Thursday, December 15, 2011

Whence Ephemera Collecting in an E-Age?

Recently the Washington Post ran a lengthy article on collectors of ephemera, that is, people who all kinds of items that are made of paper or other substances that were never meant to last over time. The word itself is from the Greek and means “for a day.” There is even an Ephemera Society of America with a sizable membership and a website.

These folks collect an amazing list of items. Among them are advertisements, billheads, stock certificates, trade cards, postcards, sheet music, photographs, bookplates, cigar box labels & bands, and greeting cards. The hobby is not a new one, having begun in England a century or more ago as the British developed colorful lithographic printing with elegant designs that were collected and often pressed into scrapbooks. Shown here is a particularly interesting early British trade card, currently valued at $800.

As American printers and design caught up to the Brits in the 1900s, American printers and lithographers began turning out attractive color images, such as the ad for the Colorado Rockies shown here. This card is in a university collection. Other U.S. trade cards, such as the Uncle Sam shown, here come up at auction frequently. Often they bring high prices.

Ephemera collectors sometimes can make innovative use of their hobby. One of them is Author Caroline Preston. Ms. Preston, shown here, is described as a “former archivist and keen collector of ephemera. She has employed her collection to give birth to a new literary form: a novel that revolves around ephemera. She calls it “The Scrapbook of Freddie Pratt.”

The story, laid during the “Roaring 1920s” in a type set narrative set among images of vintage paper items. Ms. Preston, a collector herself, uses illustrations from fashion drawings, valentines, cigarette ads, party game boards, prescriptions for medicine, and trade cards to tell her story. The novel has garnered a number of favorable reviews.

I suspect very few collectors could pull off what Ms. Preston has done. For most of us, ephemera ends up tucked away in scrapbooks or plastic paged albums or even file folders. When I first began writing articles for collector magazines in 1990, I mailed my manuscript to the publishers with numbered photos inside as the illustrations. Most of them were photographs that I had purchased or taken myself. Sometimes the photos were of ephemera I had been forced to purchase just to fill out a need for pictures. Many of those trade cards, ads, etc., are still tucked at various places around the house. A few were displayed in my July 2011 post on “Comin’ Thro’ the Rye.”

With the dawn of the Internet, however, a revolution has taken place. Author William Gibson, shown here, in an interview with the Washington Post on 2007 called it the “eBay era “ Gibson, who is credited with inventing the term, “cyberspace,” noted that “every class of human artifact is being sorted and rationalized by this economically driven machine that constantly turns it over and brings it to a higher level of searchability....It’s like some sort of vast curatorial movement.”

Gibson is dead right. Moreover, eBay, Google, and other sites are bringing to public view all manner of ephemera from bygone days and exposing them to public view. No longer are trade cards, labels, travel stickers, and old photos stuck away to be looked at by an individual collector when the mood hits. Now they are on public view 24-7 and often for sale.

For several years now, I have not mailed any photos. The illustrations for my pieces, like the text itself, fly over the Internet to my editors. In one instance, the final format of the piece is itself an Internet newsletter, sent to members of a collecting club. It never sees a “hard” copy. As a result of the changes the electronic age has brought, I have accumulated on my Mac several thousand images, most of them of ephemera. They grace my articles and fuel this blog and its companion blog: “Those Pre-Pro Whiskey Men.” I collect several images virtually every day, file them on the computer, and call them up when needed.

Recently for the whiskey man blog, I did a post on a man named Domenico Canale who created a liquor and food dynasty in Memphis, Tennessee. Much earlier I had come across a marvelous circa 1910 photo of a fruit vendor, which Domenico had once been, pushing a cart that advertised Canale’s flagship whiskey, “Old Dominick.” It was a highly useful image to put across visually the rapid rise of an Italian immigrant boy to financial success. I have filed the photo away on my computer to use in such other contexts as may arise in the future.

What is the bottom line for ephemera in an electronic age? Go digital, you collectors, go digital!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Buggy Makers: Gone But Not Forgotten

It is customary to say when something becomes obsolete that it “went the way of the horse and buggy.” Certainly the invention of the automobile in the late 19th Century doomed thousand of carriage makers in the United States. By the early 1920s, except for specialty builders (e.g. for Amish), virtually all were out of business. Earlier, however, a number of those companies had preserved their finest flivvers on glass paperweights that have survived through ensuing decades, many for a century or more.

This post celebrates that industry by depicting ten weights depicting buggies and providing a bit of history on each, as possible. The first, from C.H. Armstrong & Son is one of few employing color. It displays a large wheeled carriage and claims not only to provide “regular styles” but also “original novelties.” This firm was located in Wakefield, Rhode Island. It was a large carriage operation manufacturing in a long three story building with accompanying sheds. C.H. Armstrong & Son had its beginnings in 1861 and closed in 1921 when its attempts at invading the automobile business failed.

