Saturday, September 26, 2015

Dr. Samuel Johnson and Avoiding the Cheshire Cheese

 On this blog in May 2010, I related the story of how the renown British writer and encyclopedist, Dr. Samuel Johnson, while living a few steps from the famous Cheshire Cheese tavern in London, cannot be identified as ever having stepped foot in the place despite the assertions of the proprietors.  But why?  The answer has remained a riddle but recently I may have found the answer.
Shown here is a soft-covered booklet, known as the “Book of the Cheese,”  that celebrated 270 years of this watering hole.  The cover contains an illustration of a man who is recognizable as the great English encyclopedist and sage of the 18th Century,  Dr. Samuel Johnson.  Inside, the volume proclaims:   “…We have one specimen of the Johnsonian traverse remaining practically the same as it was in the Johnsonian days, we can still depict for ourselves, with but the slightest effort of imagination, what must have been the scene at the Cheshire Cheese in the Doctor’s time.  Johnson is there in his favorite seat, mouthing and talking….”

It was with a great deal of anticipation, therefore, that transiting through London but with some free time there, that a colleague and I ventured to the Cheshire Cheese for lunch in 1990.  The place was redolent with memorabilia of Johnson.   After lunch we literally went around the corner to Johnson’s home in Gough Square, now a museum.  When I told the curator that we had just come from the great man’s favorite tavern, he clearly was annoyed and said:   There is no evidence he ever stepped inside THAT place.”

Upon returning home, I did considerable research on Johnson, who was known to love the tavern atmosphere for good talk and conviviality.   The curator was right, outside of the Cheshire Cheese’s own claims, there is no evidence from Boswell and other biographers that Johnson actually did frequent the pub.   But why?

The answer may lie in some ceramics that recently were unveiled to the public by the British Museum.  Over the years, the Cheshire Cheese has issued dozens of ceramic souvenirs, items ranging from whiskey jugs and beer mugs to tea cups and salt and pepper shakers.  As I write this, I am looking at the original of the small creamer shown here.  In brown stoneware with white embossed decoration it bears the mark of Royal Doulton Pottery.   The recently displayed ceramic items, however  are considerably different.  
These ceramics, in the form of bas relief tiles, were discovered in 1962 after a fire in an upper room of the Cheshire Cheese.   There are eight of them, all erotic, detailing various sexual positions and even a spanking.  Given to the Museum of London, they were sequestered for more than half a century in a basement room.  As a sign of changing attitudes in England for the first time in 2014 they were put on display for the public viewing — but then only for a limited period over Valentines Day and open only to those over 18 years of age.  The London Museum curator, Jackie Keily explained:  “We can’t normally display them because they are so graphic.   It is a fascinating glimpse into the sexual history of London; so few of these artifacts survive.”  The title of the exhibition was “Late London: City of Seduction.”

I have included here some glimpses of the tiles.  Because this is a “family oriented” blog and not a porn site, I have edited them to crop out those elements that are too explicit.  At the same time, the tiles do convey the clothes and furniture of the 18th Century.  Curator Keily indicated that erotic ceramics of this sort were widely available in the 18th Century, if the licentious knew where to go and had the money to buy them.  “From the bath-houses of Roman Londinium and the stews of the medieval Bankside to the Restoration Rakes and Soho’s swinging sixties, this city has long traded in the currency of sex,” she pointed out.
Why were these items found in Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese?  Those upstairs rooms may have been used as a brothel or a men’s drinking club where prostitutes were readily welcome.  Experts hypothesize that the tiles would have been kept behind wooden panels and brought out as the occasion demanded, perhaps to stimulate the conversation and perhaps the behavior of the occupants.

Nothing in any of the Cheshire Cheese promotional materials hints at anything like that taking place during the 18th Century.  However, an illustration in the Book of the Cheese suggests a bit of “hanky-panky.”  Entitled “An Incident at the Old Cheshire Cheese,”  and depicts “an interesting episode in the family history of the house.”  It shows two comely young women coming up on  man, apparently named William,  who seems to be forcing his attention on a third woman.  William’s room is said to be “in the distance.”  Why are these women staying at the Cheshire Cheese?  What part do they play in the tavern’s “family history?”

