Object 58: Overseas business advert, c.1923

Advertisement for Westminster Bank, c.1923

Advertisement for Westminster Bank's services for the support of overseas business, c.1923. © RBS

This printer's proof of an advertisement is very much a product of the 1920s, from its art deco illustration of a busy quayside to its underlying message. This was the decade when Britain's large banks first focused their attentions - and their advertising - on supporting customers engaged in importing and exporting.

Before the First World War, Britain had been the workshop of the world. British-made goods were in demand across the globe and could be exported effortlessly and in quantity. Imports were correspondingly cheap and plentiful. When the war ended in 1918, Britain's businessmen confidently expected the resumption of business as usual. Indeed, a trade boom was enthusiastically anticipated as customers who had been cut off during the conflict re-entered the global marketplace.

In reality things turned out very differently. While Britain had been fighting the war, competitors abroad had not only developed their own manufacturing capacity, but had captured markets that Britain once considered her own. For Britain's overseas traders it was a rude awakening. They were going to have to work hard to win back their overseas markets. The banks, as this advertisement shows, were ready to help.

Banks were going out of their way to publicise what they had to offer

This was one of a series of advertisements issued by Westminster Bank in the 1920s, promoting the many services that it could offer customers involved in international trade, business abroad and foreign travel. Unusually for the time, each one featured a bold, eye-catching line drawing. The subjects varied widely, but most drew on art deco's clean lines and geometric designs to give an up-to-the-minute feel.

Advertisements like this were a new departure for banks. In previous generations bankers had preferred to wait silently in the wings until customers called upon them for help. Now, however, as British export industries faced the fight of their lives, banks were anxious to demonstrate their support, going out of their way to publicise what they had to offer in this brave new world.

'The financing of the world's commerce', noted a booklet published by Westminster Bank in 1925, 'has become one of the most intricate of machines ever constructed, and under the banker's hands lie all the cogs and controls necessary for the maintenance of its smooth and efficient running'. The illustration in this advertisement takes that message further, seeming to say that this intricate machine with its cogs and controls - and cranes, anchors and barges - is something stylish, modern and even beautiful.