• Courtesy the artist

In the exhibit “Love for Sale: The Graphic Art of Valmor Products,” the Chicago Cultural Center highlights a remarkable chapter in the history of graphics in advertising. While the creativity of both imagery and copy are fascinating to take in, it is the social relevance of the Valmor Products graphics that makes the exhibit worth seeing.

The Valmor Products Company operated on Chicago’s south side from 1926 to 1984. It primarily produced beauty products, such as face powders, hair creams, and perfumes. The dominant theme of the Valmor advertisements was romantic love, and graphics typically featured the promise of satisfaction in pursuit of the opposite sex. Products like Hold Your Man perfume and Kiss Me Again mouthwash featured attractive and youthful people, drawn flat and shiny in keeping with the look of the era. In the exhibit, labels normally the size of postage stamps have been enlarged to poster size to give the viewer the opportunity for a detailed examination.

It is notable, too, that Valmor Products targeted minority communities, cornering a market that was largely ignored by American advertisers at that time. By offering lines of products labeled Sweet Georgia Brown and Brown Skin Beauty, Valmor acknowledged the reality that minorities, particularly African-Americans, were consumers as valuable as their white counterparts. But it’s equally fascinating to see what it thought its customers wanted. Products promised to straighten hair and lighten skin, all in the decades before “Black Is Beautiful” became a strong social and political statement.