Scottish Post Office directories

Advertisements in directories

Witnessing business developments

Advertisements in directories can reveal a surprising amount about social and local history.

Ranging from only a few pages in the early volumes to occasionally almost a quarter of the book towards the late 1800s, advertisements are a fascinating illustration of the trading and business community.

Their difference in size, illustration, ornamentation and even coloration vividly depicts business hierarchies and art fashion alike.

Use of illustrations

Most advertisements within our digitised directories are purely text-based. They rely on different fonts and text sizes to draw the reader's attention.

Throughout the 19th century, however, more and more businesses try to catch the potential customer's eye with simple illustrations.

Towards the end of the 19th century the illustrations became more artistic, and occasionally companies like John J Wilson & Son in Edinburgh used elaborative and very decorative etchings to advertise their business.

Around the turn of the 20th century the most eye-catching pages within the directories would be the coloured advertisements. Mainly appearing for Glasgow and Edinburgh, they can range from simple, two-coloured prints to elaborate pieces of art.

On very rare occasions, advertisements in our digitised directories even include photographs.

James P Matthew & Co, publishers of the 'Dundee directory' between 1864 and 1927, show photographs of the firm's workrooms in their 1911-1912 advert.

Local history

While most advertisements promote local businesses, some even represent a piece of distinct local history.

Examples of this include adverts for Castlebank Dyeworks, one of Glasgow's oldest and largest laundries, or Peter Reid's confectionery, which became world-famous as 'Forfar Rock'.

Others relate to Dundee's jute industry, which dominated the town's economy in the second half of the 19th century.

Art Nouveau

Some advertisements stand out from the rest not so much for the business they promote but for the art historical story they tell.

Many of Glasgow's directories around 1900 include adverts elaborately illustrated in the Art Nouveau style for which the city has become world famous among architects, artists, art historians, and art lovers.


Left arrow  About Post Office directories