Saturday, June 18, 2016

When the NRA Blue Eagle Flew High


Today when anyone mentions the NRA, the natural reaction is to think about guns.  In the early 1930s, the initials meant something entirely different to Americans.  That NRA — the National Recovery Act — was an attempt by the Administration of President Franklin Roosevelt to get the U.S. economy working again during the the Great Depression. 

When Congress passed the legislation on June 16, 1933 — 83 years ago this month — many thought its proposed stimulation of industry and recuperation of consumer purchasing power were the keys to economic recovery.  But an image was needed to represent this NRA and thus was born one of the most iconic symbols of American history — The Blue Eagle.  

Enter Charles Toucey Coiner, an artist and advertising director for the Philadelphia-based N.W. Ayer & Son advertising agency.  When the Administrator of the National Recovery Act (NRA) was dissatisfied with designs presented by Ayer, Coiner, shown left, himself designed the Blue Eagle symbol that is closely associated with the NRA.  It became a very popular icon of a hope for a country in the midst of a massive economic crisis.  The symbol was displayed by industries and businesses who had accepted the NRA codes of operation that attempted to boost the economy while protecting rights of workers.
As always, cartoonists had a field day depicting the colorful avian.  The November 1934 Vanity Fair magazine featured a cover depicting Roosevelt as a chef serving up a blue avian on a platter.  The eagle even seems happy about being someone’s dinner.

A more serious cartoon showed Uncle Sam looking at a manufacturing district labeled “all industry” with the NRA eagle perched on his arm.  The caption read “The Hunter’s Falcon,”  suggesting that the bird would swoop down on even those companies unwilling to cooperate.

The country seemed to go through an NRA craze.  Note the triplets wearing jaunty hats and belted dresses whose mother has sewed the appropriate letters on their skirts.  Of course, if the lass at the left had moved to the right side, the letters would have read “RAN,”  making even less sense.

Older girls also celebrated the NRA and its eagle.  Here are three genuine bathing beauties who have been able to transfer a pale eagle within their summer tans.  The slogan of the NRA was “We do our part.”  In this case the ladies have offered up a body part.   One hopes they avoided a sunburn.

In San Francisco, several thousand school kids turned out in a ballpark to create the outline of the world’s largest NRA Eagle.  Some wore blue.  It was all part of a  national effort to create enthusiasm for a program that sometimes worked and more often did not.
Of course an icon would not be an icon without a song about it.  Abdiel Phillips and Bessie Davies were happy to oblige with a ditty they entitled simply “NRA Song.”  Bill Cox wrote a country-style song he called “NRA Blues.”  It was aimed at the workers against the bosses and included these lines:

The rich men's all on easy street, 
Sweet thing, sweet thing. 
The rich men's all on easy street, 
And the poor man can't get enough to eat.
Sweet thing, yes baby mine.

When you all join the NRA, 
Sweet thing, sweet thing. 
When you all join the NRA, 
We'll all feel happy and all feel gay. 
Sweet thing, yes baby mine.

I've got the blues, 
I've got them NRA blues.
Lord, I got them NRA blues.

As shown above, glass is always a good touch in memorializing a icon.  This one looks hand-blown and carries a shield with two eagle heads, in a carafe type bottle that is, of course, blue.

By joining the NRA, one merited a button  The one shown here presented the blue eagle on a red background and white letters.  The obvious message: “red, white and blue” patriotism.  Businesses who accepted the NRA “codes of conduct” could put an appropriate sign in the front window of their establishments.   The President’s wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, was photographed with a handful of nails, presumably helping a woman nail up the blue eagle.
For all this hoopla, the National Recovery Act, while popular with workers, found some of the two million businesses who carried the blue eagle did not really follow the regulations it entailed.  During its brief life, the NRA did not achieve its goals of reemployment and recovery and too often failed to take action against recalcitrant businesses displaying the blue eagle.  In 1936 this attempt at a “guided economy” was struck down as unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.  The blue eagle would fly no more — its legacy the many objects and images that remind us of that short but highly unusual era in American history.













