When I first compiled my list of A to Z topics I immediately thought of the booklet that gave me a huge amount of pleasure in my primary school years. It was the Commonwealth Trades Alphabet and like the A to Z Challenge, each page was devoted to a different letter, in this case representing an Australian Industry. It may sound rather dry and boring – a booklet where the only splash of colour was on the front and back cover, but it was interactive in the best sense of the word. Great was the excitement when, once a year, Mr Scott would unwrap a parcel containing enough copies for every child in the school.
I recently started Googling “Trades Alphabet” and didn’t find much information, except a for few copies available on eBay. It was then I knew I had to buy one. Now I have it. My very own copy in pristine condition! Inside I found an article on the origin of the “Alphabet” by Robert Westfield, who founded it in New Zealand in 1913. By 1959 it was issued in seven countries and four and a half million copies were printed a year. I don’t know when it stopped publication but I do know that it fulfilled its aim “to bring to children…a knowledge of their own and other countries’ industrial and cultural development.”
The key to its success, apart from the simple stories in pictures told by the advertisers was that every product supplied an address to write away for extra information. That meant that we received mail in a continuous flow for weeks or even months. Colourful booklets, charts, maps, sets of cards, projects and best of all, free samples would arrive at the local General Store cum Post Office to be collected on the way home from school. Here’s where our teacher’s letter writing fetish bore fruit as we all happily wrote our “Dear Sir” and “Yours Faithfully”. The most popular advertiser was Actil. The project material they sent considted of little samples of cotton at each stage of production, from fluffy balls to yarn to sheets and terry squares.
Australian primary and secondary industries, many no longer in existence, were well represented, along with imported products. CSR Sugar, Balm Paints, Crusader Cloth, Davis Gelatine, Exacto Cotton, Eta Peanut Butter, Commonwealth Savings Bank, Stamina Clothes, Wrigleys Gum, Pelaco Shirts and Rinso were some of the advertisers.
As today is the day for the letter “T” I will end with the Trades Alphabet contribution for that letter.
Just in case you think this is all too male oriented here is their page for girls.
Did you realise, as I just did, that they had their headings mixed up?