Saturday, June 9, 2018

The Forgotten Artistry of John H. Bufford

The subtle humor of a trade card entitled God Bless Our Union” first led me to the artist whose name appears below the image of a mismatched couple. A very large woman is looking possessively at smaller stick of a man who seems much less assured of that the pairing is beneficial.  The illustrator was John Henry Bufford, the first employer and art teacher of Winslow Homer and in his time a successful competitor of Currier & Ives.  Subsequently overshadowed by both, Bufford’s success as a prolific American lithographer and illustrator unfortunately largely has been forgotten. 

Born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Bufford apprenticed in Boston and, by 1835, briefly moved to New York, where he opened a lithography business. Five years later he returned to Boston and formed a partnership with his brother-in-law in a new lithographic printing firm, for which he did most of the drawing. The business, with and without his brother-in-law as partner, thrived for the next forty years.

Shown here is a billhead from 1859 in which Bufford describes himself as a “practical lithographer,” meaning that he was turning out not just attractive pictures but practical items such as maps, covers for sheet music, and “show cards,” usually referred to today as trade cards.  Many of those images would fill the upper two-thirds of a cardboard leaving space on the bottom for a message by a tradesman like William Kaess, a Poughkeepsie agent for a beer company who supplied hotels, restaurants and even families with Boehmisch Lager Beer.

Kaess issued a second slyly humorous Bufford card entitled“Warbling at Eve.”  In this one the male partner seems to have the upper-hand as his lady clings close to him.  The look in his eye and her submissiveness indicates that the warbling may soon occur between the sheets.  Observers have pointed out that as he matured Bufford’s drawings became less realistic in favor of a “sketchier” look that for me enhances their appeal. 

An example is a Bufford trade card that shows an exasperated father attempting to lull his crying baby to sleep while the clock registers 1:15 AM.  Entitled “Oh, Rest Thee My Babe,” only the father’s frustrated head and face are fully realized in the drawing.  The baby and the background are only lightly sketched; the contrast contributes to the humor.

Similarly, the next illustration, “Rocked in the Cradle of the Deep,” only the figure of the man is fleshed out.  He is well dressed, with a cravat and a coat.  The wrinkles in his trouser legs are evident as he appears ready to be pitched out of whatever he is sleeping in.  Is it a row boat?  A bureau drawer?  Or perhaps, as advertised, a cradle?  In any case he seems to be sleeping off a bout with the bottle.

As the company matured and lithographic techniques improved, Bufford remained among the leaders.  A 1872 house trade card for his “lithographic establishment” showed a well executed railroad engine to emphasize the speed with which the company executed lithography.  Bufford employed what he called “the best talent in the world” as his artists.  Among those were Winslow Homer put to work in his studio at age 19 drawing covers for sheet music.

Increasingly the Boston lithographer was employing color in his trade cards.  Among them was a chaotic scene in which a thief attempting to abduct piglet is being challenged by the adult hogs in the pen.  The thief is said to be in a “Pig-A-Rious Position.”  My efforts to find something about the advertiser, Henry Max, and his saloon have gone unrewarded. 

A late series of trade cards from Bufford, issued about 1887, involved anthropomorphic renderings of fruits and vegetables.  “An Orange Man” shows a dude with a citrus head and orange trousers posing in front of an orchard.  It was issued by Mabley & Company, a department store located in Detroit, Michigan, that featured 62 departments selling a wide range of goods including clothing and shoes.

Bufford also gave the world a look at what a true cabbage head might look like, dressed with a top hat, three-button coat and beltless britches.  Fittingly the figure is shown standing in front of a cabbage patch.  On another card the head is of a man but his body is largely a potato shown bulging out of the checked pants the ma is wearing.  Labeled “Potato Bug,” the illustration also shows a black man working in the potato fields behind the figure and looking on in astonishment.

The final trade card shown here continues the idea of a vegetable composing part of a human body — in this case, corn.  The high-stepping gentleman playing the horn wears a skirt of corn silk and a leaf as a shawl.   The caption is a bad pun, Corn-et Dance,”  a far cry from the subtle humor of Bufford’s earlier products.  The master had died in 1870 and my assumption is that other, less subtle, artists were carrying on the work.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Poetic Justice?

