Edwards’ Harlene Hair Products, 1897-1951

A special request today from Tasker Dunham – a look Edwards’ Harlene hair products and, as Mr Dunham put it, the “impossibly luxuriant hair and beard growth” they used to illustrate their advertisements.

Launching straight into the 1897 campaign below, you can see what he means. Hair of Rapunzel-like proportions is promised from Harlene by a woman in a dress that seems slightly indecent by Victorian standards. Plus, there’s miracle preparations for curing baldness and restoring grey hair to be had. “Scurf” is also cured by this wonder product – not a word you hear much these days, but as far as I can see it seems to mean much the same as “dandruff”. Perhaps there were subtle distinctions between the two?

The Shetland Times, 11th December 1897

The Shetland Times, 11th December 1897

Also in 1897, there was this rather artistic advert, which reminds me a bit of Holman Hunt’s painting, The Awakening Conscience. Except, it’s all proper and decent in this advert as it’s merely a long-tressed maiden advising a vicar on a baldness cure.

Moving on to 1916 – Edwards’ had a series of war-themed adverts to bring them bang up to date. Here, “a war-time gift to the grey-haired” is promised in the form of a free sample of the colour restorer “Astol” for their hair. Note, that “dye” is a dirty word – these products are claimed not to be dyes, but true restorers of whatever colour your hair was originally. I’m sure I remember that the “Just For Men” hairdye used to claim something similar even in the 1990s – can anyone else vouch for this? Your hair would magically restore itself to any colour you like as long as it was “tobacco brown”.

Sunday Pictorial, 28th August 1916

Sunday Pictorial, 28th August 1916

Here Edwards’ plays its part in making women feel insecure about their natural ageing. Grey-haired women look on in envy at their brown-haired sister.

Daily Mirror, 13th June 1917

Daily Mirror, 13th June 1917

Astol is not a dye or a stain, remember. This kind of cosmetics advertising is satirised in the book “The Crimson Petal and the White”, incidentally, which is an absolutely wonderful novel that immerses you in a Victorian world. I haven’t read anything apart from Dickens that has made me feel so actually part of the nineteeth century.

Daily Mirror, 4th September 1917

Daily Mirror, 4th September 1917

Edwards’ then introduced a new method for hair-improval. Here in 1918, we see the “Harlene Hair Drill” advertised, which went on to be used in their advertising for many years afterwards. The “Hair Drill” consisted of a series of steps to be done each day, which apparently took no longer than two minutes – although as you had to send off to see what they actually were, I have no idea what it consisted of. All I know is that you had absolutely no excuse not to be following “the lead of the navy, the army and the air force” , who were all at it, of course. Incredibly, the claim is made that “Even in the trenches our soldiers like to keep their hair “fit” by the “drill”.”

“Dandruff makes your hair fall out.” Really?

Daily Mirror, 1st January 1918

Daily Mirror, 1st January 1918

You’ll never snag a soldier with that grey hair, ladies.

Sunday Pictorial, 24th November 1918

Sunday Pictorial, 24th November 1918

More free offers in 1918, and more flowing mermaid hair to boot. This offer is being made “in view of the present prevalence of Hair Defects.”

Sunday Pictorial, 11th August 1918

Sunday Pictorial, 11th August 1918

More amazing hair here.

The Sunday Post, 21st March 1920

The Sunday Post, 21st March 1920

And here Edwards’ Harlene steps right into a lawsuit, if the Trade Descriptions Act had existed in 1920 (but it didn’t until 1968). Somehow mid-length frizzy hair is transformed into waist-length ringlets as if by magic. Although the friend with the bobbed hair is much more fashionable – I bet Edwards’ were seething at the 1920s fashion for shingled hair.

Lanarkshire Sunday Post, 13th June 1920

Lanarkshire Sunday Post, 13th June 1920

They were good with their free gifts, though.

Lanarkshire Sunday Post, 30th January 1921

Lanarkshire Sunday Post, 30th January 1921

Moving onto the 1950s now – and Edwards’ Harlene advertising has become much more realistic, using an actual photograph this time, of achievable hair. However, scurf was apparently still a thing in the 1950s.

Yorkshire Evening Post, 3rd September 1951

Yorkshire Evening Post, 3rd September 1951

The proprietor of the company, Reuben George Edwards (originally Reuben Goldstein), had died in 1943, and in 1963 the company was taken over by Ashe Chemical. I see that Ashe Chemical were also the makers of “Gitstick Concentrated Crayon Insecticide” – and hello, future blog post!

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1 Response

  1. We always called it scurf when I was little. I’d never heard the term ‘dandruff’ before the Head n’Shoulders ads. It’s the waist length ringlets and the beards in other ads (e.g. http://images.alinari.it/img/480/GRC/GRC-F-000229-0000.jpg) that amuse me. If only they were true, I’d send for some today. Thank goodness the killjoy Trades Descriptions Act doesn’t have jurisdiction over your blog. Thanks for playing my request.

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