Friday, June 3, 2016

Through the Years with Fred Sehring Beer Ceramics



Never before or since, to my knowledge, has a brewery over a span approaching a decade issued a series of dated steins and mugs.  The Fred Sehring Brewery of Joliet, Illinois, from 1900 through 1908 annually commissioned Hugo Theumler of Pittsburgh to provide it with a new items for gifting to favored customers.    By that time, brewery founder Frederick Sehring, an immigrant from Germany, shown here, had died.  His son, Louis, took the reins of management and may be assumed to have given the orders for the ceramics, and likely approved the designs. 

The first in the series, a stein, celebrated the Turn of the Century.  Nationally the 20th Century had been ushered in with great fanfare and Louis had caught the spirit. “Prosit! - 1900,” it reads.  This was a traditional German toast, indicating “to your good health” with a tankard raised high.  The decor also has the trademark of the Sehring Brewery, a shield with a foaming stein marked with an “S” rampant.  Stalks of wheat and sprigs of hops surround the shield.

The following year Sehring adopted a calendar motif.  The elaborate label includes, as shown here, a woman whose twisted body indicates a flamboyant mood as she lifts high a foaming goblet while straddling a wooden keg.   A monkish figure graced the other side of the 1901 calendar.  He has his arm around a beer keg.  The elaborate transfer-printed design is typical of the artistic and technical capacity of the Theumler factory.

For some reason I have been unable to locate a 1902 Sehring issue.  In 1903 the company replaced the stein format with a beer mug.  This one bears an illustration of the Joliet brewery, replete with dark smoke coming from a stack.  While such a picture today might indicate air pollution, at that time such plumes indicated that the brewery was operating full out.

For the 1904 version, Sehring decided on a dark brown glaze surrounding the same brewery logo seen on the 1900 version.  Although Theumler provided the design of the transfers on his ceramics, he did not make the actual vessels.  Those were purchased as “blank” ceramics from a variety of potteries in and around Pittsburg, decorated and often stamped with his own mark.  In 1904 Sehring also issued a mini-mug cum match striker, shown below  It carried a design similar to the 1903 mug.
In 1905, the front of the stein was a repeat of the 1904 stein.  The obverse, however, held portraits of lovely young women displaying considerable cleavage and a saucy manner.  In a departure from the past these Sehring steins were trimmed in gold with gold handles.  I am particularly fond of the woman at right who seems to have “bee-sting lips” and  two purple camellias in her hair.  Very fetching, indeed. 

The 1906 mug had an unusual label.  The lead word is “Gezundheit,”  literally meaning “God bless you,”  usually said when someone has sneezed.  This raises the issue of whether Fred Sehring Brewing Co. thought their beer would make people sneeze.  This mug carries the same glaze and logo that bedecks the offerings for 1904 and 1905.

My personal favorite among the Sehring offerings is the 1907 stein.  It is decorated in a Chinese blue and white motif that features a number of idealized flowers of varying sizes. If it were not for the Fred Sehring logo and “Joliet” to guide us, we might thing ourselves back in the late Ming Dynasty.   It is a truly elegant cup from which to drink beer. 

The last stein in the series is celebrates the anniversary of the firm, founded by Frederick Sehring in 1868.  It was issued by the brewery in two styles, one with the letters spelling “Sehring” in deep red, matching the familiar logo and a second   in which the letters are hollow.  Both stein wish “greetings” to the drinker, perhaps not as compelling as “prosit,” but better than “gezundheit.
In contemplating this array of steins and jugs I am curious about the decisions that went into approving the designs for each, year by year.  As to why the series stopped in 1908, we might look to the death of Hugo Theumler in September 1908 apparently of “acute indigestion.”  With his passing production in Pittsburgh ceased and and all references to the firm disappeared.  Nonetheless, the Sehring brewery has given us a unique series of stein and mugs.  Happy the collector who can line them up, year by year, on a display shelf.















Saturday, May 21, 2016

More Kids Selling Beer

In June 2011 on this blog I featured an article on “Kids Selling Beer” in the pre-Prohibition era.  In the almost five years hence it has been possible to collect more than enough other examples of American breweries and other beer distributors marketing their brews by using children in their advertising.  While today such practices would severely frowned on — and condemned on social media — at the time apparently only the prohibitionists would have been outraged by kids selling beer.