The Columbus Buggy Company was formed out of earlier companies in Columbus, Ohio, about 1875. By 1900 it was the largest buggy manufacturer in America, employing more than 1,000 workers. It is reported that both Harvey S. Firestone and Eddy Rickenbacker got their early business experience while working at the Columbus Buggy Company before moving on to other ventures. With the advent of the motor car, the company began to produce automobiles early in the 20th Century, both electric and gas powered. The vehicles failed to attract customers and the Columbus Buggy Company went bankrupt in 1913.

One of the classiest buggy paperweights in my view is one from the Buffalo Spring and Gear Company of Buffalo, New York. My research into this company has not resulted in much information, including not determining if the company made complete carriages or only springs and gears. I did discover that the Buffalo firm went out of business in 1902, well before the automobile took over. Little information is available as well on A. Meyer & Bro. They were a San Francisco firm and listed in a directory there in 1886-1887.

Henry Hooker was the head of the carriage company that bore his name, located in New Haven, Connecticut, and probably the individual most responsible for the paperweight with a photogravure picture of a buggy. A direct descendant of the Civil War general, Thomas Hooker, Henry was born in 1809 in Kensington, Connecticut. In 1840, he married Charlotte Lum of Oxford in that state and they had two children, both born in New Haven. Hooker died in 1873, before the automobile age, and a school in New Haven is named in his honor.

Wm. D. Rogers Son & Co. of Philadephia was one of America’s largest and most important carriage builders of the mid to late 1800s. This firm about 1894 moved from manufacturing the stage coach shown on the paperweight to constructing automobile bodies. It is said to have turned out the first limousine and first touring car bodies ever made in Philadelphia, constructing them for prominent local businessmen. Despite the fact that the Rogers company had a reputation for fine work, it went out of business in the 1920s.

I have been unable to find information on the Pierre Brault company of Montreal. But the J.D. Mockridge Carriage Repair was a Montclair, New Jersey, firm that operated from a large three-story building on Greenwood Avenue. There is a 1892 photo of the establishment that displays its production of buggies, wagons, and a horse drawn ambulance it was building for a local hospital. The paperweight, characterized by a multi-color format, is marked as the product of the Pyrophoto Company of New York City.

Samuel E. Bailey established his first company in 1890 in York, Pennsylvania. He specialized in the manufacture of wagons and later opened a factory for carriages in nearby Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He became the region’s largest employer, opened a show room in Philadelphia and erected a new, larger factory in 1896. The epitaph for the company, written by a historian of the buggy industry, reads: “Unfortunately the firm’s directors did not anticipate the success of the automobile, and in the mid-teens the region’s largest manufacturer was forced into bankruptcy.”

Our final paperweight is from the Burr Coach Builders of New York City. Note that it is straddling both worlds as other buggy makers tried to do, featuring both horse-drawn carriages and automobiles. Burr is reported to have experimented with automobile bodies as early as 1897 when they built the body for Henry W. Struss’s 4-cylinder Struss automobile. Burr was listed as a manufacturer of automobiles in the 1901 Hiscox directory, but historians doubt that complete vehicles were ever produced. Like so many similar manufacturers, Burr & Company did not survive, going out of business after 1910.

Ten paperweights tell ten somewhat different stories, the common thread being attempts to meet the threat to the horse and buggy from the newly invented internal combustion engine. Carriage manufacturers responded in diverse ways, but ultimately all memorialized here did not survive the technological revolution. But the artifacts they left us help to keep their memories fresh: gone but not forgotten.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Alphonse Mucha and His Art Nouveau Drink Posters

In past posts, readers of this blog have seen my interest in “Art Nouveau,” the artistic movement that took hold in the latter part of the 19th Century in Europe and America that featured organic influenced shapes and sinuous lines. As a result I have long been interested in Alphonse Mucha, a Czech who was one of the leading practitioners of this form. Among his creations were a number of illustrations to merchandise a variety of alcoholic beverages, including champagne, cognac, liqueurs and beer. Through this post I have brought the images of these Mucha creations to one place on the Web. Note too that many Mucha illustration depict bottles.

His Wikipedia biography gives details of the life of Mucha, who died in 1939: "Alphonse Maria Mucha was born in 1860 in the town of Ivanice, Moravia (the present Czech Republic). Although his singing abilities allowed him to continue his education through high school in the Moravian capital of Brno, drawing had been his main hobby since childhood. He worked at decorative painting jobs in Moravia, mostly painting theatrical scenery.

