Sunday, May 27, 2018

Poetic Justice?

Beginning in elementary school until just recently, I have composed poetry in a number of modes, sometimes comic, sometimes more serious.   In high school I wrote verse for the student newspaper.  In college, I was poetry editor of the university’s literary magazine.  In adulthood, for years I regularly contributed poems to a Northern Virginia nature newsletter and read appropriate verse at my company’s celebrations.

This introduces a contribution I made in 1996 to “The National Library of Poetry,” an Owings Mills, Maryland, publisher that regularly advertised for poems to be selected for its annual volume.  It cost nothing to submit a poem and have it selected by this outfit, but contributors were expected to buy a $50 copy to see their creation in print — or maybe multiple copies to present to relatives and friends.

The entire enterprise seemed to me to be a charade.  The objective of the National Library was not so much a search for good literature but a way of selling expensive books.  It remained to prove my point.  As a result I set out to write as bad a poem as has ever passed through the human mind and send it in.  I called it “Life with Thea” and it goes like this:

Thea, she takes me from heaven into hell,
Her smile, it is heaven.  I know it so well.
Is it only for me?  I wish I could tell.

She tells me always that her heart is true,
She pledges daily:  “Honey, I love only you
Using me?  Abusing me? I wish I knew.

Refusing to disbelieve, but wondering still
Eternally uncertain, weak of will,
Life is passing, thinking of Thea, a chill

Yeasts through my body, my knees go weak
If I utter her name, I can hardly speak,
She is my present but the future is bleak.

Be my lover, Thea, be my friend,
Unique our beginning , uncertain the end,
Lead me again to heaven, let us ascend

Let us go together, Thea, do not hold back.
Surely you will be true to our pact
Help me on the way, find the track

Is this an inspiration I feel?  Yes!
Thea is true, I know — O bless, O Bless!

Now that you have finished “Life with Thea” you must admit that it is one of the worst pieces of verse you have ever read.  (Still and all I am proud of the image of a chill “yeastlng” through a body — it is awful but perfectly so.) The folks at the National Library of Poetry, however, were positively ecstatic.  Note below the reaction of “M M” to it:

Not only were they going to print my poem in their annual volume called “Sound of Poetry,” but they found it fully worthy to be printed as well in “what promises to be the most historically important collection of poetry we have ever published.”  To be called “America at the Millennium,” this volume reputedly would drastically winnow down the 1.2 million contributions allegedly received by the Library over the years to a select few of the best poems and poets of the Twentieth Century.  “Life with Thea” had been chosen for that honor!  Wow!  Eat your heart out Robert Frost!

Yet this business is not all fun and games, as explained by Peter Armenti, a librarian at the Library of Congress, in a March 2012 post on his blog “From the Catbird Seat.”  The Library, he says gets about two hundred inquiries a year from people who mistakenly believe that the Library of Congress publishes and sells those anthologies. 

Armenti says the National Library may encourage the confusion by naming the Library of Congress in its copyright page.  Note it below.  The insert seems to identify the Congressional library as cataloguing the volume and assigning an ISBN number to it.  In truth, he says, the Library “only rarely” buys copies for its collection and that this ISBN number was arbitrarily assigned by the publisher.\

In the end, though tempted, I did not allow “Life with Thea” to be published.  As part of my test for the poetry “judges,” I had engineered the first letter of each line, if read down, to spell out a sentence — just to see if anyone was paying attention.  The letters read:  “This surely is bullshit.”  Check it out above. Somehow it seemed to go over the bounds of propriety to permit that to be printed.  If someday someone would recognize the scam it might lead to the firing of some underling.  In the meantime, anyone can feel free to reprint “Life with Thea” — if they dare.  

Labels:  National Library of Poetry,  Peter Armenti Library of Congress, "Sound of Poetry"

Saturday, May 12, 2018

“The Man on the Barrel” Through Time

As I write this post, the image of a man on a barrel sits before me. It is decoration on a small Doulton pottery cream jug from the Cheshire Cheese tavern off Fleet Street in London, similar to the bas relief Doulton figure shown here.  “The man on the barrel” is a familiar figure to anyone interested in English pottery.    Who is he and what does he represent?  

First of all, the barrel is not just an empty keg convenient for sitting.  It holds something alcoholic, rum perhaps or “sack,” a fortified white wine from Spain much favored by Shakespeare’s Falstaff or, later, bourbon whiskey.  The man on the barrel is a drinking man — sometimes depicted as a drunkard.  For example, here is Brussels faience jug from the late 1700s that depicts a man in a blue coat and yellow pantaloons who clearly has had one too many sips from that wineskin he has next to him.