We begin by an image from the early 1900s that shows a baby apparently happily sucking on a bottle of Duesseldorf Beer.  This was a product of the Indianapolis Brewing Company, originally founded by Peter Lieber and two partners, one of them his brother, about 1868.  An ad slogan used by the company in  the early 1900s claimed “for family use a speciality.”  Whether this included tots as young as the one in the picture is open to conjecture, but images of infants and toddlers were commonly used by the brewery in its marketing.  Indianapolis Brewing survived until approximately 1948.

The Buckeye Brewing Company of Toledo was another beer-maker that regularly made use of the “cute and cuddly” pictures of children in its advertising pre-prohibition, including the captivating illustrations by Ellen Clapsaddle [See my post on her, March 2012].  Many Buckeye kiddies appeared on advertising greeting cards for Christmas, Easter and other holidays.  The one shown here of a child with a rabbit followed a familiar theme involving animals.  The Buckeye brewery survived 127 years before closing in the early 1970s.
Some child-plus-animal images came with an edge to them.  This ad from the Christian Moerlein Brewing Company of Cincinnati is a take-off of the verse, “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”  In this case Mary the lamb has followed her to school where though the window the schoolgirl sees her teacher swigging a glass of Moerlein’s beer before class.  This brewery began production in 1853 in Cincinnati, Ohio, founded by German immigrant Christian Moerlein.  When forced by Prohibition to close its doors in 1920, it was among the ten largest in America by volume.  The brand was revived in 1981.

Sometimes the animals could be downright distressing to the children in brewery ads.  Here a young lady seems to be menaced by a gaggle of geese that seem intent on pulling on her garments, an activity that clearly is disturbing her.  This image was the handiwork of the Bartholomay Brewery of Rochester, New York.   Founded in 1852 by Philip Bartholomay, the facility grew to be a large beer manufacturer, with production of ably 189,000 barrels by 1888.  Although it operated successfully for almost seven decades, Bartholomay did not survive National Prohibition.

Another youngster with animal troubles was a lad dressed in a chef’s hat who is running with a delicious-looking confection on a plate trying to scramble away from some rapacious birds who also have their appetite whetted.  This illustration appeared on a trade card issued by John W. Hirt who was dealer in beer and liquor in Utica, New York.  The card particularly noted “Toledo Lager Beer,” as later Milwaukee Beer set the standard.  Hirt would have been referring to Buckeye beer among the Toledo producers of lagers.

Another familiar theme for kids selling beer was to juxtapose them with flowers.  One example came to the drinking public from Aurora Brewing of Aurora, Illinois.   Here we have a comely young lass who appears to be smelling an orchid or perhaps a snapdragon.  She graced the front of a greeting card issued by the brewery.  Dates seem to differ on this outfit, but it appears that it was founded in 1890 and closed in 1920, a run of some 30 years.  After Repeal in 1934 a brewery of the same name opened in Aurora but closed in 1939.
Maier & Zobelein Brewery of Los Angeles gave their little starlet Shirley Temple-like curls and seated her within a basket of roses as part of a holiday greeting to their customers.  Let us hope the thorns had been removed.  In 1882 two German immigrants named Joseph Maier and George Zobelein had purchased an existing brew house and renamed it for themselves.  They made a light, pilsener-style lager that was becoming increasingly popular with the public during the latter half of the nineteenth century.  

The next image is of a child, dressed in a sailor suit, of an undetermined gender, looking wistfully at a bunch of daisies.  The card also carries a bit of verse:  “Cool as an ice-berg and chemically clear, You never drank better than Lang’s Bottled Beer.”  Gerhard Lang got control of this Buffalo brewery, founded in 1842, by marrying the daughter of the founder Philip Born after his death.  Lang expanded production, building a huge and palatial brewery with a grand hall lined with marble.  His would go down in history as the largest single brewing plant in Buffalo, with an annual production of nine million gallons annually.

