Vintage Tea Posters
It was the pioneers of the tea industry here in the 1860s, Scotsman James Taylor first among them, who inadvertently spearheaded Ceylon’s trend for delightful poster art. The vivid marketing campaigns that accompanied the rapid expansion of tea cultivation across the Indian subcontinent served as a sort of global branding campaign for Ceylon; raising its profile internationally, accruing the island, perfectly-placed, just a few miles north of one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, with an exotic appeal that incurred an early 20th Century boom in luxury travel to the island; a boom that is being echoed now, one hundred years on.
"Until the 1860’s the main crop produced on the island of Sri Lanka, then Ceylon, was coffee. But in 1869, the coffee-rust fungus, Hemileia vastatrix, killed the majority of the coffee plants and estate owners had to diversify into other crops in order to avoid total ruin. The owners of Loolecondera Estate had been interested in tea since the late 1850’s and in 1866, James Taylor, a recently arrived Scot, was selected to be in charge of the first sowing of tea seeds in 1867, on 19 acres of land. Taylor had acquired some basic knowledge of tea cultivation in North India and made some initial experiments in manufacture, using his bungalow verandah as the factory and rolling the leaf by hand on tables. Firing of the oxidized leaf was carried out on clay stoves over charcoal fires with the leaf on wire trays. His first teas were sold locally and were declared delicious. By 1872, Taylor had a fully equipped factory, and, in 1873, his first quality teas were sold for a very good price at the London auction. Through his dedication and determination, Taylor was largely responsible for the early success of the tea crop in Ceylon. Between 1873 and 1880, production rose from just 23 pounds to 81.3 tons, and by 1890, to 22,899.8 tons. The first vessel recorded as carrying Ceylon tea to England was the steam-ship ‘Duke Argyll’ in 1877".
The Ceylon Tea Museum.
Taylor’s European tea cultivating successors, Thomas Lipton and John Hagenbeck among them, began to evoke idyllic and colonial images of the mystical land of Ceylon to promote their tea.
"Since posters were a powerfully effective and economical medium of advertising, by 1890 almost every tea importer in Europe and North America was using eye-catching posters and calendars to promote their brands. Maravilla, Dalu Kola, Ceylindo, Wills, and the ubiquitous Lipton, with its slogan Direct from the Tea Gardens to the Teapot, were some of the well-known brands in Great Britain while Bohringer, Sumangala, Saman, and Chinbara were popular in Europe.”
Vintage Posters of Ceylon.
Cargo companies bearing the tea back to Europe and America and cruise-liners ferrying intrepid Edwardian tourists eastwards followed in their wake, commissioning the greatest artists of the age to create beautiful posters asserting Ceylon as an irresistible port of call.