Beginning in elementary school until just recently, I have composed poetry in a number of modes, sometimes comic, sometimes more serious.   In high school I wrote verse for the student newspaper.  In college, I was poetry editor of the university’s literary magazine.  In adulthood, for years I regularly contributed poems to a Northern Virginia nature newsletter and read appropriate verse at my company’s celebrations.

This introduces a contribution I made in 1996 to “The National Library of Poetry,” an Owings Mills, Maryland, publisher that regularly advertised for poems to be selected for its annual volume.  It cost nothing to submit a poem and have it selected by this outfit, but contributors were expected to buy a $50 copy to see their creation in print — or maybe multiple copies to present to relatives and friends.

The entire enterprise seemed to me to be a charade.  The objective of the National Library was not so much a search for good literature but a way of selling expensive books.  It remained to prove my point.  As a result I set out to write as bad a poem as has ever passed through the human mind and send it in.  I called it “Life with Thea” and it goes like this:

Thea, she takes me from heaven into hell,
Her smile, it is heaven.  I know it so well.
Is it only for me?  I wish I could tell.

She tells me always that her heart is true,
She pledges daily:  “Honey, I love only you
Using me?  Abusing me? I wish I knew.

Refusing to disbelieve, but wondering still
Eternally uncertain, weak of will,
Life is passing, thinking of Thea, a chill

Yeasts through my body, my knees go weak
If I utter her name, I can hardly speak,
She is my present but the future is bleak.

Be my lover, Thea, be my friend,
Unique our beginning , uncertain the end,
Lead me again to heaven, let us ascend

Let us go together, Thea, do not hold back.
Surely you will be true to our pact
Help me on the way, find the track

Is this an inspiration I feel?  Yes!
Thea is true, I know — O bless, O Bless!

Now that you have finished “Life with Thea” you must admit that it is one of the worst pieces of verse you have ever read.  (Still and all I am proud of the image of a chill “yeasting” through a body — it is awful but perfectly so.) The folks at the National Library of Poetry, however, were positively ecstatic.  Note below the reaction of “M M” to it:

Not only were they going to print my poem in their annual volume called “Sound of Poetry,” but they found it fully worthy to be printed as well in “what promises to be the most historically important collection of poetry we have ever published.”  To be called “America at the Millennium,” this volume reputedly would drastically winnow down the 1.2 million contributions allegedly received by the Library over the years to a select few of the best poems and poets of the Twentieth Century.  “Life with Thea” had been chosen for that honor!  Wow!  Eat your heart out Robert Frost!

Yet this business is not all fun and games, as explained by Peter Armenti, a librarian at the Library of Congress, in a March 2012 post on his blog “From the Catbird Seat.”  The Library, he says gets about two hundred inquiries a year from people who mistakenly believe that the Library of Congress publishes and sells those anthologies. 

Armenti says the National Library may encourage the confusion by naming the Library of Congress in its copyright page.  Note it below.  The insert seems to identify the Congressional library as cataloguing the volume and assigning an ISBN number to it.  In truth, he says, the Library “only rarely” buys copies for its collection and that this ISBN number was arbitrarily assigned by the publisher.\

In the end, though tempted, I did not allow “Life with Thea” to be published.  As part of my test for the poetry “judges,” I had engineered the first letter of each line, if read down, to spell out a sentence — just to see if anyone was paying attention.  The letters read:  “This surely is bullshit.”  Check it out above. Somehow it seemed to go over the bounds of propriety to permit that to be printed.  If someday someone would recognize the scam it might lead to the firing of some underling.  In the meantime, anyone can feel free to reprint “Life with Thea” — if they dare.  

Saturday, May 12, 2018

“The Man on the Barrel” Through Time

As I write this post, the image of a man on a barrel sits before me. It is decoration on a small Doulton pottery cream jug from the Cheshire Cheese tavern off Fleet Street in London, similar to the bas relief Doulton figure shown here.  “The man on the barrel” is a familiar figure to anyone interested in English pottery.    Who is he and what does he represent?  

First of all, the barrel is not just an empty keg convenient for sitting.  It holds something alcoholic, rum perhaps or “sack,” a fortified white wine from Spain much favored by Shakespeare’s Falstaff or, later, bourbon whiskey.  The man on the barrel is a drinking man — sometimes depicted as a drunkard.  For example, here is Brussels faience jug from the late 1700s that depicts a man in a blue coat and yellow pantaloons who clearly has had one too many sips from that wineskin he has next to him.

