Friday, August 2, 2013

Bowser Selling Booze

In December of 2009,  I posted on this blog an illustrated article that was entitled “Dogs Playing Poker.”  It chronicled the work of Artist Cassius Marcellus Collidge who did a series of 16 paintings in 1903  and after for a Minnesota advertising firm that wanted something different in a campaign for cigars.  Over time the pictures have reached iconic status,  with two originals commanding as much as $590,000 at auction and spawning plenty of imitators.

In recent months it has come to my attention that a number of distilleries and liquor dealers, as well as an occasional brewery, both pre- and post-Prohibition, have picked up on this theme.  As a result, a number of artifacts can be found that feature “man’s best friend” in merchandising alcoholic beverages.  Or as I have entitled this post,  “Bowser Selling Booze.”

The first example is an image of four dogs play poker that is taken directly from a Collidge painting.  It appears on a metal color lithographed tip tray. In addition to the requisite cigar,  the image adds a bottle of what we must assume was “Old Saratoga Whiskey.”   The tray was issued by Rosskam, Gerstley & Co., a Philadelphia based liquor distributor founded about 1869.  The principals were William Rosskam, the president, Louis Rosskam and Isaac Gerstley.  They were rectifiers,  buying whiskey and compounding and blending it to taste.  They featured a blizzard of house brands, of which Old Saratoga was their flagship.

Rosskam, Gerstley also used the same doggy image on a trade card for Old Saratoga,  emphasizing that it “Beats Any Pat Hand.” “Pat Hand” was the name Collidge gave this painting.  Through vigorous and imaginative advertising like this,  the Philadelphia company built a clientele extending both  East and West,  opening offices in both New York City (on prestigious Broadway) and Chicago.   National Prohibition, however, put Rosskam, Gerstley “into liquidation.”

Another liquor outfit that saw a merchandising advantage in a Collidge painting was the Charles A. Grove Sons of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  On a framed wooden sign, given to favored saloons carrying Grove brands,  were two dogs both smoking cigars and drinking from lidded steins.  Strictly speaking, they were not playing cards but one senses that a game could break out at any time.  This liquor dealership featured a limited number of whiskey brands, chiefly the two advertised here,  “Golden Rod” and “Spring Grove.” The Grove sons,  Charles E. and George F., were forced to shut down their firm in 1919 after more than two decades in business.

The Lehnert Brewery of Catasauqua, Pennsylvania, focused in on one of the two dogs shown in the Grove sign to create a color lithographed, four inch tip tray.  Located in a town of some 6,500 residents near Allentown,  the brewery was founded in 1867 and had a series of owners until acquired by Charles L. Lenhart in 1906.  He made a series of improvements to the old facility,  building a three story brew house and bottling house, creating new storage cellars and updating machinery.  Although a small facility, Lehnert was able to produce 8,000 barrels of beer and porter annually.

The next bar sign is a British import.  Four collies are seen sitting around a table with a bottle of Black & White Scotch prominently displayed.  Although no cards are evident, all manner of smoking materials are.  In addition to the long clay pipes that each dog is puffing, the table holds cigarettes, a cigar and matches. This image apparently predates the use of the black and white scottie dogs that have dominated the Black & White Scotch whiskey ads and image of in contemporary times.  It is difficult to date an import item like this because Britain did not experience Prohibition but a guess is that it is a product of the early 20th Century.

Among the many post-Prohibition American imitators of the Collidge dogs was “Old Charter Bourbon Whiskey.”  This brand was established in 1874 by A.B. Chapeze who was operating a distillery on the Bardstown, Kentucky, branch of the L & N Railroad.  According to Internet sources,  sales were assigned under contract  to Wright & Taylor,  a Louisville wholesale house.   After Prohibition the brand name was sold to a series of large distilling outfits, among them Schenley Distillers, which appears to have marketed it from 1937 until 1987.  As a result, my surmise is that the lithographed tray shown here and the bar mirror that replicates the image can be attributed to Schenley.

At this point we leave the Coolidge dogs and their imitators to focus on whiskey men who used other representations of dogs to advertising their products.  One of the more bizarre  is a trade card for Phoenix Bourbon,  the product of a San Francisco wholesale liquor dealership named Naber, Alfs & Brune.  The illustration,  signed by A. Burk, shows two dogs in hats and smoking cigars contemplating a  bottle of booze while, apparently unnoticed by the pooches, a bevy of bosomy women emerge as flowers from a plant.  One dog has asked the other:  “Did you say Phoenix Old Bourbon?”

This firm began its life under completely different ownership in 1871.  Over ensuing years as other ownership came and went in 1880,  three partners got together and Naber, Alfs and Brune was formed, destined to become one of the West Coast’s largest liquor dealers. Surviving fire, earthquake and the departure of Naber and Brune, the firm managed to continue high profitability until the coming of Prohibition.

The “Chum’s Whiskey” lithographed tray depicts a man in a tuxedo toasting his dog,  a large shaggy canine who appears interested in imbibing a bit of liquor himself.  This artifact was issued by the Scranton (Pennsylvania) Distributing Co.  This firm, located at 509 Lackawanna Avenue, appears to have been a grocery supply house that also featured its own brand of whiskey.  A bottles of Chum’s is conspicuous on the tray.  The idea was, I suppose, that the man and dog were chummy.

The final dog image is a spoof of the iconic “His Master’s Voice” ads and is connected to the whiskey trade.  “Old Tucker Whiskey” was a lead brand of the Brown-Foreman Company in the pre-Prohibition era.  This Louisville, Kentucky, outfit was formed by George Brown and George Foreman in 1891 and has survived to the present day.  It chose the image for the label and other artifacts involved with its Old Tucker brand.  Note that the gramophone has been replaced by a whiskey jug and the horn by a funnel.  The bulldog:  “Suspects His Master.”

There they are, ten merchandising images of dogs being employed to sell whiskey and beer. For more than 100 years, it would appear, the idea of “man’s best friend” also being in favor of a an alcoholic beverage or two has captivated the minds of ad men worldwide.  To date there has been no outcry from animal lovers or Prohibitionists about the juxtaposition of doggies and drink.   As a result bowser can still be found selling booze.

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