), BLOOD POISON A SPECIALTY promises that

Primary, Secondary or Tertiary BLOOD POISON permanently cured in 15 to 35 days.

It goes on:

If you have taken mercury, iodide potash, and still have aches and pains, Mucous Patches in mouth, Sore Throat, Pimples, Copper Colored Spots, Ulcers on any part of the body, Hair or Eyebrows falling out, it is this Secondary BLOOD POISON we guarantee to cure.

Dear reader, I hope after reading this you will finally dispense with the heavy metals and iodide potash (?) for your Pimples and Mucous Patches and contact the experts – like the Cook Remedy Co.


This ad needed to be broken down in order to fully understand it. It tells us that:

  1. You can only really buy watches from jewelers;
  2. Because people need watches, they have indeed been buying them from jewelers;
  3. Therefore, this somehow proves that jewelers are Honest business people;
  4. Signed, The Jeweler.


This one is a not-so-subtle brag and a desperate plea for business all at once. One wonders if it generated any piano-related income.


I admit it, I have absolutely no idea what this ad is trying to convey. FOLLOW THEM seems at least mildly threatening. Check out the little cautionary tale next door: when cooking beets, don’t make the rookie mistake of confusing your gas for your vinegar. I think we’ve all been there!


Allow me to end on another medical one (they’re always a hit). I like to think the illustrator only did ears, hence why the ad is ostensibly about an “ear ache salve,” but it turns out it’s also good for “Piles, Boils, Catarrh, Chafings, Sore Throat, Ulcers, Colds, Rheumatism, Sore Muscles, Burns.”