July 22, 2009

Adventures in vintage advertising: brushing up on the history of toothpaste ads

Like a craving, a bolt of lightning, or the tune to a song you can’t quite recall the correct words to, inspiration for a post can strike anywhere, anytime! :D This morning as I was brushing my teeth, I began thinking about the beautiful way in which toothpaste was often advertised in the past. Ads for this simple, humble daily commodity were (as was the case with so many now vintage products of the past) resplendent works of art in and of themselves.

Long before 4 out of 5 dentists were recommending a particular brand or we had 7,209 various flavours, formulas and colours to choose from, toothpaste was often promoted with a subtle, dignified glamour that makes many of its yesteryear ads worthy of framing.

While those perpetually ahead of their time ancient Egyptians are known to have had a recipe or two for toothpaste, fascinatingly, the commonplace usage of this oral health helper – particularly in conjunction with a toothbrush – did not kick in until the 19th century.

Prior to this time various – and sometimes rather repugnant – formulas for homemade toothpastes (and tooth powders) existed and were employed by some people, but in general dental health was not valued or given even so much as a fraction of the importance it is today.

Luckily for the sake of people who enjoy whispering secrets everywhere, by the Victorian era the use of tooth cleaning products was becoming more and more widely accepted. Towards the end of the eighteen hundreds toothpaste first began appearing in tubes (by 1896 Colgate had produced a “tooth cream” in a tube), a packaging concept that was directly inspired by tubes used to hold artists paint.

As the twentieth century rolled in and onwards, toothpaste (and the use of toothbrushes) gained momentum, which I would venture to say, correlates with the fact that personal hygiene (bathing and washing of one’s hair more often, etc) in general became of greater importance to many people.

Throughout the past century numerous brands of toothpaste emerged onto the market, some of these still exist today, but others are now obsolete (or are much harder to find, such as Ipana - which is still popular in Turkey but rarely found elsewhere these days). Toothpaste ads of the past offer an interesting look into the way oral hygiene has been approached over the past hundred years. Some are little more than simple drawing or photos depicting a certain brand, others (just as with modern day ads) relied on paragraphs of text – and, sometimes promises of what they could do for the buyer – to get the message of their effectiveness across to consumers. Below is a selection of vintage toothpaste ads from the 20th century, each one a glimpse into marketing mind-frame of its respective era.

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{I’m captivated by the sweet, sublimely pretty illustration in this 1917 Pebeco ad. I think that if one were lucky enough to chance upon a copy or a print of it, it would look amazing hung as wall art in the powder room.}

{A lithe little fairy rides atop a tube of Fiat toothpaste in this 1927 Italian ad. I wonder, is this the same Fiat brand known the world over today as a car manufacturer?}

{If we are to believe this Ipana ad, creamy foods were your teeth – and gums’ – worst nightmare in 1934 . Who knew?}

{Aren’t these 1930s woman and their pearly white smiles captivatingly lovely? Though they’re advertising Listerine brand toothpaste, I think they could just have easily been models in a fashion spread of the time.}

{I continually find it both interesting – and perhaps a little sad – that beauty advertisements from the past often blatantly targeted homely gals (the sad part being that they couldn’t just look all women as lovely humans and had to separate the beauty queens from the “plain Janes”). This Ipana ad from 1941 is a prime example of an attempt to appeal their product to women who weren’t “born to beauty”. If you ask me, the women in that photo is a stunner, so I’m not sure if they really conveyed the message they were going for here.}

{Cartoon strip panels – featuring either drawing or photos – which often included the most absurd dialog imaginable, were a popular form of advertisement throughout the mid-twentieth century. This 1941 Colgate ad in which “Sal” morphs from a bad breath totting social pariah to Bob’s future bride is a prime example of what I’m talking about.}

{An elegantly pretty woman graces this no-fuss 1944 ad for Pepsodent toothpaste which ran in the Air Training Corps Gazette.}

{Ads that implied using their brand of toothpaste would ensure you got the date/love of your life were fairly common in the past, such as this 1947 Gleem brand advert in which we see the new couple smooching in a smaller frame on the right hand side.}

{A rather sombre looking woman transforms from reserved to upbeat and chipper the moment she’s asked if she uses Macleans tooth paste, in this ad from 1953.}

{Featuring a series of fantastically mid-century style drawings, this 1956 Crest ad promoted the use of their toothpaste to help “triumph over tooth decay”.}

{With a font that could either be perceived as stylish or frightening, this 1957 S.R. brand toothpaste ad features a neat “block” of water and a gal that looks rather akin to Kirsten Dunst.}

{Does anyone else feel like Colgate was sending slightly mixed signals about tooth health when decided to use a frosted birthday cake in this ad from 1960?.}

{All images above are from Flickr. Please click on an image to be taken to its respective Flickr page.}

What do you think, would these advertisements be enough to convince you to buy their the toothpaste they were selling, or would you much rather just have the wonderful vintage adverts themselves to adorn your scrapbook or walls with?

While it probably wouldn’t be a wise move to use an actual container of vintage toothpaste if you chanced upon one, if you’re wishing that the tubes on the market today had even a fraction of the panache of lovely vintage ones in the ads above, a brand by the name of Marvis makes some extremely beautiful tubes of toothpaste in an assortment of delicious flavours (such as jasmine mint and ginger mint).

I hope you enjoyed this quick tour through the advertisement history of one of most common, everyday items we all use. This post is the first in a new segment based on vintage ads, in which I’ll highlight a number of adverts for a specific product, company or service.

