Graphic Porto – The city on store gifts

At the turn of the 19th century into the 20th century, Porto wanted to present itself as modern and refined as its European counterparts.Helder Pacheco points out that “towards the end of the 19th century, Porto witnessed a true commercial revolution that transformed entire streets – Santo António, Santa Catarina, Clérigos, Cedofeita, Sá da Bandeira – into meeting centers and, above all, centers for the discovery of civilization (…)” (Pacheco, 2019, p. 97). With the increase in consumption patterns, in a city that was traditionally mercantilist and totally committed to bourgeois life, the number and diversity of stores in the most varied sectors also grew: toys, fabrics, props, food, jewelry and silverware, health and cosmetics. The complexity of commerce and its clientele demanded more and better seduction in buying and selling. In 1910, Raul Caldevilla’s Empresa Técnica de Publicidade (which preceded Empresa do Bolhão) filled the streets with color and graphics, with large format posters making up the city’s landscape. But that wasn’t all. The traditional functionality of traditional commerce was accompanied by modern visual strategies, so establishments became better lit and greater care was taken with the presentation of store windows (Pacheco, 2018).

Relating advertising to everyday life, Samara & Baptista highlight the artistic function of the poster at this time: “Like illustration, the poster was an important means of disseminating a new artistic language, as well as a new way of seeing and valuing modern society” (2010, p. 10). Adding to this factor, we take into account the development of lithography, which allowed posters and substitutes to be printed in quantity.

The gifts from the shops, which come to us from Porto’s Historical Municipal Archive, are a sample of what we’ve just described. A single object concentrates an appealing aesthetic close to art and, at the same time, useful information. In them, the attraction strategies used by commercial establishments, from the finest to the most prosaic, are evident. In doing so, they refer to a certain imaginary of the city unconsciously built up in the collective imagination, driven by the socio-cultural changes mentioned. At a distance of a century, coming across these gifts is like sneaking into the privacy of a time made up of graphic objects that were not originally intended as future memory.

From codfish to glove shop

Fábricas Campo do Cirne (fabric retailer) offers a mechanical chrome, alternately revealing a young and old woman. Giveaways from food stores are generally more popular and less sophisticated, both in terms of image and the playful solutions they offer. Look at the gift from Armazém dos BBB (in Santo Ildefonso) “To cod lovers”, a small leaflet that includes 60 recipes, including an expected “Bacalhau à portuense” and a revealing “Bacalhau delícia Colonial”. Casa Célia (smoked meats, olive oils and dairy products), on the other hand, offers a “Jogo da Moca” (Mocha Game), as well as promising “exquisite and economical service” in the first floor lounge, where they cook “small meals, sandwiches, wines and liqueurs”.

The city where smoked goods, metals, leather and toys are sold is Luvaria Adolpho Vicent, in Rua de Santo António. It’s the same, although it’s certainly aimed at a select public, different from those who would go to Casa Célia until two in the morning for a snack. The luvaria, which won a prize at the 1900 Paris exhibition, has an elegant toast with a cover printed in relief with cut-out floral motifs, whose printer (Wilhelm Bernhard) is based in Berlin. At a similar level of refinement and aimed at a target audience that imagines itself to be a customer of the luvaria, the Salão de Cadouços, in Foz, has a card printed in dry relief decorated with flowers, to advertise the concerts held at the club.

As well as containing a series of utilities (a notebook with 12 pages, including a calendar and useful information, such as the stamp law, postage, and the price list for square trains), the gift from Tipografia Arthur & Irmão, in Largo de S. Domingos, contains a beautiful cover printed in relief with art nouveau motifs, with a portrait of a young woman wearing a hat in the center. Finally, we close the gallery of gifts from Porto’s stores at the beginning of the 20th century with a delightful chromatic sequence from the Andrades Villares confectionery (in Rua Formosa), in illustrated chrome format, advertising the house specialty: bolo-rei. They all depict figures of children in a variety of contexts, and also suggest graphic examples of hands positioned to create shadow figures.

Text: Teresa Lima

Published on: 20/10/2023


Câmara Municipal do Porto (org.) (2018). Lojas do Porto: história e identidade [Catálogo]. Casa do Infante.

Pacheco, H. (2018). Vender e comprar. Simplesmente. Em Câmara Municipal do Porto, Lojas do Porto: história e identidade [Catálogo] (pp 93-103). Casa do Infante.

Samara, M. A., & Baptista, T. (2010). Os cartazes na Primeira República. Edições Tinta da China.


Imagens: Arquivo Histórico Municipal do Porto

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