Friday, July 06, 2007

Household Hints

"Do not throw away old newspapers, for they can be put to a variety of uses. Here are three : A. If laid in sheets in cupboards and drawers, they will keep clothes and linen free from moths for a time. B. Nothing is more insanitary than a dirty dustbin. Newspaper burned occasionally in a bin (after it has been emptied) will dry it, and greatly assist in keeping it clean. C. A sheet of newspaper, crumpled into a ball and used as a duster, will impart a good shine to windows"

Looking for something at the bottom of a long-ignored drawer I came across an old cigarette packet. The packet of "Wild Woodbine" cigarettes is almost a thing of beauty in itself. The colour combination - blacks, browns and green - would never be found today : the black print against the brown background is difficult to read but overall the visual impact is iconic. Inside the packet is not the promised 10 cigarettes, but a set of 50 cigarette cards. The Household Hints set was published by W. D. and H. O. Wills in 1936, one card being given away free in each packet of cigarettes.

The quotation at the top of this posting is from the reverse of Card No. 23 of the set - "Three Uses For Old Newspapers". Like so many other contemporary documents, the card provides a wonderful insight into life in Britain seventy years ago. The threats facing the average family centre around clothes being attacked by moths and dirty dustbins (nothing is more insanitary). Use B provides perhaps the best illustration of how times have changed since the 1930s. Dirty dustbins remain a problem in the twenty-first century (although the claim that it is the most insanitary situation facing the average family is perhaps a bit of an exaggeration). Today, the problem is dealt with, in my case, by a firm called Wheelie Wash ("Professional Cleaning Services of Refuse Bins Domestic and Commercial"). For £2.50 they call once a month with a special machine that power-washes and disinfects the bin. If I tried the approach suggested by the cigarette card, I suspect it would lead to some unexpected problems. As most bins today are made out of plastic the chances are that the whole thing would melt.

Another card looks at how the bristles on a broom can be restored by bathing them in steam from a boiling kettle. A third looks at the secrets of the lost art of distempering. I can vaguely remember my parents talking about distempering the cellar, but for details I had to look "distemper" up on the internet. According to Wikipedia, distemper is made from powdered chalk or lime and size. According to Wikipedia, many Medieval and Renaissance painters used distemper painting rather than oil paint for some of their works. By the 1930s, however, it was limited to working class cellars and attics. The cigarette card concentrates on how to apply distemper to walls and ceilings rather than the artistic interpretation of medieval frescos.

Times have changed. Today, the cigarette-smoker crouching in a rain-streaked doorway or sat at home in splendid isolation will find no cards in his or her cigarette packet. They will never know what to do with their old newspapers.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous4:38 PM

    I just found a set of 50 in perfect condition. Do you think they're worth anything?
    Love your post. Dian


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