"In 1879 he relocated to Vienna to work for a major Viennese theatrical design company, while informally augmenting his artistic education. When a fire destroyed his employer’s business during 1881 he returned to Moravia to do freelance decorative and portrait painting. Count Karl Khuen of Mikulov hired Mucha to decorate Hruaovany Emmahof Castle with murals and was impressed enough that he agreed to sponsor Mucha’s formal training at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts.
“Mucha moved to Paris in 1887 and continued his studies at Academie Julian and Academie Colarossi. In addition to his studies, he worked at producing magazine and advertising illustrations.

"About Christmas 1894 Mucha happened to go into a print shop where there was a sudden and unexpected need for a new advertising poster for a play featuring Sarah Bernhardt, the most famous actress in Paris. Much volunteered to produced a lithographed poster within two weeks and on 1 January 1895 the advertisement for the play was posted in the city where it attracted much attention.

“Mucha produced a flurry of paintings, posters, advertisements and book illustrations, as well as designs for jewelry, carpets, wallpaper and theater sets n ha was termed initially the Mucha Style but became known as Art Nouveau (French for “new art). Mucha’s works frequently featured beautiful young women in flowing, vaguely Neoclassical-looking robes, often surrounded by lush flowers which sometimes formed halos behind their heads. In contrast with contemporary poster makers he used pale pastel colors.

“His Art Nouveau style was often imitated. The Art Nouveau style, however, was one Mucha attempted to disassociate himself from throughout his life; he always insisted that rather than maintaining any fashionable stylistic form, his paintings were entirely a product of himself and Czech art. He declared that art existed only to communicate a spiritual message, and nothing more; hence his frustration at the fame he gained by his commercial art, when he most wanted to concentrate on more artistic projects.”

Mucha’s concerns about his commercial art seem ludicrous in light of the many of his wine and liquor prints that decorate many homes, apartments and college dormitory rooms. They celebrate products, many of which are still sold today. They include Moet & Chandon and Heidsieck champagne, Bisquit Cognac, La Trappestine liqueur, and my favorite, Benedictine. Bieres de al Meuse seems to have dropped off the French brew map long ago, however, while the Mucha poster goes on and on in sales.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Anna Pottery and Alcohol

In an earlier post entitled “Snakes in Clay” (September 2010), I traced the history from 16th Century France to the present day of creating ceramic objects that incorporate in them a variety of snakes, lizards and other creepy crawly animals. The article included material and images of the snake jugs produced by the Kirkpatrick brothers at their Anna, Illinois, Pottery, shown here in 1885. I alluded in passing to my skepticism about the standard interpretation that the jugs were powerful anti-alcohol, “temperance” objects.

Ceramic gurus have opined that the jugs “illustrate the evils of strong drink” and that “the ghastly images evoked in these jugs are brutal and meant to be a warning to those tempted by liquor.” One critic cites the Kirkpatricks as “having a tenacious adherence to temperance principles.” Certainly a look at the first jug pictured here would seem to bear out those opinions. It appears to show a man being nibbled to death by a pack of slimy creatures. Is this what Wallace and Cornwall Kirkpatrick, the latter shown here, were try to say?

The fallacy of this temperance view can be seen in two other jugs featured here. This visual evidence is backs up the observations of Author Richard D. Mohr in his 2003 book entitled, “George Ohr and the Brothers Kirkpatrick.” Mohr states: “I suggest that literalist readings of the snake jugs, readings which take them as nothing but temperance propaganda, are almost certainly too simplistic and probably flat out wrong.” Right you are, Mr. Mohr, and shown here is further proof of your contention.

The two Albany slip jugs shown here were commissioned by Brachman & Massard from the Kirkpatricks and Anna Pottery And who were Brachman and Massard? They ran a wine and liquor wholesale and retail business that was located at 81 West Third Street in Cincinnati. The first jug, shown from three angles, features a snake that wraps around the neck of the jug and then loops out to form the handle. The incised letters in the Albany slip on the front identifies the item as a “Little Brown Jug” from the liquor dealers and bears the date 1876.

If the witness of this jug is not enough to dispel the notion of the Kirkpatrick’s temperance crusade, a second ceramic crafted for Brachman & Massard should be sufficient. Shown here in two images, this small jug carries a similar label, including identification of the company as wine and liquor dealers. But it adds a most unusual feature: At the base are incised a group of slashes that indicate 8 to 7.