Other men on barrels of that era could be local heroes.  The one right is a reproduction of an original jug created in 1770 by Ralph Wood of Wood & Sons Pottery in Burslem, England.  The figure is identified as Admiral Lord Howe, the much maligned leader of British naval forces in the American Revolution.  This may have been made before the war with Howe looking benign and holding a foaming pot of beer.  Was it done by friend or foe?  

Skipping forward to the 19th Century is a wood engraving of the man on the barrel by Jean Frederic Wentzel, a French print-maker, born in Wissenbourg, France, in 1807.  He specialized in images of ordinary life as seen in the France of his time and was very popular.  Here he has captured a happy French peasant on a barrel with a spigot conveniently located from which to refill his bottle and glass of wine.

We are back in England with the next example, a flask of a jolly toper dubbed “Old Tom” sitting on a barrel, said to be ware from Rockingham.  Given the inscription on the base, this item is from the Victorian era, about 1850.   Also known as a “reform flask” it celebrates the Reform Act of 1832 in England.

Although he is similarly shaped and dressed, the next two fisted drinker with an all-over brown glaze is attributed to a pottery at Bennington, Vermont, dating from the early 1800s.  Bennington was a convenient location for producing pottery because of the close proximity to local clay deposits, as well as deposits along the Hudson River.  Bennington also had an abundant supply of waterpower from local streams, which was necessary to power the machinery used at the time. Around 1804 stoneware pottery was introduced and achieved notable success, eventually employing hundreds of people.

The late 1800s brought this depiction of a man sitting on a barrel while drinking a glass of wine.  It comes from the Austrian-Hungarian Empire before its demise in World War One.   My guess is the gent portrayed was a political figure who would have been recognizable to the people of the day.  

In 1896, Gustav Schafer and Gunther Vater founded a factory in Thuringa, Germany, with the purpose of making high quality porcelain items. By 1910 the reputation of the pottery for craftsmanship and design had grown to international proportions and Sears Roebuck was importing and selling large quantities of Shafer and Vater ceramics in the United States.

Among the pottery’s products were a host of small figural liquor bottles called “nips.” The term is taken from an Old English word nipperkin, meaning a container of liquor holding a half pint or less. These German giveaways were always imported empty, then filled by a distiller, whiskey distributor, or saloonkeeper and handed off to favored customers.  An example is the “Old Sedgwick” ceramic figural that carries the image of a jolly old Dutchman. It advertised a brand of whiskey from the A. Bauer Distillery of Chicago,

When National Prohibition was adopted in the U.S. in 1920, Schafer & Vater lost a major element of its business and retaliated by creating an image of Uncle Sam as the man on the barrel — a barrel that proclaims “What We Want” and shows Sam filling a glass from a bottle.  This figure also came in brown on a tray with four cups.

The final man-on-the-barrel is a contemporary image of a pirate with an eye patch and wearing a bandana.  He appears to be daring anyone to come close to tapping the keg on which he sits.  Thus we have come full circle from the jolly toper who is sitting on the barrel in order to be as near as possible to the wine or liquor that fuels his joviality.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Early Philadelphia Inns and Taverns: Part 2

Foreword:  In 1908 the Robert Smith Brewery to promote its brand of beer commissioned Philadelphia painter and illustrator James Moore Preston to provide it with a series of works depicting pre-Revolutionary taverns and inns in or near the “City of Brotherly Love.”  Preston created twelve color lithographs that memorialized those early Philadelphia “watering holes.”  I find the pictures striking and believe they deserve preservation through this blog, along with some inkling of the histories of each tavern and inn.  Six were presented in Part 1, posted on April 14.  This post completes the series.

The Blue Anchor Inn on Front Street at Dock Creek was the oldest inn in Philadelphia, built in the decade between 1670 an 1680.  William Penn is said to have supped there upon his first arrival in the city in 1683.  Some believe that the Blue Anchor is the first structure built in Philadelphia.  The lumber is thought to have come over in the first ships to dock there.  The structure was timbered, filled in with small bricks and had the dimensions of twelve by twenty-two feet.  It has been called “the only public building” in the city for a time, a place where ship-masters, merchants and other citizens could gather.

