Friday, February 27, 2015

Black History Month: A Fourth Look at Whiskey Advertising

February as Black History Month has, year by year, brought to the fore individuals, organizations, activities and events that have helped shape the Nation.  My feeble contribution has been to resurrect vintage whiskey advertising that depicted blacks and to provide some analysis of the illustrations and dialogue evident in those commercial appeals.  My first post on the subject, for anyone interested, was in January 2010.  The second in February 2011 focused on the depiction of African-American waiters.  The third post demonstrated that since the 1960s distillers and liquor dealers have taken different racial attitudes.
For a time those posts exhausted my supply of relevant images.  In the ensuing three years, however, I have been able to collect other examples.  For this post I have grouped them around three themes:  1) The use of what apparently was believed to be black language patterns, 2) the depiction of children, and  3) blacks shown at an occupation.  For last I have saved an illustration that, at least for me, was startling.
We recognize that generations of hardships imposed on the African-American community created distinctive language patterns. Slave owners often intentionally mixed people who spoke different African languages to discourage communication in any language other than English. This, combined with prohibitions against education, led to speech patterns that whiskey interests at the turn of the century apparently thought would have advertising value.
The first example here is from the Schuetz-Renziehausen wholesale liquor dealers of Pittsburgh, an outfit founded about 1880.  It was a highly successful enterprise, occupying an eight-story building on Liberty Street. Frederick C. Renziehausen also became a major distiller of Pennsylvania rye whiskey.  A trade card illustrates two well-dressed black youths who are riding in the back of a wagon driven by a similarly well-dressed adult and pulled by a mule.  The wagon carries a huge bottle of whiskey.  One of the boys is remarking to the driver:  “Golly Boss, der will be no Bellyache dis trip — its ’Diamond Monogram.’”
The second example has the center black figure similarly enthusiastic about the whiskey he is carrying, in this case “Star Whiskey.”  He is remarking “It ‘zactly suits dis chile.”   The ad identifies the spirits as a whiskey distilled and warranted pure by C. L. Dixon of Cynthiana, Kentucky and names a New York distributing agent named W.B. Crowell Jr.  Seen her in a multicolor chronograph, the same trade card was issued in black and white.
The next ad features “Old Harvest Corn whiskey.  The picture is of a black couple sitting in a cabin in front of the fire.  The woman has a small baby on her lap who reaches eagerly for a whiskey bottle.  She is saying “He’s gittin’ mo’ like his dad every day.”  But there is a second message in this scene as the sign, meant for saloons, indicates that Old Harvest Corn “was the cause of it all.”  Are we to assume that whiskey was involved in the conception of this child?
Unlike the three previous examples, all of which were issued prior to 1920 and National Prohibition, the final ad organized around a speech theme was issued after Repeal, probably in the late 1930s.  It has a waiter theme.  The faithful retainer here is offering “Dere sho’ am a run on dis Gibson celebrated rye whiskey.”  Note how the diction changes when the text gets to the product name. 
My second theme is the use of sub-adults in such ads.  We already have seen several youngsters.  Here are three more, led by a small black boy with an ax who is menacing a chicken.  It was issued by the National Distilling Company, an outfit that bought up distilleries and stocks of whiskey during Prohibition and by the mid-1930s was vigorously merchandising its products.  The message here is confusing, seeming to identify the boy with Carrie Nation, the axe-swinging anti-alcohol zealot who had been long in her grave.
Although many of the youngsters shown are smartly dressed, the kid shown above is the real dude.  He wears a straw hat, a checked coat, a cravat, a vest and striped pants.  This dandy is saying in small letters on the base:  “I take Old Continental Whisky!  What do you drink?”   Note that this young man is speaking “The King’s English.”  This trade card was issued by the Bernheim Brothers of Lexington, Kentucky, whose ads did not always treat blacks subjects with the same respect.
The final youth is carrying a signboard, both front and back, a job that was not uncommon in that day but less so today.  His sign advertises Kentucky whiskeys from a B. Kaufman and touts “Old Liquors for family use and medical purposes a specialty.”  Although no location is indicated on this trade card, my research indicates that Bernard Kaufman was a wholesale liquor dealer in business from 1880 to 1890 at two addresses on Washington Street in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Now we move to adult blacks seemingly engaged happily their respective occupations.  The first is the label of a post-Prohibition whiskey called “Cotton Picker Corn Whiskey.”  It depicts an elderly gentleman in the South standing amidst a field of fluffy cotton — definitely an idealized picture. The Old Quaker Company that issued it, however, existed north of the Mason-Dixon line in Lawrenceburg, Indiana.
Another whiskey that celebrated a happy black worker was “Singing Sam” brand of Kentucky corn whiskey.  The label illustration is a figure playing a banjo with notes streaming from his mouth while he leans against a pile of wood that he likely just chopped.  This post-Prohibition brand was issued by a Kentucky distiller named Artie Cummins.  He had purchased what was left of an abandoned distillery at a worker village called Athertonville, rebuilt the plant, and operated it until 1946. .
The final worker is also our only female, clearly looking very well after a squalling infant.  Among the messages on this trade card is that the liquor is:  “Emphatically…’The Whiskies of our Daddies.”  Maybe that is why the baby looks so distressed.  My considerable research about “Old Maryland Dutch Whiskey” has revealed nothing about its origin except a claim that it was distilled on the Eastern Shore of the state.
The saloon sign for Hapstone Rye that ends this post still has me scratching my head.  It appears to show a smartly dressed gentleman of color standing with a white woman with a low bodice who is eyeing him intently while in the midst of hiking her dress to fix a stocking. The sexual implications are evident. This was one of many pre-Prohibition brands from the Samuel Westheimer Co. of St. Joseph, Missouri. Given the anti-miscegenation laws in place in the South, one wonders what point Westheimer was trying to make with this image and how it was received. 
There they are: eleven whiskey advertisements, including trade cards, newspaper notices, bottle labels and saloon signs  — all depicting American blacks.  If issued today most would be readily identified as racist — or at least distasteful.  Distain, however, should not blind us to such images. They remind us of a past we should never, never forget.   

