‘Baldwin’s Herbal Blood Pills’, proclaims the 1880 advertising poster on my living room wall. ‘…Cures blackheads, pimples, blotches, boils, scurvy, irritation of the skin, bad legs.’
What a cracker.
From the elegant letterpress printing to the bold cure-all promise, it never fails to make me smile. (Incidentally, fans of antique shop fittings should visit the G. Baldwin & Co. shop on Walworth Road, London, which has been there since George Baldwin started the business in 1844 and has some beautiful apothecary drawers to ogle).
On the opposite wall is a 1950s French classroom poster, featuring grammatical exercises from the ‘Méthode Boscher’ programme and small illustrations to accompany the linguistic sounds. ‘Oi’ is shown with a small goose, for example.
Close by is an enormous wall hanging showing a magnified measles virus, retrieved, perhaps, from a university’s biology department at some point. Stencilled and painted elegantly all by hand, I like the fact that at some later date, one word has been rather messily crossed out and corrected (by some know-it-all science teacher no doubt) with a black marker pen. The faded coral and charcoal colours are magnificent and I never tire of gazing at the fascinating and beautiful details.
I have picked up all my wall art at antiques fairs over the years, mostly for no more than new mass-produced artwork costs at home department stores. The distressed love hearts, twee ‘HOME SWEET HOME’ vintage-style signs and dull triptych canvases, showing bland sections of soulless, digitally-enhanced fake flowers, leave me cold. Devoid of all character, without stories, made in factories in China or India, with barely a human touch – much of the ‘artwork’ pumped out by big homeware brands today is as vacuous as it is affordable. Snob? Me? Yes, of course. But, honestly. The average ‘wall art’ offering on the high street is nauseating enough to trigger a nasty case of ‘blotches’ and ‘bad legs’…