Sunday, June 9, 2013

Forms and Faces of Father Time

The great St. Augustine of Hippo once said:  “What then is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks, I do not know.”  In struggling with the concept of time,  humanity has managed to characterize it in human form and has called it“Father Time. “  But who is Father Time?  Even there, if asked to explain who he is, I might answer, “I do not know.”

This reality is made clear by just looking at how Father Time has been characterized in advertising through out the past century or so.   The one constant in his depiction seems to be a sythe.  That accoutrement can be explained by harking back to the ancient Romans who identified Saturn as the “Diety of Time” and an ancient Italian god known as “The  Sower.”  Saturn’s weapon of choice turns out to be the sythe.  It was  was identified with the harvest but according to mythology, this god used the instrument for more drastic purposes.  It is said with the sythe he castrated his own father in the process of becoming top dog among the Roman gods, a position that ultimately was short-lived.

Over the ages this bearded figure in a toga with the large sickle has become transformed into the image we call “Father Time.”  Sometime he is shown with wings,  sometimes not.  Sometimes he is transposed with a small child, as for the New Year; sometimes he stands on his own.   Always throughout recent history,  Father Time has been a useful symbol for advertising a wide range of products.

Our first image comes from a pre-Prohibition ad for Red Top Rye Whiskey from Ferdinand Westheimer & Sons,  a liquor firm that originated in St. Joseph, Missouri, beginning about 1879 when Ferd split with his brother and started his own business.  Eventually including three of his sons in the enterprise,  this Westheimer expanded his operations to Cincinnati and eventually came to own the Old Times Distillery in Louisville.  His ad  has the bizarre picture of Father Time drinking from an hour glass,   apparently to demonstrate that Red Top Rye allegedly was being aged 10 years,  a long time in the whiskey trade of that era.  Note that this representation has sprouted wings.

Westheimer was not the only whiskey man to see an benefit in Father Time.  Philip Freiler introduced his “Father Time Whiskey”  to the drinking public  about 1879 in Elgin, Illinois.  Again the notion was to demonstrate the extreme age of his liquor.  The figure appeared on the label for his brand and on shot glasses Freiler gave away to favor customers.  Here, however, there was more to the story.  A clear connection existed between Freiler’s whiskey and the Elgin Watch Company, a major enterprise in the same Illinois town.  This firm began as the National Watch Company, incorporated in 1864. The company was reorganized in 1865 and a factory was built in Elgin in 1866. In 1874 the company changed its name to the Elgin National Watch Company.

As the accompanying following illustrations indicate, the symbol of the Elgin National Watch Company was a winged Father Time facing to the right, holding a scythe in one hand and a clock in the other.  It appears that when Philip Freiler introduced “Father Time Whiskey” to the drinking public, he merely flipped the Elgin National Watch Company picture over and used a version of this Father Time as his logo.  These two “Father Time Whiskey” shot glasses also show a winged man holding a scythe and a clock, but here the figure is facing to the left.  One can assume that the people of Elgin were thoroughly familiar with Father Time.

But the old gent clearly fit products other than whiskey and watches.  Here we have a early 1900s ad from Remington Typewriter Co.  in which Father Time is whacking away at the keys seemingly unimpeded by the scythe that seems to be cleaving his head and a pair of very large wings.   The company told us that “Remington Typewriters Stand the Test of Time.”   Having used a Remington of that vintage myself until about a decade ago, I can personally attest to the longevity of the instrument.

From here on  Father Times loses his wings,  but the scythe is still in evidence.  A 1920 ad from the Sanford Manufacturing Co. of Chicago and New York assures us through this image that “Time Can’t Erase Records”  that are written with their Sanford’s Premium Writing Fluid, characterized as “the ink that never fades.”   The old gent seems to be inspecting a page of written text.  Above him in a box is a not-so-subtle reminder:  “Records are valuable, they must remain forever.”

The next image is a full color lithograph from the lid of a cigar box.  This Father Time, who bears a strong resemblance to the fanatical John Brown,  is apparently steering a ship through time.   The wheel is covered with clocks, those on the periphery mark New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Vienna, Berlin, Paris and London.  The central timepiece is giving us “Washington Time,”  which either is at noon or midnight.  If it is timing the U.S. Congress in Washington, it will be slow.  I am still not clear what any of this has to do with selling cigars.

Monarch Coffee is making use of a more benign image of Saturn’s spawn.  Here in a 1926 ad Father Time seems to be advising the naked youngster facing him that he should drink more coffee.  The point here is that Monarch products have been around since 1853 and have stood the “Test of Time.”  Note the hour glass in the background.  This brand was produced by Reid, Murdoch & Company with general offices in Chicago.  Having spent much of my youth working in an independent grocery store, the Monarch label featuring a lion presents a familiar sight.

For our next Father Time, we move to England and an ad that appeared in a 1907 edition of “The National Magazine.”  Again the image is being used to emphasize the 38 years that have passed since Sapolio soap was introduced to the British public.  The ad reminds us that “Time is the real test of merit.”  Still on the time theme,  we also are reassured that Sapolio “never ceases in its usefulness.”  This soap once was considered the most advertised product on the planet Earth.

Our final illustration is a French version of Father Time.  Here in an ad from 1935 he has lost much of his toga and his head of hair but maintains a large scythe and the hour glass, while sitting on top of the globe.  Approached by a winsome lady and a bellhop, he is presented with a bottle of Byrrh aperitif wine.   She suggests that the beverage should be a reason to smile.  Father Time, however, seems to be smirking, whether at the bottle or the babe is not clear.

Thus is the image of Father Time has been used, misused, stretched, prodded and merchandised.  Let’s see how the passage of time has dealt with the products advertised:  Westheimer’s and Freiler’s liquor businesses were terminated by National Prohibition and effectively disappeared in 1919.  Father Time Cigars seem to have disappeared as a brand almost immediately upon issuing the box. Sapolio Soap stopped advertising during the 1940s and disappeared before World War Two.  The name later was sold to a Peruvian company.

Other companies proved to be more enduring.  The Elgin Watch Company survived 104 years until 1968. Byrrh Caves,  founded in 1866,  remained a family enterprise until internal strife caused the name to be sold to other French interests in 1977, a not inconsiderable run of 111 years. The brand is still available.  Remington Typewriter in 1927 merged to become Remington Rand, and remains in business although the typewriter has gone the way of the buggy whip.   Beginning in 1946, Monarch Foods underwent a series of corporate changes but the product line survived until a few years ago.  Sanford Ink, founded in 1857, still is a major player in writing materials although part of a larger organization.  Of all the products shown here that used the Father Time image, ink appears to have been the  most successful in avoiding the stroke of the scythe.

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