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Watch Famous People Open Bottles with Their Teeth

                                                                                                                                Well, not exactly.  Most of the faces shown here at one time really DID snatch the caps of beer, wine and soda bottles.  That is what they were designed to do.   They are in the tradition of the varieties of cast iron openers that I featured as “vernacular art” in a post in June 2011.  That article has had the most “hits” of any on this blog (2,440 as of this date). One difference is that the openers shown below all sport the faces of famous people, including national leaders, politicians, artists and one rock star.  Moreover, these openers are available for purchase from their creator.

His name is Stephen Maxon and he maintains a website called “Max-Cast Sculpture and Foundry Services.”   Shown here, Maxon provides a whimsical story about himself along with a few salient facts.  He has a master’s in fine arts (MFA) from the University of Iowa, he belongs to the American Craft Council, and his work has been shown in galleries scattered from New York to California.  Of himself he concludes:  “After years of study and toil, Maxon renounced his MFA to become an outsider artist.  Finding casting much less difficult than bending steel bars with his teeth, he developed new ways of melting medal via thought control…After making and losing several fortunes, he currently lives in a trailer in rural Iowa receiving messages from outer space in his dental filings.”
As noted in my 2011 post, figural bottle openers are a post-Prohibition phenomenon, meant to be attached with screws through holes in the ears to a vertical wooden surface. A bottle of beer or soft drink can be inserted into the mouth cavity, pulled down and the cap removed.  In dealing with the famous subjects of Maxon’s vernacular art, I have decided that, rather than dwelling on their careers, to examine their beverages of choice and when possible provide their recipes (in bold).  