In the Tannhauser Beer trade card, the flower, a dandelion, has gone to seed and the tots are blowing the seeds around — hopefully to someone else’s yard.  Again we are in the realm of terminal cuteness.  This beer was a major brand of Bergner & Engle, a large brewery located in Philadelphia.  The firm touted its Grand Prize at the Philadelphia Exposition of 1876 and at the Paris Exposition of 1878 and gained a national customer base.  Although Gustavus Bergner had some political clout, he was unable to hold back the tide of the “dry” forces that eventually closed Bergner & Engle.
A few brewers found it useful to show their merchandising children in scenes of distress or delinquency.  Frederick A. Poth, another Philadelphia brewery owner, decorated a trade card with four boys and one girl, apparently siblings, who have eaten hot mustard and now regret it.  Poth had learn beer-making from the bottom up, shoveling mash out of the copper brewing vats and hefting massive bags of barley from delivery wagons.  Seeing an opportunity in the 1876 Philadelphia Exposition, Poth opened a beer garden and served his own beer, eventually erecting a facility, according to observers, “…that grew to mammoth proportions and employed hundreds of workers.”
Like Buckeye Brewing in Toledo, the Franz Falk Bavaria Brewery in Milwaukee issued many advertising items with children depicted.  Shown here are just two trade cards of Falk’s production.  Neither image is particularly edifying.  The one at left shows a juvenile who is smoking a cigarette while apparently wooing a young lady.  At right, lad appears to be splashing water on a girl who clearly is not enjoying the experience.  Franz Falk, after learning brewing in his native Germany, emigrated to Milwaukee in 1848.  He eventually owned a major plant, occupying five acres, operating eight ice houses and on-site malting production of 100,000 barrels annually.  He employed a hundred men, kept twelve teams of horses, made his own barrels and owned his own rail cars.
This journey through kids selling beer began with a baby sucking on a bottle.  It ends with a trade card of a group of boys working their way through a case of beer— Yuengling as it turns out — while an irate woman fruitlessly threatens them.  This trade card was issued by A. Liebler Bottling Company, a New York City, enterprise founded in 1887 that was a bottler of beer and other beverages, including Yuengling beer of Pottsville, Pennsylvania, that claims to be the oldest operating brewing company in America.  One wonders what Frederick Yuengling, son of the founder, thought of his bottling company seemingly encouraging youth drinking while the Prohibitionists were hot to exploit all such inferences.

Using the images of children to sell beer appears to have been another casualty of National Prohibition.  After Repeal fourteen years later, brewers decided that  such images were no longer appropriate.  Thereafter all the babes in beer ads have been fully grown, with curves.





















Saturday, May 7, 2016

Whiskey, Race, and “The Fight of the Century”

The advertising photo below is fascinating to me both for what it seems to say — and what it doesn’t.  The 20th Century really had only begun in 1910 when a boxing match between Jack Johnson, a black man and reigning heavyweight champion, and James Jeffries, the former champ and “Great White Hope” was being ballyhooed as “The Fight of the Century.”  The James E. Pepper Distillery that  had touted its lily white early American past and shown African-Americans in servile roles, changed course radically, sponsored the event, and seemed to be taking sides.
This prize fight had taken on highly symbolic meaning for millions of Americans, white and black.  Johnson had an uncanny ability to antagonize white people.  As one author has put it:  “He threatened the paradigm of white superiority with his prowess in the ring and he offended moralists with his lifestyle.”   That lifestyle included arrests for speeding and other infractions, drinking and carousing, and flaunted relationships with white women.  

A postcard of the time expressed the attitude of many.  It showed the white fighting cock (Jeffries) driving a right and a left to the head of the black rooster (Johnson) who appears to be knocked out.