The most likely interpretation is that this was the Kirkpatrick’s enigmatic reference to the Presidential Election of 1876 in which Samuel Tilden, the Democrat, received a larger popular vote than the Republican, Rutherford B. Hayes, but the electoral vote essentially was a tie. To decide which one would become President a group of five House of Representative members, five Senators and five Supreme Court Members were selected. By an 8 to 7 vote -- widely thought to have been swayed by political promises - - they determined that Hayes was the winner. The result set off a firestorm of protest as expressed in a Thomas Nast Harper’s cartoon of the time. On another snake jug the brothers emblazoned “Eight villains to seven patriots.”

While the Kirkpatricks frequently made such political statements on their ceramics, it is clear that the brothers were not demonstrating a pro-temperance attitude by fashioning two jugs for Cincinnati liquor dealers. Or by creating a ceramic pig, shown here, that invites “a little good old Bourbon.” Rather, the symbolism of the Anna Pottery snake jugs expresses the brothers’ sardonic, highly individualistic look at the world just as they did with other ceramic objects they created.

As a postscript to the story it should be noted that Brachman & Massard went out of business sometime around 1897. The Kirkpatrick’s Anna Pottery ceramics continue to elicit great interest and one snake jug recently sold at auction for $83,650, a new record.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Andrew Clemens: He Found a Voice in Sand

Among American folk artists the work of Andrew Clemens stands out as an amazing story of creativity while working under severe handicaps. Clemons, shown here, was born in 1852 in McGregor, Iowa. As the result of a severe illness at the age of five, diagnosed as “brain fever,” he was rendered deaf and mute for the rest of his life.

At age 13 Clemens was sent to the Iowa State School of for the Deaf and Dumb in Council Bluffs. The school was located in along the drainage of the Bridal Veil Falls near an area of exposed cliffs called “Pictured Rocks.” The sandstone exposed there has acquired a variety of colors from the minerals that have seeped from overhanging rocks and permeated the sandstone.

Clemens saw these sands as an outlet for his artistic talents. As one guide to his work explains it: “Clemens collected the sand from ‘Pictured Rocks’ and allowed the sand to dry. He separated the dry sand into piles of uniform grains of each color. These naturally colored grains formed the basis for Clemens’ sand paintings. To create his sand paintings, Clemens used only a few tools: brushes made from hickory sticks, a curved fish hook stick, and a tiny tin scoop to hold sand.” His simple tools are shown here.

Selecting the appropriate color, he tediously inserted the sand using the fish hook stick, grain by grain, into empty apothecary bottles, The brushes helped keep the picture straight. No glue was used. The sand was held in place only by pressure from the sand layered on top of it. When the picture was finished and the bottle full, it was sealed with a stopper.

His sand paintings included both original designs and reproductions of other images. Some, as three shown here, were created from bottom to top. Some had separate pictures on back and front. Even more amazing were those bottles that required he create his designs upside down. After completion these were sealed, turned over, and stood up on their openings. Few better uses have been found for empty bottles.

Clemens sold his creations in a McGregor grocery store. A small bottle was $1; more elaborate creations might go for as much as $8. He established a customer base among both locals and travelers looking for unusual souvenirs. It is estimated that during his brief lifetime, Andrew created hundreds of sand art bottles of which only about 50 are estimated to have survived. He is said to have created most of them in the six years between 1880 to 1886. Today they can fetch as much as $30,000 at auction. A number are in museums.

Clemens' efforts have never been duplicated. He both invented the art form and is likely its sole practitioner. I have seen sand paintings by American Indians, South Asian holy men, and folk artists. None can compare with the beauty and ingenuity of the designs this artist produced. Thus it is with a certain poignancy that we contemplate the label that was attached to the bottom each sand painting: “Put up by A. Clemens, Deaf Mute.”

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Enlisting Uncle Sam to Sell Booze

In the pre-Prohibition era, it was not unusual for distillers and dealers to conscript the familiar figure of Uncle Sam to merchandise their whiskeys. Shown here are eight examples of trade cards and newspaper ads exploiting the old gentleman’s image in the cause of selling liquor.

There was a good reason to enlist Sam: In 1897 after a Congressional investigation uncovered massive counterfeiting and adulteration of whiskey nationwide, the Bottle in Bond Act was passed and signed into law by President Grover Cleveland. It permitted the marketing of whiskey that would be sealed in bonded warehouses and and sold under proprietary names with a guarantee of integrity from the United States Government.

“Bottled in bond” or “bonded” whiskey was (and still is) whiskey that was produced according to the guidelines set forth in this more-than-century-old statute. The requirements are: 1) whiskey must be stored in a federally bonded warehouse for at least four years before bottling; 2) it must be legally defined straight whiskey and distilled in a single season by a single distillery, and 3) it must be bottled at one hundred proof (50% alcohol).