The first personage shown here is Joseph Stalin (1878-1953), the brutal dictator of the Soviet Union from the mid-1820s until his death.  As might be expected, Stalin’s drink of choice was vodka.  Legend has it that his father used to give the baby Joseph a cloth soaked in vodka rather than a pacifier.  As adult Stalin is said to have imbibed vodka daily.
The next face is that of Mohandas Karamachand Gandhi (1869- 1948), the preeminent leader of the Indian independence movement in British-ruled India.  A strict vegetarian, Gandhi is said to have favored “nourishing and non-violent drinks like juices and squashes.”  He found intoxicating drinks abhorrent and a social malice because he believed they acted as deterrents to humankind’s inter purification and spiritual evaluation.  On the other hand, there is some evidence that like other Hindus he may from time to time imbibed his own urine. 
The man with glasses sporting a hat with crossed sabers is “Rough Rider” Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), the 26th President of the United States.  Teddy liked mint juleps, using fresh mint from the White House garden.  He reputedly used the promise of that drink to entice Cabinet members to play tennis with him.  Roosevelt’s recipe: 10 to 12 fresh mint leaves crushed in sugar water,  2 or 3 ounces of rye whiskey, 1/4 ounce of brandy, stirred and garnished with fresh mint sprigs.  

Maxon also has featured painters of note.  Shown here are two faces of Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) one painted and one left plain.  As for the famous artist’s drinking habits, I will quote something Wiki Answers gave to the question ‘Was Picasso retarded?’. The reply: “Picasso was not retarded. Picasso was drunk and high on absinthe, which gave him great inspiration for his work. Though, his absinthe addiction also drove him to insanity.” Picasso’s reputed last words were: “Drink to me, drink to my health. You know I can’t drink anymore.”

Although Picasso probably would not have enjoyed having his mouth used to decapitate bottles, his colleague,  Salvador Dali (1904-1989), below, would do almost anything to get his face and figure before the public,  apparently believing that any kind of publicity was good.  He invented a drink he called the “Casanova Cocktail.”  The recipe: One tablespoon of Campari bitters, one teaspoon of powered ginger, six tablespoons of brandy, and a pinch of Cayenne pepper. Combine the ingredients and put in the freezer.  After 30 minutes remove the contents and add the juice of one orange.  Stir and drink.  
Of this concoction, Dali claimed: “This is quite appropriate when circumstances such as exhaustion, overwork or simply excess of sobriety are calling for a pick-me-up. Here is a well-tested recipe to fit the bill. Let us stress another advantage of this particular pep-up concoction is that one doesn’t have to make the sour face that usually accompanies the absorption of a remedy.” 
Elvis Presley (1935-1977), although presumably the victim of a drug overdose, has the reputation of not being a regular drinker of alcohol.  His favorite beverages are said to have been Pepsi Cola and Mountain Valley Water.  The facts not withstanding, several alcoholic libations have been invented in the memory of the King of Rock and Roll.   One Elvis Presley Cocktail was unveiled recently on the 80th anniversary of his birth.  The recipe:  One ounce of vodka, 3/4 ounces of hazelnut liqueur, 3/4 ounce of Bailey’s Irish Cream, and 3/4 ounce of creme de banana.   Pour the ingredients into a shaker tin with ice.  Shake well and strain into an old fashion glass with ice.  The assumption is that this drink will taste just like a peanut butter and banana sandwich.  That was Elvis’ favorite.  
Other Maxon creations can be discerned from the final illustration showing a range of personalities in painted cast iron.  Among them I recognize Ronald Reagan, George Bush,  John Kennedy, Richard Nixon, and maybe George Romney.   The artist sells these bronze polychrome bottle openers for $83.00 each.  With a door knocker tongue inserted they are $94.00.  He also features other sculptures in cast iron and bronze, the bottle openers being among the least expensive.  One creation called “Bonsai Bass” fetches $4,500.  You can buy a Maxon opener and a whole lot of beer for that outlay of cash.