Other men on barrels of that era could be local heroes.  The one right is a reproduction of an original jug created in 1770 by Ralph Wood of Wood & Sons Pottery in Burslem, England.  The figure is identified as Admiral Lord Howe, the much maligned leader of British naval forces in the American Revolution.  This may have been made before the war with Howe looking benign and holding a foaming pot of beer.  Was it done by friend or foe?  

Skipping forward to the 19th Century is a wood engraving of the man on the barrel by Jean Frederic Wentzel, a French print-maker, born in Wissenbourg, France, in 1807.  He specialized in images of ordinary life as seen in the France of his time and was very popular.  Here he has captured a happy French peasant on a barrel with a spigot conveniently located from which to refill his bottle and glass of wine.

We are back in England with the next example, a flask of a jolly toper dubbed “Old Tom” sitting on a barrel, said to be ware from Rockingham.  Given the inscription on the base, this item is from the Victorian era, about 1850.   Also known as a “reform flask” it celebrates the Reform Act of 1832 in England.

Although he is similarly shaped and dressed, the next two fisted drinker with an all-over brown glaze is attributed to a pottery at Bennington, Vermont, dating from the early 1800s.  Bennington was a convenient location for producing pottery because of the close proximity to local clay deposits, as well as deposits along the Hudson River.  Bennington also had an abundant supply of waterpower from local streams, which was necessary to power the machinery used at the time. Around 1804 stoneware pottery was introduced and achieved notable success, eventually employing hundreds of people.

The late 1800s brought this depiction of a man sitting on a barrel while drinking a glass of wine.  It comes from the Austrian-Hungarian Empire before its demise in World War One.   My guess is the gent portrayed was a political figure who would have been recognizable to the people of the day.  

In 1896, Gustav Schafer and Gunther Vater founded a factory in Thuringa, Germany, with the purpose of making high quality porcelain items. By 1910 the reputation of the pottery for craftsmanship and design had grown to international proportions and Sears Roebuck was importing and selling large quantities of Shafer and Vater ceramics in the United States.

Among the pottery’s products were a host of small figural liquor bottles called “nips.” The term is taken from an Old English word nipperkin, meaning a container of liquor holding a half pint or less. These German giveaways were always imported empty, then filled by a distiller, whiskey distributor, or saloonkeeper and handed off to favored customers.  An example is the “Old Sedgwick” ceramic figural that carries the image of a jolly old Dutchman. It advertised a brand of whiskey from the A. Bauer Distillery of Chicago,

When National Prohibition was adopted in the U.S. in 1920, Schafer & Vater lost a major element of its business and retaliated by creating an image of Uncle Sam as the man on the barrel — a barrel that proclaims “What We Want” and shows Sam filling a glass from a bottle.  This figure also came in brown on a tray with four cups.

The final man-on-the-barrel is a contemporary image of a pirate with an eye patch and wearing a bandana.  He appears to be daring anyone to come close to tapping the keg on which he sits.  Thus we have come full circle from the jolly toper who is sitting on the barrel in order to be as near as possible to the wine or liquor that fuels his joviality.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Early Philadelphia Inns and Taverns: Part 2

Foreword:  In 1908 the Robert Smith Brewery to promote its brand of beer commissioned Philadelphia painter and illustrator James Moore Preston to provide it with a series of works depicting pre-Revolutionary taverns and inns in or near the “City of Brotherly Love.”  Preston created twelve color lithographs that memorialized those early Philadelphia “watering holes.”  I find the pictures striking and believe they deserve preservation through this blog, along with some inkling of the histories of each tavern and inn.  Six were presented in Part 1, posted on April 14.  This post completes the series.

The Blue Anchor Inn on Front Street at Dock Creek was the oldest inn in Philadelphia, built in the decade between 1670 an 1680.  William Penn is said to have supped there upon his first arrival in the city in 1683.  Some believe that the Blue Anchor is the first structure built in Philadelphia.  The lumber is thought to have come over in the first ships to dock there.  The structure was timbered, filled in with small bricks and had the dimensions of twelve by twenty-two feet.  It has been called “the only public building” in the city for a time, a place where ship-masters, merchants and other citizens could gather.

Where Preston got his model for the Blue Anchor is unclear.  A newspaper illustration of the tavern shows a somewhat different building, isolated on the shore and approached by row boat.  It depicts Indians with bows and arrow looking on.  The scene in Preston’s 1908 color lithograph shows a building of at least three stories with structure around it.  Because the contours of both are the same, my guess is that improvements over the years and the growth of Philadelphia around the tavern led to the changes.