What then motivated the James E. Pepper people to merchandise its whiskey through a man that was widely disliked and reviled, largely for being black?  The founder of the distillery, James Pepper, was a Kentucky Southerner who advertised his products by harking back to a time before the Civil War.  “Born with the Revolution” was the company slogan adorned by images of Lady Liberty and (all-white) Continental soldiers.   
Nor was Pepper above portraying African-Americans in servile occupations.  Like other whiskey purveyors at the time, the Lexington distiller advertising widely with a “Uncle Tom” figure — bald with a fringe of kinky white hair — serving Pepper whiskey and a glass. The ad emphasized “Not Just Age Alone, but Purity.”   A similar black figure, this one grinning, was on a postcard that featured a billboard advertising “Old Jas. E. Pepper Whisky.” (Pepper spelled it without the “e”.)
By the time of the Johnson-Jeffries fight, however, the management had changed at the distillery.  In May 1907 a group of Chicago investors, headed by Joseph Wolf had bought the distillery and brand names from Pepper’s widow.   For seven years before the purchase Wolf had managed the distribution of the Kentucky whiskey from his Chicago offices.  After re-incorporating the enterprise, he began making improvements to the distillery and bottling operations and expanding production.  He also stepped up the marketing effort for Pepper whiskey.  

In a bold move, Wolf and his colleagues apparently decided to buck two traditions in the liquor trade:  1) staying away from association with prize fighting because of its unpopularity with a large segment of the public and its illegality in many states and 2) avoiding marketing directly to blacks.   The Pepper distillery sought and got sponsorship of the “Fight of the Century” and thereby entre into the large population of color that idolized Jack Johnson.  

The venue for the match continued to be vexing for the promoters.  An agreement had been reached that the fight would take place in California, Utah or Nevada.  When officials in both San Francisco and Salt Lake City vowed to ban the contest, it gravitated to Reno, Nevada.  Reno, however, posed a particular problem for Jeffries.  Five years earlier, not long after retiring from the ring, Jeffries had frequented the roulette table at Reno’s Louvre saloon and gambling hall, shown above, and dropped $5,000 in a night.  Instead of paying up, the former World Heavyweight Champ gave his IOU, a note he failed to pay off during the ensuing years.   Now that he was headed back to Nevada, the Louvre management went to court and a sympathetic judge set a trial date.  Jeffries, or the fight promoter, Tex Richard, promptly paid the debt.

The fight date was set for the Fourth of July, 1910.  From the outset, as one observer has it:   “The upcoming fight would be relentless hyped as a titanic clash of races, leaving little room for objectivity…Most Americans believed that Johnson was mentally and physically inferior and conversely believed in Jeffries’ invincibility.”  In truth, Jeffries was several years away from his prime as a boxer, overweight and rusty from being on a vaudeville circuit rather than in the ring.  By contrast,  Johnson for all his boozing and racy lifestyle was at the peak of his form.  In reality it was a mismatch, but anointing Jeffries as “the Great White Hope,” gave the combat epic proportions, race against race, gaining national and even international attention.

The decision by Wolf and the Pepper Distillery to back the event seems a genius stroke.  As thousands of people from all over the U.S. and, indeed, the world, crowded into the streets of Reno, the banners that greeted them read “James E. Pepper Whisky “Born with the Republic.”   A photograph of the scene the day before the fight illustrates a banner that could be read for blocks.
On fight day, 17,000 people crowded into the stands erected in the natural basin caused by the Truckee River outside Reno.  Millions more around the world were glued to their radios for the round-by-round narrative.   “At 2:44 the “Battle of the Century” got underway.  By 2:48 it had become the “Beating of the Century.”   Scheduled to go 45 rounds, Johnson was in no hurry to finish off Jeffries.  The photo below shows them still boxing in the 14th Round.  Note the Pepper whiskey sign in the background.   In the very next round a vicious combination by Johnson had Jeffries helpless on the ropes.  Jeffries’ corner “threw in the towel,” acknowledging the defeat.
Although one newspaper opined that it was likely a boon that Johnson won, thus sparing the nation from black rioting, the “Fight of the Century” riots that did occur were white violence triggered by Johnson’s victory.  “Rather than rioting, most blacks tried to keep a low profile and avoided the white mobs until the storm blew over.”

Johnson’s fans would have taken pride in the photo of the heavyweight champ that opens this post, reputedly drinking James E. Pepper whiskey the day before the fight, while surrounded by a crowd of both blacks and whites.   I cannot help but wonder if a similar photograph was taken of Jim Jeffries with Pepper whiskey — just in case. 

