The late Victorian period was the first age of mass
advertising. In previous decades, it was considered ungentlemanly to aggressively
advertise a product. Now, for the first time advertising became powerfully
visual: photography and art were used to sell goods and soon celebrities were
sought to endorse products. And during the Victorian era, there were no greater
heroes than explorers.
Explorers were the Victorian age's movie stars, rock stars,
and astronauts. No detail about their life was considered too minor or insignificant.
Their memoirs and travel books were best sellers and they spoke to sell-out
crowds. From the fate of the missing Scottish missionary David Livingstone to
Ernest Shackleton and his ill-fated voyage to the South Pole, the public's
fascination with explorers knew no bounds.
My novel RACE TO TIBET tells the dramatic story of Gabriel Bonvalot, a Victorian age explorer who attempted to reach the Forbidden City of Lhasa on horseback. Accompanying Bonvalot was Prince Henri d'Orléans, a budding young explorer, and Father Constant de Deken, a Chinese-speaking Belgian missionary, and a team of hardy Turki caravaneers, Bonvalot made his way across the Tibetan Chang Tang during the height of winter, a heretofore impossible feat.
As can be expected, when he returned to France Gabriel Bonvalot scored his country's Gold Medal in Geographical Exploration as well as a slew of product endorsement, including French chocolate company Guérin-Boutron, Lu Biscuits, and a French wax company:
|This chocolate label featuring Gabriel Bonvalot shows the rigors of traveling across the Tibetan high plain.|
|Bonvalot on the cover of Lu Biscuits. No explorer left home without his trusty Winchester or a box of Lu Biscuits.|
|Gabriel Bonvalot and Prince Henri on a wax label.|
Even the bespectacled Belgian Missionary Father Dedeken who accompanied Bonvalot as official Chinese translator got his own product endorsement with French Chocolatier Félix Potin:
What other explorers scored product endorsement deals? Take a look at a few:
Sir Ernest Shackleton was a polar explorer who led three British expeditions to the Antarctic, and was one of the principal figures of the period known as the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration:
The heroic face of American Arctic explorer Robert Peary graced cigar boxes:
As Peary's partner, Matthew Henson was among the first explorers to reach the Geographic North Pole in 1909. He was later made a member of the prestigious Explorer's Club:
The Swedish explorer, Sven Hedin, scored multiple product endorsements, including German sewing thread. Here he is greeting Tibetans in what looks to be native dress:
Here is Sven Hedin promoting French chocolates:
And here he is endorsing a French beef consommé product (showing another exciting scene in Tibet):
Cigarette cards were perennial favorites. Here is a quartet of Victorian giants, from the Tsar's favorite Great Gamer, Nikolai Prejevalsky, to the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen (who trounced Admiral Robert Falcon in the South Pole), to the Norwegian explorer and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Fridtjof Nansen, to the erstwhile Livingstone:
|Nikolai Prejevalsky stalking through Central Asia.|