Although the brewery-sponsored picture entitles it the State House Tavern, because of its location across from the government center, this Chestnut Street drinking establishment also was known at various times as the Half Moon, Coach and Horses, and foremost as Clarke’s Inn.  “The table was good, and the inn became one of the chief centers of official activity.”  

Although Preston’s picture gives the structure a jaunty look, including figures bowling on the lawn,  an earlier lithograph shows a much more austere Clarke’s.  Robert Smith, the namesake of the brewery, in his Journal relates that an apprentice had ruin his malt by over-heating“I being gone to the Half Moon for dinner.”

An advertisement in the Pennsylvania Packet of March 9, 1772, by owner James Alexander announced the Black Horse Inn, located on Second Street near Callowhill, calling it a “Commodious Inn of Entertainment” and convenient for market people.  He went on describe its livery stable as “good as any in the Province,” able to stable as many as fifty horses at a time and offering “a good yard for coaches, chaises,and wagons.”  Preston has caught much of this in his drawing, with a carriage and horses as major elements.

Although Anderson did not detail the kind of entertainment the Black Horse provided, another source has described it:  “In 1805 two live porpoises were exhibited at the Black Horse and the following year the learned African Horse, “Spotie,” which had a tail like an elephant’s and a knowledge of arithmetic. The same year two royal tigers from Surat in Asia and a living sea-dog, taken on the Delaware River near Trenton, were shown.”  Although the Black Horse did brisk business through the mid-19th Century, by 1917, as shown here, it had badly deteriorated.

Depicted by Preston amidst a wintery scene, the Moon and Seven Stars, standing at the southwest corner of Fourth and Chestnut Street, was one of the best known inns of its day.  Standing between the Delaware River wharves and the State House, it served both the maritime and commercial communities.  In addition:  “Several clubs made it their meeting place, and all the leaders of American thought and action enjoyed the hospitality of its tap-room or its ordinary at one time or another.”  On the lithograph, the sign of the Moon and Seven Stars appears very small.  A reproduction captures it much better.

The Three Crowns was a public house famed for the good food set by its owner, a Mistress Jones.  It was housed in a two-story building adjoining the south end of the City Tavern (see Part 1).  It fronted on both Second Street and Walnut with a spacious courtyard that stretched to Dock Creek.  “At that house Richard Penn and other governors, generals and gentry used to be feasted.”  Mistress Jones’ tavern took its named from the sign of the Three Crowns.

The final lithograph is of the Spread Eagle Inn.  It was located fourteen miles west of Philadelphia on the Lancaster Pike, one of the first turnpikes to be built in America.  The Spread Eagle was the first relay station and stage house west of the city.  Customers traveling on their way west as far as Pittsburgh would leave Philadelphia early in the morning and stop at the Spread Eagle for an ample breakfast.  Preston’s picture captures the moment of such an arrival as the proprietor stands in the doorway to welcome his guests.  The artist apparently took his visual clues from an earlier illustration, adding color and detail.

This building was replaced circa 1800 by a large stone tavern, also called the Spread Eagle.  About 1824, the hostelry was greet with controversy when the original signboard, shown here, was changed by a local artist who added another neck and head to the representation of the American eagle, leading to considerable “political excitement.”  Neighbors and wagoners could not see why “our glorious bird of freedom” should be altered into a European-like symbol.  The tavern was derided as the “Split Crow” by dissidents, causing the sign hastily to be repainted — “Americanized” once more.

James Moore Preston’s colorful and engaging 1908 art works have allow a brief exploration of Philadelphia’s earliest and most historic inns and taverns, all of them but one long since disappeared.  The exception is City Tavern, seen in Part 1 of this series.  Another City Tavern has been reconstructed on the earlier site.  Said to be a replica of the original, the building appears to be significantly different from Preston’s representation.  In any case we can be grateful to the farsighted individuals for the Robert Smith Brewery who in 1908 commissioned these fascinating images to capture a bygone day. 

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Early Philadelphia Inns and Taverns: Part 1

Foreword:  In 1908 the Robert Smith Brewery commissioned Philadelphia painter and illustrator James Moore Preston to provide it with a series of works depicting pre-Revolutionary taverns and inns in or near the “City of Brotherly Love” to promote its brand of beer.  Although  he has been considered a member of the Ashcan Group and exhibited in the famous 1913 Armory Show, Preston was an artist who could work in many modes.  Thus he created color lithographs that memorialized the founding of the Smith Brewery in 1774 and eleven early Philadelphia “watering holes.”  I find the pictures striking and believe they deserve preservation through this blog, along with some inkling of the histories of each tavern and inn.  Some of that information was provided by the Smith lithos — and that will be quoted.  Other material and illustrations are the result of my own research.

