During the latter part of the 19th century, Great Britain controlled the means of production in her colonies. High margin manufactured goods were, therefore, generally confined to British factories while the raw materials needed to produce these profitable goods came from outposts such as the West Indies, Canada, India, Australia, South Africa, and Ceylon. Tea, coffee, cinnamon, plumbago, and such were exported by Ceylonese producers but consumer goods such as soap, cosmetics, cigarettes, prepared foods, alcoholic beverages, and textiles were all imported from the mother country. The earliest consumer goods posters displayed in Ceylon were all produced in Britain. They were dispatched to authorized agents in the colonies who used them in their marketing efforts.
British-sourced posters were appropriate up to a point but the development of an indigenous market in Sri Lanka and the establishment of commercial companies such as the British Ceylon Corporation, Lever Brothers, Ceylon Cold Stores, tobacco companies, and others necessitated the creation of posters that marketed goods to fit local tastes. As the population increased, more wealth was accrued throughout the country, and brands became established, companies started to sell goods through a network of small shops through the length and breadth of Ceylon. By the 1920s nearly every village and town in Ceylon had a store that sold branded goods. In an age prior to radio and television marketing, the poster was king.
Unfortunately, most of the early posters do not exist anymore and nearly all the posters in collector’s hands today were designed in the 1930s. Nevertheless they provide us with a good idea of how Ceylon’s consumer goods industry developed.