BOOK REVIEW: ‘FAMOUS BRAND NAMES & THEIR ORIGINS’.

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title: Famous Brand Names & Their Origins

Author: Kathy Martin

Total No. of Pages: 178

Rating Scale (1: very poor; 10: excellent): 9½

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When encountering familiar brands on the High Street or in the supermarket, who hasn’t fleetingly wondered where they came from and/or why they can sometimes have such quaint names? This reviewer certainly has; then promptly purchased something else. Fortunately however, the author of this volume did something about her enquiry and the result is a fascinating and endearing little work.

This is a well-written, slightly idiosyncratic and thoroughly delightful book. That the author knows and loves her subject is very evident. She states that she wrote this volume ‘…To serve as a guide for those wishing to time travel … into the past to look at some of the most popular brands found in everyday life – tracing their origins…development and their place in society today’.  It has succeeded well.  For ease of access the book has been divided into two sections; Part I Food and Drink and Part II House and Home. According to the author ‘In the first you will find chapters covering edible brands. In House and Home … you will find everything from toys and travel guides to Sellotape and supermarkets. To be included within this work, three criteria have been applied. These are that the products ‘… Must be over fifty years old; remain in production today [2016] [and] possess widespread consumer appeal’.  The list of entries that has resulted is large and wide-ranging. Unfortunately some names, although well-known and loved, have now become extinct. ‘The author recognises this and notes that ‘In order to include at least a few of these ‘fallen’, each chapter has a ‘gone but not forgotten’ section. Similarly brief ‘honourable mentions’ have been given to a number of popular brands that have not yet reached their half-century and therefore fail to qualify for full inclusion’.

The volume consists of 10 Chapters.  These are preceded by an Introduction which provides background to the subject material and, as already stated, details the criteria used to determine if a product should be included.  A  Sources section placed at the back of the book acts as a Bibliography. Where appropriate, it includes a list of  product websites for brands appearing within the book. An Acknowledgements section is used to thank those personally-involved in the preparation of this work, while an Index completes the volume.

By its nature, this book is encyclopaedic, and although it can be completely read in one sitting (as this reviewer did), it is more a ‘dipping’ book to be consulted should one be interested in learning more about a specific brand or product.

On that basis, it is likely to have wide appeal, and be of use to both Historians and Joe and Jane Public. The international ubiquity of the brands the work contains (especially in countries of the British Commonwealth), also means that it is likely to have a large audience outside the British Isles. The information it contains may also give it ‘Trusted source’ status at Pub Quiz Nights and in Trivial-Pursuit-type contests.

On a rating scale where 1`: very poor and 10 is excellent, this reviewer gives it 9½; a mark that he believes is well-deserved.

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 nzcrownmines is also available for book reviewing: Contact: nzcrownmines@gmail.com

BOOK REVIEW: ‘FAMOUS BRAND NAMES & THEIR ORIGINS’.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘THE INGENIOUS VICTORIANS: WEIRD AND WONDERFUL IDEAS FROM THE AGE OF INNOVATION’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title: The Ingenious Victorians: Weird and Wonderful Ideas from the Age of Innovation

Author: John Wade

Total Number of Printed Pages: 288

Total Number of Illustrations: 139

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 8

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Many years ago, when discussing Victorian ‘inventiveness’ this reviewer was told that ‘The Victorians didn’t know something couldn’t be done, so went ahead  and did it anyway’. That, in essence, summarises this volume; the things that Victorians did because they didn’t know they couldn’t.

The author defines the ‘Victorian era’ as being the period 1837-1891 when Queen Victoria was Monarch  of both Great Britain and the lager British Empire,  this work  naturally tending to concentrate on the eccentricities, successes and failures of ‘inventive’ residents of Great Britain during this time.  As a result, the reader is introduced to such worthies as the builder of the Crystal Palace, the many inventors of the phonograph, and those involved in the design and construction of both Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament in London.  Many other individuals, some perhaps eccentric, who did feats of daring do during this period, also make their appearance  In addition, the subjects covered include such wonders as the world’s biggest camera, electric submarines and London’s well-known Cleopatra’s Needle. Although largely Anglo-centric in its focus, inventors and creations from Germany, France and the United States of America also make their appearance, their relevance to the topic under discussion being explained clearly and objectively.

This book is well written in a clear, easily-read and informative style. It consists of an Introduction, followed by 28 Chapters, each focusing on a specific subject. Within the individual chapter, photographs and engraved images provide visual reference to the subject under discussion. A Bibliography and Index are also provided, while the sources of the images used within the work are noted in a separate Picture Credits section.

Within this volume’s covers, and on the basis of its title, this reviewer expected to find examples of ‘Victorian Inventiveness and Ingenuity’ from both the United Kingdom itself, and from within the larger British Empire. The Victorian ‘Age of Innovation’ was, after all, a time where, as already noted, ‘The Victorians didn’t know something couldn’t be done, so went ahead and did it anyway’. In this expectation he was disappointed, finding instead that the work had a very definite United Kingdom, European and North American focus.

In addition (and despite the title) the work ignores Victorian inventiveness in the field of international commerce. In this reviewer’s opinion, the absence of such items (of which there were many) reduces its appeal and potential audience. Rather than being an authoritative discourse celebrating the inventiveness that saw Victorian Ingenuity accomplish the impossible in many parts of the world, the volume is inclined toward the ‘quirky’ rather than the practical. What results is essentially a narrative of curiousities and oddities.

There will undoubtedly be those who will purchase this work on the basis of the ‘oddities’ that it contains. Such buyers will be seeking a detailed recitation of the more eccentric aspects of the Victorian era, and for them this volume will serve that purpose well. Despite the emphasis on the ‘unusual’, purchasers seeking examples of commercial ‘Victorian Ingenuity’ could also find some of the information of use. Ultimately and despite the promise inherent within the title, for this reviewer, the eccentric has triumphed over the innovative and while the result is an interesting treatise, it could have been so very, very much more.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I would give it an 8.

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nzcrownmines is also available for book reviewing: Contact nzcrownmines@gmail.com

BOOK REVIEW: ‘THE INGENIOUS VICTORIANS: WEIRD AND WONDERFUL IDEAS FROM THE AGE OF INNOVATION’