Advertising the Australian Museum in the 1920's
After the grimness of the war years and the Spanish flu, the Australian Museum was ready for change. Austere and conservative Director Robert Etheridge retired and Charles Anderson, a widely read man with versatile scientific interests, rode a wave of increased government funding to modernise galleries and bring in new ideas in education and outreach. The transformation of the galleries with dioramas and the founding of the Australian Museum Magazine saw Anderson enact his vision of addressing the public’s ‘lively curiosity’. Moving away from solely advertising in the press the Museum explored other ways of marketing its exhibitions and soon visitors could buy colourful souvenir postcards as a memento of their visit to the new audience-focused exhibits.
A review of the Museum’s financial records demonstrates that Anderson also knew the value of paid advertising. But until recently we did not know what form this took beyond the confines of print media. With a grant from the Australian Museum Foundation, the Archives has recently purchased three posters used to market those new displays and products.
Two black and white merchandising cards encouraged people to purchase postcards that highlighted the Museum’s collections. The first series of postcards not only featured Australian bird specimens meticulously illustrated by Lilian Iredale (nee Medland) but also included a descriptive booklet – an early version of a study guide. Quickly following, the second set of postcards allowed buyers to take home copies of Frank Hurley’s well known photos of ‘native life and customs’ in Papua New Guinea.
Undoubtedly what would have brought Anderson most satisfaction was the coloured poster that highlighted two of his life like displays – the Papua Ravi house and the Admiralty Islets seabirds. For the historically-inclined, this poster gives a glimpse of the Museum’s southern wing – a view now built out. Whilst we do not know where this fine poster was displayed, we know it reflects Anderson’s pride in his vision and development of the Museum.
Of course, what Anderson could not foresee was the looming Great Depression followed by World War II. As he remained Director until 1941, this brief period would be his only productive time for change.