To my thinking, the tiles may hold the answer of why Johnson was not a patron there.  He was notable for his prudish attitudes.   His biographer, Boswell, a libertine, notes the doctor lecturing him with a “prudish face.”   Johnson’s encyclopedia omits most terms for bodily functions.  A story, possibly apocryphal, has him approached by a woman who commended  him for leaving out “all naughty words.”  Dr. Johnson is said to have replied by saying, “Madam, I hope I have not daubed my fingers.”

If Johnson knew what was going on in the upper rooms of the Cheshire Cheese, and one suspects that much of London knew, then he likely would have avoided the premises.  As a result, The Book of Cheese, with its incessant references to Dr. Johnson, might better be called the “Book of Swiss Cheese” because it has so many holes in it.


Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Kiss of Prohibition: “Lips that Touch Liquor…”


The Demon of Rum is about in the land,
His victims are falling on every hand,
The wise and the simple, the brave and the fair,
No station too high for his vengeance to spare.
O women, the sorrow and pain is with you,
And so be the joy and the victory, too;
With this for your motto, and succor divine,
The lips that touch liquor shall never touch mine.
 “The lips that touch liquor shall never touch mine.”  The last line of an anonymous poem from the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) became a popular mantra in the efforts by prohibitionists to stop all sales of alcoholic beverages in the United States: It seemingly was a threat by young women to their young men to stay away from the booze or skip the kissing routine.

The origins are said to go back at least to March 1873 and perhaps as early as early as 1869.  The mantra of the “drys” has been cited in newspaper articles, magazines and books;  depicted on placards, signs, and needle point;  and repeated in poems and songs.  “Lips that touch liquor…” has reached iconic stature and as such has attracted more than its share of parodies.  Featured here are a few of its manifestations.

Above is the most attractive of the examples.  It shows a very comely young woman with a “Gibson Girl” hair style, olive skin, and ruby “bee sting” lips.  This lady is eminently kissable.   With this lass the WCTU went straight to the heart of potential swains.  The second manifestation of a abstemious young woman, while still attractive, lacks the impact of the other.  Origin unknown, it appeared on placards and signs of varying sizes and colors.  Was the one left a luggage tag?   A third young woman with the “lips” sign makes no attempt to be seductive.  She seems aggressively angry about the situation.

Songwriters Sam Booth and George T. Evans dedicated a “Temperance” ditty to the “Woman’s Crusade Against Liquor Throughout the World”  and fittingly gave it the “Lips” title.  Among the lyrics were the following:  

Let war be your watchword from shore unto shore,
Rum and his legions shall reign no more,
And write on your bonnets in letters that shine,
The lips that touch liquor shall never touch mine.

Write on your bonnets?  Booth and Evans must have been taking a snort or two to have thought up that idea.   The prohibitionist sentiments naturally raised the “wet” opposition to parody the idea.  The most enduring images involved very unattractive and sour looking women endorsing the “lips” idea.  One photograph that seems timeless in its appeal has a group of ten chastely dressed matrons beneath the sign.  They clearly are making themselves look as “un-kissable” as possible.  My attention is drawn to the woman in the center with a large hat and what appears to be serape around her shoulders.  Her eyes seem to indicate that her lips might have been on a bottle not long before.
A second riffle on that theme was a postcard with a line drawing of another singularly ugly female flaunting the slogan.  It probably was inevitable that men in the temperance crowd would also become comic relief.  In the 1908 photo postcard shown here a gent with an “anti-saloon” pennant and apparently castigating “lips that touch whiskey,” is standing in front of a liquor store and appears from his crossed eyes to have been doing some imbibing.

The Mississippi Riverboat Owners Assn. obviously thought a “Lips” sign would be found hilarious among their patrons.   Rightly so since it would have been a rare riverboat that did not sell or serve alcohol aboard the craft, along with other pleasures like gambling and prostitution, neither of which the WCTU would have approved.
The “Lips” notion continues to be interpreted and reinterpreted up to the present day.  Note the greeting card that includes the enigmatic message, “Lips that touch liquor shall never touch my liquor,” and a puzzling drawing of a woman pouring drops of liquid out of her boot while standing over a supine male figure.  I am still puzzling over this offering from “Someecards.” This outfit carries an entire line of greeting cards featuring drinking.
Just when we thought the world was safe from the prohibitionists, images like the one below appear.  This young woman with a clenched fist and snarlingly face appears to be representing a new generation that harks back to the heyday of the WCTU.  Marching in a parade somewhere, she has adopted their mantra and made it her own.
As a close to this examination of the theme, quoting a second poem seems fitting.  This one came from the pen of versifier George W. Young.  Appropriately, he entitled it “Lips That Touch Liquor.”  This ditty reads as follows:

You are coming to woo me, but not as of yore,
When I hastened to welcome your ring at the door;
For I trusted that he who stood waiting me then,
Was the brightest, the truest, the noblest of men,
Your lips, on my own, when they printed "Farewell,"
Had never been soiled by the "beverage of hell;"
But they come to me now with the bacchanal sign,
And the lips that touch liquor must never touch mine."

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Seventy Years of Comic Strip Memories

Note:  Because my “down memory lane” posts on, first, soft drinks, and then candy, have received an extraordinary number of visits, it occurred to me to reminisce about comic strips that have had particular importance to me over the years, some of them, indeed, imitating life.

I have been a fan of the comics even before my ability to read, badgering relatives to read them for me.  The first “Superman” comic book, the cover shown right, appeared in June 1939, just about the time I was able to read on my own.   Like kids all over America during those years of World War Two, I was enthralled by the “Man of Steel,” who regularly was thrashing the Fascists.  That could be me in the picture left, able to “leap tall buildings in a single bound.”  My cape was nowhere as nifty, however, just an old dish towel my mother furnished, bound at the neck by a large safety pin.  Nevertheless, as I recall, I ran around with it on for one whole summer,
“Blondie” may be the longest running comic strip in America, published in the newspapers since 1930, eighty-five years ago. I have been reading it for seventy.  Created by Cartoonist Chic Young and carried on by his son, the characters in Blondie have grown older by millimeters through the decades.   The scenes are the same:  Feckless and sandwich-loving Dagwood clashing with his irritable boss, Mr. Dithers; or conniving with or against his neighbor, Herb Woodley; or taking gentle rebukes from the ever-patient Blondie.  Timeless, the strip continues to delight.
My personal memory is of being in Hollywood in 1948 and sitting in the audience for the popular "Blondie" radio program that ran from 1939 until 1950.  The stars were Arthur Lake and Pennie Singleton as Dagwood and Blondie, shown above.  They played the same roles in movies.   The script writer for the radio show was a family friend from my Dad’s home town.  After the show we got a chance to meet him and Penny Singleton.  A thrill for a 14 year old.

Fast forward to college days when Walt Kelly’s “Pogo” was required reading.  Set in Okefenokee Swamp of the Southeastern U.S. and featuring the fuzzy-headed possum and his friends, the cartoon conveyed social and political satire.  Pogo is remembered today for having coined such aphorisms as:  “We have met the enemy and he is us.”  Also remembered is a character named “Simple J. Malarky,”  an obvious parody and caricature of the Republican senator from Wisconsin, Joseph “Tailgunner Joe” McCarthy.  A wild-eyed, menacing bobcat who carries a shotgun, Malarky cum McCarthy easily intimidates the other denizens of the swamp.
While attending college in Milwaukee, I had an opportunity once to come up close and almost personal with McCarthy.   About 1954 the then Vice President Richard Nixon came to the Student Union at Marquette University to make a speech.  Senator McCarthy, by then in the doghouse with the Eisenhower Administration, plunked himself in the front row.  As a reporter for the student newspaper, I followed both men closely out of the building and saw Nixon give McCarthy a swift brushoff and jump in his limousine to avoid a conversation.  A telling moment.  The photo of Joe bears a striking resemblance to Walt Kelly’s likeness.

Shown left, her name was Anna Chennault, Chinese-born and the widow of an American war hero.  Living in a luxury Watergate apartment overlooking the Potomac River, she often visited the Congress to press her views and was widely known as the Dragon Lady.  In 1968, allegedly at the behest of Presidential Candidate Nixon, Ms. Chennault was reputed to have dynamited proposed talks between the United States and North Vietnam that might have shortened the Vietnam War war as much as seven years.
Another early comic strip favorite was Harold Gray’s “Little Orphan Annie.”  Later I would find its highly conservative messages from Annie’s “Daddy Warbucks” as distasteful, but initially was fascinated particularly by one character, called “Punjab the Wizard.”  Dark-skinned and wearing a turban, Punjab not only was a fierce fighter but had a magic cape he spread over enemies, a magic tunic that either took them away for good or brought them back limp and scared.  That cape would have come in handy to use on some kids I knew.

