Pears’ Soap Witch, 1899
This 1899 advertisement for Pears’ Soap is an unsigned woodcut, which was photographically reproduced and printed, dozens at a time, on large sheets of paper, before being pasted onto card, cut down to individual images (205 x 130 mm) and distributed. Despite the mass production of these advertising cards, few examples survive.
The same advertising image and caption was used in newspapers (one example survives in a newspaper cutting file at Smithsonian (here) and in magazines, where it competed with very similar advertisements being used by Sapolio (which I will do a post on later).
The caption on the card reads:
Whither! Oh Whither! Fair Maiden so High?
To Write the Name of PEARS on the Sky.
Why go so far from the Land of your Birth?
Because it is Written all over the Earth.
This is a version of a very old eight-line Nursery Rhyme “There was an old woman tossed up in a basket” which dates back to Mother Goose’s Melody (1780):
There was an old woman tossed up in a basket
Nineteen times as high as the moon.
And where she was going I couldn’t but ask it
For in her hand she carried a broom.
“Old woman! old woman!! old woman!!!” quoth I.
“Oh whither Oh whither Oh whither, so high.”
“To sweep the cobwebs off the sky.”
“And I’ll be with you again by and bye.”
This Nursery Rhyme was the inspiration for a Fancy Dress costume of the “Old Woman who Swept the Sky” described by Ardern Holt as a “Red cloak; witch’s hat; broom in hand; high pointed bodice with ruff and bunched up chintz skirt.” (Fancy Dresses Described; Or, What to Wear at Fancy Balls 5th ed. (1887); for my post on Holt, see here).
Pears’ have ditched the “Old woman” for a “Fair Maiden,” changed the mode of transport from a “basket” to the previously-decorative broom, and changed the destination from ‘Nineteen times as high as the moon’ to “the sky … all over the earth.” They have also got rid of the traditional “high pointed bodice with ruff and bunched up chintz skirt” for a diaphanous dishabille wrap. Very nice.
And, in case it is not already obvious, the witch is writing “the Name of PEARS on the Sky” with her index finder: which would be more obvious and impressive if the letters were visible. Of course, it may be that the cards were intended to stand on the right-hand side of piles of Pears’ Soap, with the witch pointing at them (and, therefore, the name “PEARS”).