Where Preston got his model for the Blue Anchor is unclear.  A newspaper illustration of the tavern shows a somewhat different building, isolated on the shore and approached by row boat.  It depicts Indians with bows and arrow looking on.  The scene in Preston’s 1908 color lithograph shows a building of at least three stories with structure around it.  Because the contours of both are the same, my guess is that improvements over the years and the growth of Philadelphia around the tavern led to the changes.

Although the brewery-sponsored picture entitles it the State House Tavern, because of its location across from the government center, this Chestnut Street drinking establishment also was known at various times as the Half Moon, Coach and Horses, and foremost as Clarke’s Inn.  “The table was good, and the inn became one of the chief centers of official activity.”  

Although Preston’s picture gives the structure a jaunty look, including figures bowling on the lawn,  an earlier lithograph shows a much more austere Clarke’s.  Robert Smith, the namesake of the brewery, in his Journal relates that an apprentice had ruin his malt by over-heating“I being gone to the Half Moon for dinner.”

An advertisement in the Pennsylvania Packet of March 9, 1772, by owner James Alexander announced the Black Horse Inn, located on Second Street near Callowhill, calling it a “Commodious Inn of Entertainment” and convenient for market people.  He went on describe its livery stable as “good as any in the Province,” able to stable as many as fifty horses at a time and offering “a good yard for coaches, chaises,and wagons.”  Preston has caught much of this in his drawing, with a carriage and horses as major elements.

Although Anderson did not detail the kind of entertainment the Black Horse provided, another source has described it:  “In 1805 two live porpoises were exhibited at the Black Horse and the following year the learned African Horse, “Spotie,” which had a tail like an elephant’s and a knowledge of arithmetic. The same year two royal tigers from Surat in Asia and a living sea-dog, taken on the Delaware River near Trenton, were shown.”  Although the Black Horse did brisk business through the mid-19th Century, by 1917, as shown here, it had badly deteriorated.

Depicted by Preston amidst a wintery scene, the Moon and Seven Stars, standing at the southwest corner of Fourth and Chestnut Street, was one of the best known inns of its day.  Standing between the Delaware River wharves and the State House, it served both the maritime and commercial communities.  In addition:  “Several clubs made it their meeting place, and all the leaders of American thought and action enjoyed the hospitality of its tap-room or its ordinary at one time or another.”  On the lithograph, the sign of the Moon and Seven Stars appears very small.  A reproduction captures it much better.

The Three Crowns was a public house famed for the good food set by its owner, a Mistress Jones.  It was housed in a two-story building adjoining the south end of the City Tavern (see Part 1).  It fronted on both Second Street and Walnut with a spacious courtyard that stretched to Dock Creek.  “At that house Richard Penn and other governors, generals and gentry used to be feasted.”  Mistress Jones’ tavern took its named from the sign of the Three Crowns.

The final lithograph is of the Spread Eagle Inn.  It was located fourteen miles west of Philadelphia on the Lancaster Pike, one of the first turnpikes to be built in America.  The Spread Eagle was the first relay station and stage house west of the city.  Customers traveling on their way west as far as Pittsburgh would leave Philadelphia early in the morning and stop at the Spread Eagle for an ample breakfast.  Preston’s picture captures the moment of such an arrival as the proprietor stands in the doorway to welcome his guests.  The artist apparently took his visual clues from an earlier illustration, adding color and detail.

This building was replaced circa 1800 by a large stone tavern, also called the Spread Eagle.  About 1824, the hostelry was greet with controversy when the original signboard, shown here, was changed by a local artist who added another neck and head to the representation of the American eagle, leading to considerable “political excitement.”  Neighbors and wagoners could not see why “our glorious bird of freedom” should be altered into a European-like symbol.  The tavern was derided as the “Split Crow” by dissidents, causing the sign hastily to be repainted — “Americanized” once more.