The government then certifies that the whiskey was bottled at this proof; it also vouches for the aging period. The federal guarantee is symbolized by sealing the whiskey with a green strip stamp on each bottle. In exchange for meeting all these requirements, distillers do not pay taxes on their whiskey until it is bottled and removed from the warehouse for sale. Treasury agents are assigned to distillery warehouses to insure the rules are followed.

In a day when trust in government ran higher than today, the federal guarantee was seen as something to be exploited in merchandising by canny whiskey men. How better to take advantage of “bottled-in-bond” than by appropriating the national symbol?

The W.H. McBrayer trade card depicts the situation in vivid colors. Uncle Sam stands in front of a bonded warehouse, key in hand, as workers withdraw crates of Cedar Brook Hand Made Sour Mash Whiskey. A second Cedar Brook ad has the old gent and his key riding a flying bottle of whiskey and the motto: “Way above everything on earth.” This Lawrenceville, Kentucky, distillery was founded in the late 19th Century by Judge W. H. McBrayer. After his death in 1887, the Judge’s estate went to his grandchildren and their father, D. L. Moore, ran the distillery. The Kentucky Whiskey Trust bought the plant about 1900 and under various managements continued production until Prohibition.

A trade card from the Thompson Straight Whiskey Co. of Louisville, shows us Uncle Sam “Catching the Fakir.” He is peeking through a door leading to a workroom in which a whiskey “rectifier” is pouring a number of suspicious ingredients, represented by bottles on the wall, into a stoneware container. The inference is that Sam will arrest the fakir. Thompson also tells us: “ Uncle Sam says: The Label must tell the truth so always read carefully the label.”

Thompson was in business from 1910 to 1918. The company used the brand names: "Country Club", "Forelock", "Lucky Stone", "Old Kentucky", "Old Medicinal Corn", "Old Mountain Corn", "Thompson Old Reserve", "Thompson Select", "Thompson Straight", "Very Old Special", and "White Bird Gin.”

Steinhart Bros. in an 1890s ad portray a distinguished looking Uncle Sam pointing to one of the many brands they featured as wholesale liquor dealers. It is “Roxbury Rye,” a Maryland-made whiskey of which they had purchased an entire years supply. This firm was highly successful and grew to have outlets in many sections of the Big Apple. Founded in 1872 Steinhardt Bros. succumbed with Prohibition.

The trade card of Uncle Sam holding some bottled-in-bond whiskey in glass containers with one hand and a wooden barrel with the other is presumably from the R. Mathewson Company of Chattanooga. Little appears in normal sources but my surmise is that this brand was produced by the Rufus Rose family of “Four Roses” fame during a brief period 1907-1910 when son Rudolph moved their distillery from Atlanta to Chattanooga. “ R. Mathewson” was Rufus’ first initial and middle name.

The Clarke Brothers, Charles and Chauncey, inherited a distillery business founded in 1862 by their father in Peoria, Illinois, After his death they incorporated the company under their own names. For a time following the passage of the Bottle in Bond Act, they claimed that their whiskey was distilled by the U.S. Government. Probably warned off that approach they subsequently featured Uncle Sam in their advertising, emphasizing, more factually, that the Feds had set a seal on every bottle.

The Turner-Look Co. of Cincinnati provided a list of the brands it sold in an 1897 ad, depicting the American flag and Sam with an umbrella. The text assures customers that quality is assured by “the Best Government on Earth.” This firm were wholesale dealers featuring a wide range of brands. Cincinnati directories indicate that they were in business from 1887 until 1918.

Although Guckenheimer ads often alluded to the bottled-in-bond character of their whiskey, in this one only Uncle Sam appears, holding a scale to demonstrate that Guckenheimer Pure Rye Whiskey has a balance of quality and purity. This Pittsburgh firm was founded by Asher Guckenheimer in 1857. His liquor became a leading national brand after winning top prize at the 1893 Colombian Exposition in Chicago. Following his death family members carried on the business for several years after Prohibition until 1923.

The final example deviates from the mantra of “Uncle Sam guarantees whiskey quality.” The image advertises “Five Jacks” brand from I. Michelson & Bros. of Cincinnati. It is trying to make the point that their whiskey is one “for All Nations.” Uncle Sam is leading the way for Britain’s John Bull, others dressed in national clothing, and a donkey to try
it. This whiskey distributor and rectifier were in business from 1898 until 1918.

Today we are accustomed to seeing Uncle Sam represented in a number of poses, both commercial and patriotic. Since Prohibition, however, he has been strikingly absent from whiskey merchandising even though “bottled-in-bond” has continued unabated.