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Archive for April, 2012

One of the things I’ve always found almost as interesting as boats is images of boats, especially pop culture and advertising images. Pop culture? Really? But it’s so, well, so popular. What does it really have to say? A lot, I think.

The same argument is sometimes levelled at pleasure boating as not being a subject worthy of serious study because it “only” deals with pleasure (as if the pursuit of pleasure hasn’t been a constant of human affairs for some time now). The thing about pleasure boating, and its wealthy cousin yachting, is that they’re of significance precisely because they’re not serious (unless you’re trying to win the America‘s Cup, perhaps), and this is what makes them important. The purchase of a pleasure boat is the ultimate discretionary expenditure. There’s no practical reason to own it unless you want to, or you think it’s beautiful, or it makes you happy, or all three. If you think about it, then, these purchases can tell us about what we really want, unfettered by the practicalities that constrain our everyday acquisitions. If pleasure boats are an interesting place to study people, therefore, then advertising for pleasure boats, or that uses pleasure boats, is a great place to find out what we all desire.

I’ve been collecting images of pleasure boating for a while now, and for me it’s a real pleasure because I only acquire things that interest me. No scheme, no system, no need to have footnotes or be representative of a particular historical style or period. I just get things I like. I think I’ll share some of these with you from time to time, so here’s a few to start us off. These are all on the theme of canoes and double paddles.

Our 1890s friend here with the snappy beanie, striped shirt and moustache to match is paddling a sturdy little Rob Roy type. He’s also advertising coffee while he enjoys boating. Here’s what the back of the card looks like:

And the connection between Lion coffee and canoeing is, well, it is what ever you would like it to be. As it it says at the top, you had to buy the coffee to get this charming trade card.

On a less muscular and manly note, we have some very slender 1880s young ladies paddling some very slender Rob Roy canoes. I’m not sure what the displacement of the hull in the background is, but I would think that it’s not suited to rough water use. This is a lovely, serene pastoral image, perfect to accompany your note to a friend.

Skip ahead a few years to the 1920s, and this trim couple have been so rejuvenated by taking Dr. Roussel’s anti-anemia remedy that they are able to paddle in perfect synchronization–as the tag line says, it gives you strength.

And here’s a personal favourite. Once again, nothing says Rob Roy canoe like a striped t-shirt. One of the earliest pieces in my little collection, this tiny tobacco card, measuring 3″ x 1  1/2″,  is from 1888, one of a set that depicted a rather ecclectic group of watercraft ranging from iceboats to battleships.  It is also one of the earlier instances I’ve seen of the slightly disturbing pairing of canoeing [think healthy, outdoors, clean] with tobacco and smoking [think the opposite]. This ran all the way through to Camel cigarette ads in the 1980s that showed our hero lighting up as he paddled.

There’s so much to like about this image, including its well-proportioned canoe, the tam on the paddler’s head, the artful spray of water fro the upper paddle blade and the large, pointillist printing dots. Two nice boats in the background too, one with a dipping lug to the left and another canoe or two to the right.

Until next time. . .

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