James Moore Preston’s colorful and engaging 1908 art works have allow a brief exploration of Philadelphia’s earliest and most historic inns and taverns, all of them but one long since disappeared.  The exception is City Tavern, seen in Part 1 of this series.  Another City Tavern has been reconstructed on the earlier site.  Said to be a replica of the original, the building appears to be significantly different from Preston’s representation.  In any case we can be grateful to the farsighted individuals for the Robert Smith Brewery who in 1908 commissioned these fascinating images to capture a bygone day. 

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Early Philadelphia Inns and Taverns: Part 1

Foreword:  In 1908 the Robert Smith Brewery commissioned Philadelphia painter and illustrator James Moore Preston to provide it with a series of works depicting pre-Revolutionary taverns and inns in or near the “City of Brotherly Love” to promote its brand of beer.  Although  he has been considered a member of the Ashcan Group and exhibited in the famous 1913 Armory Show, Preston was an artist who could work in many modes.  Thus he created color lithographs that memorialized the founding of the Smith Brewery in 1774 and eleven early Philadelphia “watering holes.”  I find the pictures striking and believe they deserve preservation through this blog, along with some inkling of the histories of each tavern and inn.  Some of that information was provided by the Smith lithos — and that will be quoted.  Other material and illustrations are the result of my own research.

The first illustration here is of the original brewery in Philadelphia, owned by a man named Joseph Potts and later by Henry Pepper.  In 1845 he sold out to  Robert Smith who had come to America in 1837 from England after having served an apprenticeship with the Bass Brewery there.  He died at 86 in 1893 and the business was reorganized as the Robert Smith Ale Brewing Co., owned by Schmidt’s Brewery of Philadelphia.  Shown here as it looked about 1908, this was the brewing entity that commissioned the artworks.

The London Coffee House was built in 1702, at Front and Market Streets, and remained intact until it was torn down in 1883.  Given that Preston was drawing its a quarter century later, how did he know what it looked like?  The answer lies in earlier contemporary lithographs that the artist clearly drew on to create his version.  The one shown here served as a model, right down to the four horse carriage at right.  The caption tells us:  “London Coffee House was…the center of pre-Revolutionary life in Philadelphia…where cargoes were bought and sold, slaves and good were auctioned, and the news of the day discussed.”

Amazingly, the Penny Pot House derived its name from the fact that a customer could buy a container holding about a pint of beer at the tavern for a single cent. Considered the second oldest tavern in the Philadelphia area, it was a landmark that stood near the docks on the Delaware River.  A Maryland guest was shocked by the seditionary talk he heard there:The Delegates rage windily against the King’s Blessed Majesty, which shall stand as firm as the House that was founded on the Rock.”  Preston’s recreation of the Penny Pot may been taken in part from a 1700 lithograph shown here.  Note that he has put the landing point closer to the water than the earlier version.

Completed about 1770, City Tavern was in Walnut Street above Second. The Continental Congress met there in 1774, two years before the Revolution. “It was early an important place, and after the Revolution succeeded the London Coffee House as the central place of Philadelphia.”  During succeeding years the establishment underwent several name changes until the building was demolished in 1852.  My assumption is that Preston relied on a old lithograph to guide him.  In recent years the City Tavern has been reconstructed at the original site. It is said to be historically accurate.  Shown here, however, the building looks quite different than the brewery drawing.

Indian Queen was a hotel noted for the importance of its residents.  It was the home of Robert Morris, the financier of the Revolution, and lodging for both George Washington and John Adams.  “Jefferson had his study in the south front room of the second story, from which arose the erroneous tradition that in this room he drafted the Declaration of Independence.”  Preston’s depiction echoes a contemporary print of the Indian Queen but features a different sign over the door.

Opened as the Washington Tavern about 1790 at Sixth and Jayne Streets, the name was changed to the Falstaff Inn in 1830.  Owned by William Warren, an actor and former theater manager, he renamed it to commemorate his own stage portrayal of Falstaff.  Not only that, he had himself painted as Shakespeare’s fat rogue on the sign that can be seen at the second floor corner. The accompanying motto reads:  “Shall I not take mine ease at my inn?”  Over the years the hotel deteriorated into little more than a flop house, as shown here, and eventually was torn down.

This completes the first installment of our remembrance of Philadelphia inns and taverns as provided through the colorful and well-drawn lithographs by James  Moore Preston and commissioned by the Robert Smith brewery.  They help bring to life the early history of our country and the establishments where important business was done.