Little then did I know that I would encounter a living image of my childhood hero.  In 1978 I was a minor part of a U.S. delegation visiting the Prime Minister of India.   After driving to No. 7 Race Course Road and the dwelling shown below, we were ushered in and we were told we had 15 minutes to talk.  A figure dressed like Punjab, seemingly as big, and wearing a sword, escorted us into the meeting room and stood guard over the proceedings after the Prime Minister arrived. It was hard to take my eyes off him. I did not see the magic cape but imagined that if we overstayed our welcome, it quickly would have materialized.  We finished in 14 minutes and exited without mishap.
The final comic strip is my now and always favorite, “Peanuts.”  Having just finished an excellent lengthy biography of Charles Schulz,  I better understanding how the cartoonist’s frequently unhappy childhood and married life gave the bittersweet tang to the panels.  Shulz caught something about the angst and uncertainties of childhood and made them poignant and funny at the same time.  Although Schulz
died in 2000 and no one else is drawing the strip, the re-runs can last a long, long time and continue to be a daily treat.

Having read the comics every day for more than 70 years, I am struck by how often the images and messages they convey are replicated in real life.  As the anecdotes above indicate, I am not infrequently cast back into the “funny papers” by events that have occurred over the years and suspect similar incidents have happened to other fans of the comics as well.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Mr. Pickwick — The “Old Gentleman” Advertising Alcohol

When British Author Charles Dickens created the character of Samuel Pickwick in 1837 he gave the world a kind and wealthy “Old Gentleman,” as he termed him, whose fondness for strong drink has followed his figure down through the centuries.  Captured in ceramics, glass, and newspaper ads, Mr. Pickwick, like W.C. Fields in our own day,* has become a classic icon for advertising alcoholic beverages.
Dickens' novel, written under the pseudonym “Boz” and known as “The Pickwick Papers,” follows his protagonist, perpetual president of the Pickwick Club, with three friends as they journey to places outside London in order to research the “quaint and curious phenomena of life.”  These excursions are lubricated by a great many drinks of punch, wine, and ale as the group traipses around England.  The original cover of Dickens' book indicates the alcoholic nature of the club’s “perambulations, perils, travels, adventures.”  The illustration at bottom shows Pickwick snoozing while fishing, presumably having imbibed deeply from a bottle sitting on the bow of his boat.
Royal Doulton Pottery, renowned for its “character” jugs, created the first ceramic pitcher shown here.  It was part of a series the company produced in limited numbers for the Pick-Kwik Wines and Spirits, Ltd. of Derby, England, advertising its Scotch whiskey.   Doulton produced a bespectacled and pudgy Mr. Pickwick, looking slightly woozy.  His hat described the lip of a pitcher and the handle was a bottle marked simply “whiskey.”  This was an edition of 2,000.

Plck-Kwik Wines and Spirits also produced a line of mini-jugs, each containing several swallows of its liquor, probably to be given away to favored customers.   The handle side of each featured a standing figure of Pickwick, raising his hat in greeting and a bottle of the whiskey with the same image as the label.   The series features scenes from a number of Dickens novels in well-executed under-glaze transfer printed images.   Several, like the two below, feature well-known scenes from The Pickwick Papers.

The mini-jug at left below captures a scene in which Mr. Pickwick, standing at far right, is addressing the club all of whom have been drinking the wine glasses on the table.  Typically, as Dickens told it, the Old Gentleman’s discourse would have shown the effects of the amount of drink consumed before he began.  The jug at right is the first meeting of Mr. Pickwick, again far right, with another famous Dickens character, Sam Weller, at left.  Weller, a young man with an array of talents, will become Pickwick’s “man,” helping him out of several scrapes. 
The next Pickwick jug carried a full fifth of what the labels calls “Finest Old Blended Pickwick Rare Scotch Whisky.”  Although, as on the mini-jugs, Pickwick’s figure appears on the rear, he has been pre-empted on the front by Santa Claus.  This ceramic jug, the product of Buchan Pottery of Portobello, Scotland, was made for the 1982 holiday market in the U.S.  All Scotch whiskey is a blend but in this country blends must be identified as such.  In Scotland what Americans call “straight” whiskey are known as “single malts.”