The first illustration here is of the original brewery in Philadelphia, owned by a man named Joseph Potts and later by Henry Pepper.  In 1845 he sold out to  Robert Smith who had come to America in 1837 from England after having served an apprenticeship with the Bass Brewery there.  He died at 86 in 1893 and the business was reorganized as the Robert Smith Ale Brewing Co., owned by Schmidt’s Brewery of Philadelphia.  Shown here as it looked about 1908, this was the brewing entity that commissioned the artworks.

The London Coffee House was built in 1702, at Front and Market Streets, and remained intact until it was torn down in 1883.  Given that Preston was drawing its a quarter century later, how did he know what it looked like?  The answer lies in earlier contemporary lithographs that the artist clearly drew on to create his version.  The one shown here served as a model, right down to the four horse carriage at right.  The caption tells us:  “London Coffee House was…the center of pre-Revolutionary life in Philadelphia…where cargoes were bought and sold, slaves and good were auctioned, and the news of the day discussed.”

Amazingly, the Penny Pot House derived its name from the fact that a customer could buy a container holding about a pint of beer at the tavern for a single cent. Considered the second oldest tavern in the Philadelphia area, it was a landmark that stood near the docks on the Delaware River.  A Maryland guest was shocked by the seditionary talk he heard there:The Delegates rage windily against the King’s Blessed Majesty, which shall stand as firm as the House that was founded on the Rock.”  Preston’s recreation of the Penny Pot may been taken in part from a 1700 lithograph shown here.  Note that he has put the landing point closer to the water than the earlier version.

Completed about 1770, City Tavern was in Walnut Street above Second. The Continental Congress met there in 1774, two years before the Revolution. “It was early an important place, and after the Revolution succeeded the London Coffee House as the central place of Philadelphia.”  During succeeding years the establishment underwent several name changes until the building was demolished in 1852.  My assumption is that Preston relied on a old lithograph to guide him.  In recent years the City Tavern has been reconstructed at the original site. It is said to be historically accurate.  Shown here, however, the building looks quite different than the brewery drawing.

Indian Queen was a hotel noted for the importance of its residents.  It was the home of Robert Morris, the financier of the Revolution, and lodging for both George Washington and John Adams.  “Jefferson had his study in the south front room of the second story, from which arose the erroneous tradition that in this room he drafted the Declaration of Independence.”  Preston’s depiction echoes a contemporary print of the Indian Queen but features a different sign over the door.

Opened as the Washington Tavern about 1790 at Sixth and Jayne Streets, the name was changed to the Falstaff Inn in 1830.  Owned by William Warren, an actor and former theater manager, he renamed it to commemorate his own stage portrayal of Falstaff.  Not only that, he had himself painted as Shakespeare’s fat rogue on the sign that can be seen at the second floor corner. The accompanying motto reads:  “Shall I not take mine ease at my inn?”  Over the years the hotel deteriorated into little more than a flop house, as shown here, and eventually was torn down.

This completes the first installment of our remembrance of Philadelphia inns and taverns as provided through the colorful and well-drawn lithographs by James  Moore Preston and commissioned by the Robert Smith brewery.  They help bring to life the early history of our country and the establishments where important business was done.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Blue and White from Robinson of Akron

Let me say right off that I am a sucker for blue and white pottery.  That is why it still hurts to think back several years when I spotted an unusual stein at a bargain price that ultimately escaped my owning it.

The stein has a puzzling but intriguing motif.  On one side it displays a molded image of a thin twenty-story building, a structure clearly patterned after the Flatiron Building on New York City’s Fifth Avenue.  Completed in 1902 and accounted the first skyscraper, the building had captured the imagination of the Nation.

On the other side of the stein in molded blue and white is the figure of a woman, out in the weather and dressed for winter.   Her relationship to the building is unclear.   The front of the stein is a narrow leafy design.  Although I had seen this item before, it had always been priced too steeply. 

That is why, coming across it for $11 upon entering a large flea market, I was interested.   But then the “what if” syndrome set in.  It happens to every collector:
“What if there is something better on the tables ahead and I have dissipated my cash?  I can always come back.”  Yes, and some other sharp eyed collector will have bought it.  That’s just what happened.

Subsequently I did some research on Robinson Clay Products Co., creator of the stein, and found that the Akron based-pottery has its origins back to 1856 when the company of Whitmore, Robinson & Co. was established to manufacture a wide variety of ceramic items.  Over time, with many management changes, Robinson Clay Products emerged.

