The Commercial Art Co Ltd

Banner photo is of Toronto St in 1910.  Courtesy of Toronto Public Library.

Commercial Art Co 13 1905
From the Toronto City Directory, 1905.

In 1905 an advertising firm called The Commercial Art Co Ltd sprang to life and launched an ad campaign unlike any other in the city of Toronto at that time.  Rifle through the pages of old city directories and you will find numerous listings for engravers and lithographers.  The larger of these companies, like Rolph and Clark, Alexander Engraving, and the Toronto Engraving Co, splashed out with brightly coloured, full page ads.  These are always a treat to come across, but what the Commercial Art Co chose for their campaign delights me more.

Rather than define themselves with one image, they peppered the city directories with more than a dozen lovely, little illustrations which ingeniously incorporated their logo.  Aside from the necessary contact information, each was distinct.

Commercial Art Co 1905 Commercial Art Co 14 1905 Commercial Art Co 12 1905 Commercial Art Co 11 1905 Commercial Art Co 10 1905 Commercial Art Co 9 1905 Commercial Art Co 8 1905 Commercial Art Co 7 1905 Commercial Art Co 6 1905 Commercial Art Co 5 1905 Commercial Art Co 4 1905 Commercial Art Co 3 1905 Commercial Art Co 2 1905 Commercial Art Co 1 1905

Each of the above images are from the 1905 Toronto City Directory.

Sadly, the company seems to have folded rather quickly and completely disappeared by 1908.  Outside of these ads, there is not a whole lot of information left on them. The only additional tidbit is a note in their directory listing which lists the company manager as a Walter R. Duff.   Well, small tidbit though it be, it does pack a punch as it turns out that he was quite a renowned etcher.

Born in Hamilton, Ontario in 1879, Walter Raymond Duff worked for many design firms including The Toronto Engraving Co, The Advertising Designers and the awkwardly named firm, The Mortimer Ltd.   Today, many of his etchings are held in galleries and still more regularly appear in high end auctions.  Considering that he was managing the Commercial Art Co when they issued these ads, I think it’s safe to say he had a big hand in their creation and charm.

Thanks to the wonders of old city directories I can also share one more item about Walter R. Duff…

King St. W. at Wilson Park 1918
The block where Walter R. Duff lived in 1905. King St. W. at Wilson Park Rd., taken circa 1918.  Courtesy of Toronto Public Library.

When these ads went to print in 1905 he was living at 1524 King St. W., which is just at the foot of Wilson Park Rd – a street I lived on exactly 100 years later.  Funny how you can pick up the thread of a story, follow it along and find it leads right to your own backdoor.

NOTE: The street still looks exactly as it did then – minus the horse-drawn carts, and in colour of course.

2 thoughts on “The Commercial Art Co Ltd

  1. I’m so delighted to have found your site! don’t know why I haven’t seen it before as I go on 2 or 3 times a year. Walter Duff (Dudley to me) was my great uncle; and lived in Douglaston, Long Island NY while I was growing up. My sister and I have been collecting his Xmas plates and other Fondville pieces for the past 4 years. And we have some of his etchings which are truly great. ARe you a relative?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. How fantastic! What a treat to hear from you. Your great uncle was an incredible artist, and it’s wonderful that you’re collecting his work.
      I wish I could say I am a relation but, unfortunately, I’m not – that I know of.
      Thank you for writing and for filling in more of his story.


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