U.S. distillers also saw a benefit from using the Pickwick image.  The Kentucky bourbon,  Jim Beam, commissioned Doulton Pottery to undertake its own version of the Dickens character.  This was a “two-headed” version with the back side being the visage of a winking Sam Weller.  The handle was a Jim Beam bottle rendered in yellow.  Compared with the earlier Doulton jug, this Pickwick has a definite sly look in his eyes and a jaunty red bow tie.  The backside also carries the motto:  “The world’s best bourbon.”  Beam also commissioned a second version of Pickwick, this one largely in white porcelain.  Here the Old Gentleman seems contemplative, perhaps thinking about the inscription at the bottom:  “Jim Beam Sells Whiskey.”
Another American distiller and whiskey wholesaler that picked up on the Pickwick story was George Benz, a German immigrant to Minneapolis whose liquor “empire” extended south to Kentucky and east to Baltimore.  His flagship brand was “Pickwick Rye,”   

Benz advertised the product as a quality whiskey — “Its well worth going after.”  To illustrate the point, his ad shows a portly Mr. Pickwick himself, aided by two friends, being boosted to a point where he can grab a bottle — one with his picture on it.  Always generous with his giveaways, Benz provided saloons and restaurants carrying his whiskey with attractive “back-of-the-bar” bottles bearing the Pickwick name.
Although Dickens’ character would not have been familiar with American bourbon, he would have recognized “the tang of good old ale.”  That is why Rudolf F. Haffenreffer, described as a Rhode Island industrialist and Massachusetts brewer, called two of his beer brands “Pickwick Pale” and “Pickwick Stout.”  A late 1930s ad shows a fashionable couple arriving in a roadster at “ye tavern” serving those brews.  Haffenreffer, who later became president of Narragansett Brewery, did not include a picture  of the Old Gentleman on his bottles.
The final ad appears to be a rival American-made Pickwick Ale, as advertised on a theater program.  It claimed to be “…always served on draught, never in bottles.”  In this case, the advertiser presented us with a picture of Pickwick enjoying a stein of ale while sitting jauntily on a large wooden settee.  This Pickwickian image marks a fitting conclusion to a brief look at a fictional character whose drinking habits have made him an iconic figure for alcoholic libations ever since.

Note:   *My post on W.C. Fields can be found on this blog for March 2015.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Uncle Sam and Cigars: Puffing on Patriotism

Sex sells, but so does patriotism.  Before the U.S. Surgeon General warned us all about the dangers of smoking, cigar manufacturers had recognized that symbols of patriotism could be a powerful influence on the stogie aficionados of America.  Uncle Sam, who regularly was showing up on liquor and beer advertising, was a natural icon for displaying on the cigar box lids and advertising.

The lid of a National cigar box above is particularly intriguing.  The bearded figure shown in the top hat, blue jacket and red striped trousers is a bit young for Uncle Sam and may be his predecessor, a character called “Brother Jonathan” that once epitomized the U.S.  Sitting jauntily on a hogshead of tobacco he is surrounded by two female symbols of “liberty.”  Just the name of the brand —National — bespeaks a patriotic appeal.  The cigars were the product of the Chas. Fellman Co. of Worcester, Massachusetts.
The Spanish American War was a time of considerable patriotic fervor in the country.  It also marked an era of expansionism.  The Boener Bros. of Lawrence, Kansas, offered Americans a new cigar, possibly a more bulbous version.  By calling it “My New Shape” and featuring an obese Uncle Sam it brought attention to the quick defeat of the Spanish and the potential for adding Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines to an American empire.   In the end, of course, only Puerto Rico and the Philippines (for a time) were kept.
The Spanish-American War also set the patriotic theme of “Victorias” Cigar — possibly a takeoff of “Victorious.” This was a product of the G. B. Sprague Cigar Company of Columbus, Ohio, probably manufactured around 1899.  It featured Sam with portraits of two Navy admirals designated, “Our Leaders.”  The portrait at left is Admiral George Dewey, the hero of Manila Bay for sinking the Spanish fleet at its anchorage there.  At right is William Thomson Sampson known for his victory in the Battle of Santiago de Cuba.
“Our Uncle” Cigars strike a patriotic pose, this time showing Uncle Sam among two symbols of Washington, D.C., the U.S. Capitol building and the Washington Monument.  More interesting is the backdrop inside the bower behind the old gentleman.  It displays palm trees, mountains and what appears to be a factory in a Latin American Country.  This may be Cuba with the inference of where Our Uncle gets his tobacco.
The next cigar box lid leaves nothing to the imagination.  It shows Uncle Sam enjoying a “Yankee Smoke” cigar posed in front of a map of Cuba.  Again the name of the stogie and Uncle Sam smoking it in triumph, rampant on a map of a country recently wrested from Spanish control, bespeaks the strong tide of expansionism that swept the country during and after the Spanish-American conflict.

