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Home > Publications > Historic New England Magazine > Fall 2000 > Bright Colors, Big Building

Bright Colors, Big Building

This handsome print belongs to a type of advertising and promotion commonly used by businesses and institutions in the second half of the nineteenth century. The poster format and bright colors of this chromolithograph were certain to command attention. Displayed in a branch office, this image of an imposing modern building would convey to clients a sense of the company's reliability and security. This particular example probably was hung in the office of two insurance agents in Vermont, whose business cards were framed at the lower corners under the glass.

The second State Mutual Assurance Building, designed in the renaissance revival style by Peabody and Stearns and built between 1894 and 1897, is nine stories high and was the first skyscraper in Worcester. It still stands today, with some alterations, at 340 Main Street and is now known as the Commerce Building. The image contains a wealth of contextual information that documents the neighborhood and the era-we see some of the surrounding architecture, as well as trolley cars and horse-drawn carriages sharing the street with pedestrians.

Chromolithography was one of many technological innovations that revolutionized the print industry in the nineteenth century. Companies were quick to take advantage of its freedom of design and bright colors to produce advertising at relatively low cost. This poster is a significant addition to the SPNEA Library and Archives collection of chromolithographs, both as a document of a significant Worcester landmark, with information about how the city looked in the 1890s, and as an example of a popular advertising medium.

Rebecca Aaronson

Office Building of the State Mutual Life Assurance Co., Worcester, Massachusetts. Chromolithograph by Kyes and Woodbury, c.1894-97. Gift of Earle G. Shettleworth, Jr.
Bright Colors, Big Building