Wishing you each a marvelous Wednesday – and good dental health always! :)


  1. HI HONEY! what a wdonerfully written post as always! I thank you for your response in my last past, it was hilarious! I've been taking a break from the computer..will blog about it later :) you are so right about each add, I would love to just have them adorn my bathrooms. lol & that Marvis toothpaste is awesome! have a wonderful day honey! xoxo

  2. I love them :-)

    I'm partial to toothpaste ads myself, I have some great originals in my collection from the UK in the war, they are really very telling.

  3. I love looking at vintage ads! These were great and don't you love when post content inspiration strikes in the oddest places?

  4. Wow~ you are a wealth of knowledge~ I love this post

  5. Love this post! I like the first ad the most :-)

  6. I would totally buy toothpaste from the first ad - it has a cat in it, what can i say?

  7. When I visit here I'm on a time travel trip ;) Amazing post and interesting marketing concepts.

  8. This is FABULOUS. I also want to thank you for your sweet and really touching comment on my "Honest Scrap" post. In fact, thanks for ALL your kind comments. XOXO

    PS: Some of these ads remind me of a couple of "personal hygiene" ads I came across today that essentially suggested that if a woman was alone and over 30 it was because of her "personal hygiene" issues. Yikes!

  9. What an interesting post! :)

    When I was younger I used to love this toothbrush advert because of the song! You have just reminded me about it! :D Thank you! I shall be singing that in my head today :)

    Your posts are truely fabulous to read!

    Have a lovely day,

    Love Kirsty .x.

  10. Hey Jessica. These are awesome. I love these ads. Thanks also for posting that great info. Really cool post. Take care. Cheers!

  11. Wow, some of these ads are so amusing! I agree with you though, it's sad that even back then there was such a focus on beautiful women and trying to make all women believe they should look like that!
    On, a lighter note, the ad that warns against the dangers of creamy foods really amuses me. What did they think what good for your teeth, chewy steak and peanut brittle?
    Lovely post!

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  13. Fabulous post! The history of everyday products can be very intriguing. Love the ads. Who ever though toothpaste could be glamorous!

  14. Hey, that was so interesting!
    I, being Italian, was quite surprised to see the "Fiat" toothpaste (from soap to *cars*?!) but I realized that FIAT, there, is just the acronym of "Fabbrica" "Italiana" "Articoli" da "Toeletta"), that is to say "Italian Toiletry Goods Factory".

    But, talking about funny things: hanging on a wall in my room there's a framed newspaper ("Il Resto del Carlino") from July 1914: the last page advertises a "wondrous" syrup that (translating from Italian) was supposed to work as a "hygienic mouthwash"(!), a "heart tonic" and a miracolous remedy against "lack of appetite, headache, cough, hay fever and catarrh" (no less!): the name of the marvellouse mixture was "Pure cocaine"! :D
    My God, how naive we were!

  15. @ GypsyFox, thank you very much, precious gal! I'm so glad my comment on your fabulous blog made you smile. (I agree, I would buy Marvis simply for the packaging - it's total bathroom eye candy :D)

    @ MissMatilda, ohhhh, how wonderful that you have some war era ads! My collection of vintage printed material is rather small, so for this post (and most of my posts using ads), I had to rely on the wonderful world of Flickr :)

    @ Maggi, thanks, sweetie! I do love it when inspiration strikes at random, the best is when you get an idea that bumps anything else you were contemplating posting out of your mind (at least for the moment), because you just have to rush and post about it.

    @ Sharon, thank you deeply for your beautiful comment.

    @ Kathie, thank you! I adore the first one, too.

    @ Pretty Little Pictures, indeed, a cute cat is about all it takes to rope me into wanting to buy a product, too :D

    @ Sher, what a wonderful compliment, thank you so much, my sweet friend!

    @ Landgirl, you are very welcome, honey. I absolutely adore your blog and love popping by every day to see the new vintage wonders you've highlighted. (Oh my, it's really sad how long into the 20th century the "old spinster maid" concept held on.)

    @ Stéphanie, merci, merci, merci! :)

    @ Kirsty, thank you, sweet heart. What company was the toothpaste jingle? Did you ever see the movie Grease? It always cracks me up when the character named Jan sings the old Ipana brand "Brush, brusha, brusha" song? I kept thinking of that scene when I was putting together this post.

    @ Keith, tons of thanks, my friend!

    @ avintagespirit, that cracked me up, too! You'd think that soft/creamy foods would be better for your teeth than hacking through tough meats and hard breads/fruits. It can often be humorous when you read old ads as they put emphasis on things we'd never even think of today (and/or use as a marketing point).

    @ Amanda, thank you very much, sweetie! I agree, everyday items are what we generally spend more time with, so it's cool to see how they were marketed to the generations before us.

    @ PaperDoll, what an awesome and informative comment, thank you very much! It's great to know what the FIAT actually stands for. It is incredible how some of the substances we now consider illegal drugs were once as common as Aspirin is today. It makes you wonder if any of our modern everyday drugstore products will be considered "crazy" a century from now.

    Huge thanks everyone, for your wonderful comments. It was a lot of fun putting this article together, and I hope you'll all enjoy future "Adventures in Advertising" posts.

    Have an awesome evening, my lovely readers!
    ♥ Jessica

  16. I just love looking at these! FYI I tagged you over at my blog. Have a good one!

  17. @ Mel, thank you very much for the tag, sweet dear, that is so very kind of you!

    Hope you have a beautiful Sunday, my dear!
    ♥ Jessica

  18. Ive been trying to find the brand of a toothpaste from ~1948 when I came across this website. I really can't seem to find it, and I figure you might have come across an ad about this particular toothpaste.