Note:   Much of the information for this post was gleaned from a book entitled “The Last Great Prizefight:  Johnson vs. Jeffries,” by Steven Frederick.  Frederick has been a licensed Nevada bookmaker, not a historian or writer, but he has mastered the art of the narrative and it is truly a well-written, interesting and informative book, well worth the read.  All of the direct quotes above are from Frederick’s work.  

















Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Marvelous Bottles of Bulkley, Fiske & Co.

          From time to time this blog has featured fancy liquor jugs, but those were issued by distillers, whiskey “rectifiers” (blenders) and wholesale dealers, almost always over a period years.  Not so with the highly valued ceramics shown here.  Bulkley-Fiske & Co. broke the mode. The New York City grocery company produced them and did so over a period of four years (1858-1862).

The pair of cruet-like jugs shown above are in a “Rockingham” glaze, both a tan and a darker brown.  That attractive marbled look was highly popular in the United States during the early 1800s, copied from British glazes with a similar look.  A pottery in Bennington, Vermont, was particularly famous for the glaze but other U.S. firms also could replicate it.  Those ceramics normally was used for tableware and candle sticks — not to hold liquor.  

These pint-sized jugs were held gin when they were sold.  A shield on the front of each container says:  “Schiedam Gin Imported by Bulkley, Fiske & Co.”  The name of the firm and the address also was impressed into their shoulders.  There was no mistaking by whom these vessels were issued.
Even more impressive is a whiskey jug with a similar handle and top and also in a Rockingham glaze.   Entitled by the company “Game Bag,” each side has a bas relief picture.  One side is the game bag with four dead quarry hanging from it, from left, pheasant, duck, rabbit and dove.  The other side is another hunting scene featuring two dogs and a standing shotgun.  A British “hunting jug” influence is evident. There is a variant on this jug that marks it with an embossed “B.F. & Co.” on one side and an incised “Bulkley. Fiske & Co., New York” on the other.
From 1820 to 1856 figural “spirits” flasks were a popular ceramic item in England. Made in the shape of important personages often they were in the shape of personages of royalty or important political figures.  Often the latter were involved in reform movements and such items sometimes are called “Reform flasks.”  William F. Bulkley and Frederick B. Fiske brought these bottles to America to hold liquor, likely whiskey.  

Shown here, front and back  is a jug made in the likeness of military man.  From the shoulder epaulets and tunic we may infer he is an officer, perhaps a high-ranking officer.  His belt reads “Morning Salute,” a reference that would have been widely understood.  Many men would take a snort of whiskey every morning before going off to work, believing that it was beneficial both to health and mental wellbeing.  H. L. Mencken wrote of his father in this tradition taking a shot of Maryland rye daily before heading to his office.  The grocers only provide initials of their name and address on this vessel.

“Morning Salute” come in two styles, a second version being toned, brown glaze on top and tan below.  When this jug went up for auction the catalogue listed it at: “Extremely rare, the only example we have ever seen…”  and put the estimate of value at $4,500.  If received it certainly would mark a record for an American whiskey jug.

From the archives of the New York Historical Society comes another example of a Bulkley-Fiske figural flask.  This one is called “Man with a Fiddle.”  This bottle is the standing form of a man sticking his tongue out, in perhaps a smile.  His battered hat is the spout.  He is wearing an overcoat and holding a violin and a bow against his chest.  Might he be an itinerant fiddler?  Unlike the soldier figurals, Bulkley, Fiske & Co., etc., is impressed in the base.

While the last of the grocery firm’s ceramic offerings is lessarticulated than the others shown here, it is still interesting.  It is a barrel or keg — some have called it “a rundlet.”  It features a sizable “bung hole” aperture from which the beer, wine or whiskey could be accessed.  Note the well-developed four sets of three bands each that hold the barrel staves.  This ceramic bottle obviously held a quantity of spirits, but it is not clear what kind.  

I wonder at the imagination that fostered these items during the mid-1800s as the Civil War was beginning.  Obviously the individuals responsible — Bulkley, Fiske or someone else — were influenced by British models.  After Bulkley’s death in 1859 the firm stayed in business only until 1862, a four-year run.  Nonetheless in that short period, this New York City grocery left a legacy of liquor containers unmatched in their rarity and collector interest.