The company made such mundane items as sewer pipe, drain tile, slop bowls, chamber pots, and horse troughs.  Along side this utilitarian production, however, Robinson created fine glazed specialties such as “Blue Flemish Ware” and “Akron Ware.”  Many of the items bore a pottery mark to identify the manufacturer.

The stein I missed has a counterpart piece in a pitcher with a woman molded on it in in blue and white Comparing the two it is clear that the latter is more finely molded and the blowing of her garments more expressive.  Note too that the handle, while similar shaped, has been made to look more like a twig.

Robinson water coolers have a particular fascination for me.  The intricacy of the molded images of two deer in a forest on one is impressive.  So too is the “woman at a well” scene found on another cooler  Completing these illustrations is a crock or bowl that might have held pickles or hard boiled eggs on a pre-Prohibition bar.  A clue lies in the hooded monk with a wine jug in one  hand and a cup in the other, held out to the beholder.  It provides another reminder of the rich legacy of Akron’s Robinson Clay Products Co.

Monday, March 19, 2018

A Salute to Milwaukee's "Best" Brewery

When a group of color lithographs come along from a bygone day that seem to want preserving, I often try to give them a measure of future existence by placing them on this blog.  Thus it was of particular interest to find group of late 19th Century illustrations of Milwaukee’s Empire Brewery, later known as the Best Brewery and even later as Pabst Brewery.

As a former resident of Milwaukee, I am very familiar with the brewery complex that in my day was known as Pabst.  As a college student I have taken the brewery tour there on several occasions and my favorite local watering hole was the Forstkeller, a saloon in a former Methodist church adjacent to and owned by the brewery.   With the brewery and Forstkeller now closed, I have collected two glass paperweights issued by the company.   Shown here, top, is a weight that shows the Best complex in central Milwaukee that became Pabst.  Below is a weight with a scene that introduces the Empire Brewery and Philip Best.

Phillip Best, shown in a lithograph below was the son of Jacob Best (1786-1861), a German born brewer who immigrated to the the U.S. in 1844 to join his four sons in Milwaukee.   There he founded a brewery on Chestnut Street Hill that he called the Empire Brewery and ran it with his sons.  After Jacob retired in 1853, Philip headed the operation and the company became known as Philip Best & Company.   Philip died in 1869 and was memorialized in an illustration from a company booklet prepared for the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition.

In the meantime Best’s daughter, Maria had met steamship captain named Frederick Pabst in 1860 and married him two years later.  In 1864, Pabst purchased a half interest in the brewing company for $21,057.05 and became vice president. After the marriage of Best’s second daughter, Lisette, in 1866, her husband, Emil Shandein also purchased the remaining half interest from Phillip Best.  After Philip’s death Frederick took control of the brewery.  

The 1869 purchase of the Melms Brewert by the Phillip Best and Co. would prove profitable. Best (1814-1869) died that same year and Pabst and Schandein took over management of the business. In the next two decades the Best Brewery, later Pabst, would grow at a spectacular rate. Helping to trigger this growth was a fluke of history, the Chicago fire of 1871, which would provide a new market for Milwaukee’s breweries as Chicago competitors would never recover.  By 1874 Phillip Best Brewing Co. was the nation’s largest brewer.

When the Philadelphia exposition occurred two years later Pabst — at the height of its ascendance — was responsible for putting out a promotion booklet there in German, English and French.  Among scenes were three of the earlier Empire Distillery, as seen below.

In addition to its north side Milwaukee location, the company subsequently opened a second brewery on the city’s heavily ethnic South Side.   This facility had the advantage of being both on a water source and a railroad spur.  It is shown below on three lithographs.

Pabst (1836-1904) was also a pioneer in providing his own bottling plant on premises at a time when beer rolled out of a brewery only in barrels, to be decanted into bottles by the distributors or other independent firms.  A picture of that facility also was among the lithographs.  Note the proximity to rail.  

The final illustration in the booklet was a picture of the Frederick Pabst home, then on Grand Avenue, soon to be renamed Wisconsin Avenue.  Later the Pabst family would sell the residence to the Catholic Diocese of Wisconsin and for years it was the residence of the Archbishop.   Since 1998, it has been known as the Pabst Mansion and open to the public for tourist.  Inside the decor is of the late 1900s and well worth a visit.

The Best Centennial booklet sold on eBay early in 2018 for $150 although far from pristine.  It clearly is a prize in someone’s collection.   I am happy that through the use of the computer and Internet it is possible to bring these lithographs to a wider audience.