George Packwood: An Exclusive Look at the Razor Strop King

George Packwood's advertisements for his razor strop and paste reflect the culmination of the eighteenth-century growth in capitalism and advertising. George Packwood was a middle-class businessman with a product and a desire to get rich. In 1794 he published his first ad for his razor strop and paste in the London Times (1). Like all good advertisers, he knew that repetition was essential if he wanted to attract public attention. His first target was London coffeehouses and the middle- to upper-class men who frequented them. As his business and his name grew, Packwood expanded his advertising efforts to country newspapers (2). He eventually captured markets in London, Bristol, Bath, Gloucester, and Dublin, just to name a few (3).


Sans doubte--Mr. Packwood, your elegant Strops
Are the best that e'er mortal invented,
We have nothing to do but to lather our chops,
The razor soon makes us contented.

Surely magic herself has been lending her aid,
To assist in the brilliant invention:
And the fam'd Composition you also have made
Should assuredly gain you a pension.

My friend has experienced the salutary effects of your incomparable Razor Strops, &c.-In the effusion of gratitude, penned the preceding lines.

Your most cordial well-wisher
Stubborn Roughbeard(4).

Published in the Sunday Monitor, April 16, 1795

Unlike many modern advertisers, Packwood focused on variety. His advertisements, like nearly all eighteenth-century ads, were strictly text-based. Drawings and graphics were not yet a part of the daily newspaper. Packwood, however, along with many others, employed similar tactics to the makers of modern television commercials. He used conversations, skits, jokes, and testimonials in his promotional writing. He even wrote poems and musical jingles that, although lacking the auditory component, were designed to stick in the reader's mind. Packwood's skits especially resembled TV commercials, combining the ignorant person and the enlightened user of Packwood's razor strop. Packwood also played upon current events, such as the fall of wheat prices, to peak the interest of newspaper readers intent upon business news and current events.

As Packwood's advertising campaign and his business grew, he focused less on direct information about his product and more on name recognition. Often the words "Packwood" and "razor strop" appeared only briefly, giving prominence to the entertainment value of the ad. Like modern advertisers such as Gap or Coca-Cola, Packwood expected his readers to recognize his product from only indirect information.

Attracting and maintaining the audience's attention was a major challenge in Packwood's market of late 18th-century England. By this time, advertisements had flooded the newspapers with promises of any number of magical cures and indispensable products. Packwood made a show of his outrageous, original, and ever-changing attempts to capture public attention. He believed that his advertisements had entertainment as well as commercial value, and to illustrate this he published a compilation of his ads. Entitled Packwood's Whim: The Goldfinch's Nest; or the Way to Get Money and Be Happy, this booklet was a shameless attempt to glorify Packwood, both for his razor strops and his advertising prowess (5). He drew upon a new tactic in his title, incorporating his packaging into the public conscious. He packaged his spherical, yellow balls of paste in circular boxes that resembled, upon Packwood's suggestion, the nest of a goldfinch (6).

A dispute of a very serious nature was near upon taking place a few days ago, between a gentleman and a tradesman, I here give it verbatim question and answer, as it was:
GENT. Sir, I purchased an article some time ago, of your recommending; I find it does not answer my expectation, and I demand satisfaction.
TRAD. You shall have every satisfaction you require; but pray what article could that be, bought in my shop, as my goods are all warranted.
GENT. It is nothing less than one of Packwood's new-invented Razor Strops, to remove notches, here it is, look at it.
TRAD. Did you read the directions on the outside of the Strop?
TRAD. Did you ever find it useful?
GENT. I cannot deny, at first, but it answered my most sanguine expectations; indeed, I found my face smoother in the evening than with the use of other Strops, directly after shaving in the morning, but of late the Strop has fallen off very much.
TRAD. (Thus addressed him) So shall you and I fall off, if after breakfast we are not supplied with a dinner, and after that something on the next day; and this Strop is lost for want of a supply of Paste: Pray how long have you had it?
GENT. About three or four months.
TRAD. I see this strop has attracted so much of the steel by application, as to prevent its use; and you confess you have neglected to read the red directions on the Strop, which runs thus, to spread on the paste, about once in two or three months, or oftener, if required. This keeps the Strop always in good order, and as good as new.

The consequence was, the gentleman bought a box of Paste, and the affair was happily adjusted, only he called again in a more calm manner to acknowledge his error, in not reading the label on the Strop, and left this advice for the future, never to sell a Strop without strongly recommending a box of Razor Paste with it, as one without the other, is like a flint without the steel (7).

Advertisement published in the Telegraph, January 27, 1796.

By 1796, when Packwood published his compilation, it was becoming nearly impossible to avoid Packwood's name in the English marketplace. Gaining confidence in his money-making abilities, Packwood even went so far as to deliberately harass his audience in the name of increased sales. Most notably, he advertised that "An half crown" could be found in the middle of his book. The reader, of course, found not money but a story entitled "An Half Crown." Packwood, who charged a shilling from each booklet, profited significantly from the scam (8). The great advertiser, of course, couldn't let his booklet go unnoticed. After the release of Packwood's Whim, the self-promoting author released an advertisement for his book of advertisements (9).

George Packwood, like all good businessmen, pushed his name and product relentlessly into the public sphere. His persistence and his ability to produce varied and creative ads proved extremely profitable in the increasingly capitalist society of 18th-century England. For Packwood and middle-class men like him, newspaper advertising offered an opportunity to expand their consumer base and to take advantage of the new

To the tune of 'The golden days of good Queen Bess.'

In this age of invention, improvement, and taste, sir,
To the times greatest wonder, we'll immediately haste, sir;
What is it preserves the most eminent station,
But the new Razor Stop, the glory of the nation.
Thus happy such artist may now themselves confess,
As in the ancient golden days of good Queen Bess (10)

Published in the Telegraph, May 26, 1795

phenomenon of social mobility. Although there were certainly others like him, Packwood was, in fact, something of an anomaly. Some historians suggest that advertising for products other than printed goods and medicine was extremely rare in 18th-century provincial papers (11). Packwood's abundant publication of ads was not affordable for every businessman. His excess indicated to his customers not only his desire for future business, but also his current financial success. Buying advertising space, especially for the long advertisements Packwood favored, was not cheap (12). Packwood ads boasted his financial success and his advertising prowess. The public rewarded him well for his arrogance.