The most elegant portrait of the old gentleman came from a cigar manufacturer in Richmond, Virginia.  He was a German immigrant named Peter Whitlock who served with the Confederate Army in the Quartermaster Corps making uniforms.  After the war he began with a small cigar rolling shop and with success by 1885 was employing 70 rollers and 30 support people.   In 1886 Whitlock completed construction of the giant “P. Whitlock Cheroot and Cigar Factory” and introduced the smokes that Uncle Sam recommended.   They were called “Old Virginia Cheroots, sold three for five cents, and reportedly were a national favorite for more than a half century.  The picture of Uncle Sam was one of five large posters offered as premiums by the company.

Perhaps the ultimate in the kidnapping of the Uncle Sam image by the cigar trade was a line of the product that called itself “Uncle Sam Cigars.”   It was fully in the patriotism mode, with the American bald eagle and national shield flanking the stogie smoking Sam.  I read an imperial expansion theme in it as the figure drops his cigars over a cloud-shrouded globe.  A second lid, shown below, advertising the same brand sounds the same theme.  Uncle Sam is looking toward a navy ship, speeding fast and two guns aimed forward.  Perhaps this Sam “needs no introduction” because military power is opening foreign markets for U.S. manufactures like cigars.  

The figure in front of a flowing American flag is advertising “Uncle Sam’s Cigar,” likely a competitor to the cigar above.  This stogie was sold with the slogan “The Nation’s Choice.”  The motto must have had a signal amount of cachet; it was used, with variations on the wording, by a number of cigar manufacturers.  Against the backdrop of two patriotic props, the use of the word “nation” was not accidental.  As other illustrations here, it signaled an energetic patriotism as a marketing ploy.   

With the introduction of Uncle Sam as the most pervasive symbol of America, appearing frequently in newspapers and magazines both at home and abroad, perhaps it was inevitable that the image would be purloined for commercial purposes.   Although large parts of the American population considered smoking and drinking alcohol immoral, the general public apparently did not sense that such commercial uses would inappropriate or that some products tarnished the image of Uncle Sam.
“Uncle Sam’s Delight” featured the American icon in a highly unusual pose, lying on his back under a tree with an American eagle perched on one knee.  He is smoking a cigar longer than his midriff, a large ash on the end.  This image was meant to convey that Uncle Sam’s Delight cigars were unusually long — some seven inches.  They came in an oversized box of 50 made by the Old Well Cigar Company of Norwalk, Connecticut.  This manufacturer had been founded in 1880 by Christian Swartz, a German immigrant, Union solder, tobacco shop owner, and later Mayor of Norwalk.
Another cigar co-opting the name was “Uncle Sam’s Hot Shots” that showed the stogie rather than Sam but added in the usual patriotic symbols of the American flag and shield.  When issued about 1903 it was the product of the American Stogie Company of Allegheny, Pennsylvania.  A popular brand, it seems later to have been taken over by the P. Lorillard Company of New York.

The era of identifying Uncle Sam with cigars seemingly arose after the Civil War and, judging from the examples here, hit full stride during and after the Spanish-American war.  As the 20th Century wore on, however, the use of the figure to sell tobacco products diminish sharply and by the onset of World War One seems largely to have disappeared.  Today, of course, using Uncle Sam to promote tobacco products would be almost unthinkable.