As the Head of Unilever’s Art, Archives and Records Management (UARM) team, Claire Tunstall is responsible for curating and caretaking a wealth of items and information that reflect the history of our business – and the people within it. As Unilever’s Archive celebrates its 30th year of service, Claire took us on a tour.
An unparalleled collection
Used by Unilever staff, researchers and the general public, our archive holds an unparalleled collection of advertising, packaging, research reports and financial material. From anything that represents a snapshot of what the business was doing at a moment in time, to records Unilever needs to keep to adhere to legislation and governance.
I’ve worked within the archive for 13 years, having started out as a temporary archivist. Since then I worked my way up and I’ve been head of the team for just over a year now. I’ve always had a love of history. In fact, for my first degree I wrote my dissertation on the ideologies of cleanliness in advertising so I first accessed the archives long before I came to work here, exploring the history of soap advertising.
We started out with one store area. Now we’ve got 10km of records over five store areas – and our collection is continuing to grow, just like Unilever. I’m also extremely proud that in 2009 our entire archive collection was designated as being of international importance by the Arts Council and in 2014 we were awarded accreditation from the UK’s National Archive – the first international business archive to do so.
Film and TV work
We work frequently with TV and film production companies who need props for period dramas. A few years ago one of our old Bovril ads even appeared in Oscar-winning movie The King’s Speech. We also work with Unilever’s UK Licencing team to source vintage images and adverts which are used in retro-inspired fashion and homewares. Wall’s ice cream and Marmite logos have proved particularly popular so far and it’s definitely a side of the business that’s growing.
The artefacts in our archive contribute to our bottom line too. In 2015 we’ve provided our brand teams with some old Bovril advertising that’s been used on jars in the UK. And we recently had a request from China, where Colman’s mustard powder features three gold medal logos on the side of the tin – a design that has remained unchanged for over 100 years.
When Chinese customs demanded to see the original certificates which commemorated medals being awarded to Colman’s as proof of authenticity, Unilever’s distributor called upon the archives to help. We were able to find the paperwork from 1878, original packaging from the 1880s, and even one of the medals. It meant we could continue to export Colman’s mustard powder to China without changing our historic packaging – and our distribution colleagues tell us it saved a deal worth in excess of €100,000.
Walking with William Lever
Our oldest item is a piece of vellum parchment which dates back to 1294, and is part of the original deeds for some land which belonged to Colman’s in Norwich. The Lever Brothers collection is very special to me as it was the first collection I worked on. It’s the founding half of Uni-‘Lever’ and includes minute books, staff manuals, amazing photos and films and advertising and packaging from the early days of Unilever.
It’s definitely worth checking out our Walking with William Lever app to explore it digitally. I also love smelling the soap! Even though it’s 100 years old, it’s in perfect condition and takes me back to those days researching Lifebuoy at university. It’s wonderful to think I’m playing a part in safeguarding it for the future.