One hundred year old ad

Robur-ad-1916-1                                     These photographs by Spencer Shier date back 100 years to 1916 and show us what ads looked like in those distant years. It was about the time of Gallipoli.

A young woman is proudly showing us a tin container of Robur tea with its amazing circular lid. How innovative. Her pose is familiar to advertising history, an attractive young woman smiling at us and pointing to the product. It’s a formula that survives to this day.

The apron is not part of modern publicity though. It has connotations to us of domestic drudgery, pre-feminist gender roles, or perhaps domestic help – she may be posing as a servant. In those times, many households above the level of working class had paid housekeepers.

The title listed on the Trove archive site is “Miss Diamond,” so the model was presumably a celebrity of some kind, a music hall singer perhaps? While she wears an apron here, in other portraits on the site she wears a lush fur coat that suggests wealth and success. Who was she?

Robur-ad-1916-3                     Spencer Shier was a Melbourne photographer who specialized in portraits. He did well, living in a Toorak house at his death in 1946, a location that suggests commercial success and social standing. He specialized in society and celebrity portraits and advertising photography. He may be worthy of further research since many now forgotten photographers can be very interesting to us at this distance in time. Just look at his self-portrait.Shier-by-Shier-1931                       Spencer Shier, self-portrait, 1931


My Penguin cover design


Greg Neville, Penguin cover design for the 1960 novel.

Jane Graham is unmarried and pregnant when she is turned out of her comfortable suburban home by an angry father. She lights dejectedly on a bug-ridden room at the top of a squalid house in Fulham. She cares nothing for it, or herself, or her neighbours. 

Lynne Reid Banks’ first novel, the L-Shaped Room, was a best-seller when it was published in 1960 and a movie was soon made starring Leslie Caron. Penguin Books published the first paperback edition in 1962 with a cover drawing by Terence Greer. A later edition featured a too-literal photograph.


Designer Paul Murray has posted the Penguin template on his website which you can download and insert your own image and title into; you can pretend you’re a real Penguin designer from the 1960s. The cover layout is in the famous Marber grid, designed by Romek Marber for Penguin Books in 1961. Baby boomers will recognize it because Penguins dominated the paperback market in the postwar decades.

The image in my design is labelled Repaired Photograph and can be found on John Foster’s site at Design Observer. It’s clearly from about 1960, and shows a young woman of about the same age as the novel’s character Jane. The torn up portrait, clumsily repaired with sticky tape, suggests the character’s own journey in the novel, from despair to recovery.