Saturday, March 31, 2018

Blue and White from Robinson of Akron

Let me say right off that I am a sucker for blue and white pottery.  That is why it still hurts to think back several years when I spotted an unusual stein at a bargain price that ultimately escaped my owning it.

The stein has a puzzling but intriguing motif.  On one side it displays a molded image of a thin twenty-story building, a structure clearly patterned after the Flatiron Building on New York City’s Fifth Avenue.  Completed in 1902 and accounted the first skyscraper, the building had captured the imagination of the Nation.

On the other side of the stein in molded blue and white is the figure of a woman, out in the weather and dressed for winter.   Her relationship to the building is unclear.   The front of the stein is a narrow leafy design.  Although I had seen this item before, it had always been priced too steeply. 

That is why, coming across it for $11 upon entering a large flea market, I was interested.   But then the “what if” syndrome set in.  It happens to every collector:
“What if there is something better on the tables ahead and I have dissipated my cash?  I can always come back.”  Yes, and some other sharp eyed collector will have bought it.  That’s just what happened.

Subsequently I did some research on Robinson Clay Products Co., creator of the stein, and found that the Akron based-pottery has its origins back to 1856 when the company of Whitmore, Robinson & Co. was established to manufacture a wide variety of ceramic items.  Over time, with many management changes, Robinson Clay Products emerged.

The company made such mundane items as sewer pipe, drain tile, slop bowls, chamber pots, and horse troughs.  Along side this utilitarian production, however, Robinson created fine glazed specialties such as “Blue Flemish Ware” and “Akron Ware.”  Many of the items bore a pottery mark to identify the manufacturer.

The stein I missed has a counterpart piece in a pitcher with a woman molded on it in in blue and white Comparing the two it is clear that the latter is more finely molded and the blowing of her garments more expressive.  Note too that the handle, while similar shaped, has been made to look more like a twig.

Robinson water coolers have a particular fascination for me.  The intricacy of the molded images of two deer in a forest on one is impressive.  So too is the “woman at a well” scene found on another cooler  Completing these illustrations is a crock or bowl that might have held pickles or hard boiled eggs on a pre-Prohibition bar.  A clue lies in the hooded monk with a wine jug in one  hand and a cup in the other, held out to the beholder.  It provides another reminder of the rich legacy of Akron’s Robinson Clay Products Co.

Monday, March 19, 2018

A Salute to Milwaukee's "Best" Brewery

When a group of color lithographs come along from a bygone day that seem to want preserving, I often try to give them a measure of future existence by placing them on this blog.  Thus it was of particular interest to find group of late 19th Century illustrations of Milwaukee’s Empire Brewery, later known as the Best Brewery and even later as Pabst Brewery.

As a former resident of Milwaukee, I am very familiar with the brewery complex that in my day was known as Pabst.  As a college student I have taken the brewery tour there on several occasions and my favorite local watering hole was the Forstkeller, a saloon in a former Methodist church adjacent to and owned by the brewery.   With the brewery and Forstkeller now closed, I have collected two glass paperweights issued by the company.   Shown here, top, is a weight that shows the Best complex in central Milwaukee that became Pabst.  Below is a weight with a scene that introduces the Empire Brewery and Philip Best.

Phillip Best, shown in a lithograph below was the son of Jacob Best (1786-1861), a German born brewer who immigrated to the the U.S. in 1844 to join his four sons in Milwaukee.   There he founded a brewery on Chestnut Street Hill that he called the Empire Brewery and ran it with his sons.  After Jacob retired in 1853, Philip headed the operation and the company became known as Philip Best & Company.   Philip died in 1869 and was memorialized in an illustration from a company booklet prepared for the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition.

In the meantime Best’s daughter, Maria had met steamship captain named Frederick Pabst in 1860 and married him two years later.  In 1864, Pabst purchased a half interest in the brewing company for $21,057.05 and became vice president. After the marriage of Best’s second daughter, Lisette, in 1866, her husband, Emil Shandein also purchased the remaining half interest from Phillip Best.  After Philip’s death Frederick took control of the brewery.  

The 1869 purchase of the Melms Brewer by the Phillip Best and Co. would prove profitable. Best (1814-1869) died that same year and Pabst and Schandein took over management of the business. In the next two decades the Best Brewery, later Pabst, would grow at a spectacular rate. Helping to trigger this growth was a fluke of history, the Chicago fire of 1871, which would provide a new market for Milwaukee’s breweries as Chicago competitors would never recover.  By 1874 Phillip Best Brewing Co. was the nation’s largest brewer.

When the Philadelphia exposition occurred two years later Pabst — at the height of its ascendance — was responsible for putting out a promotion booklet there in German, English and French.  Among scenes were three of the earlier Empire Distillery, as seen below.

In addition to its north side Milwaukee location, the company subsequently opened a second brewery on the city’s heavily ethnic South Side.   This facility had the advantage of being both on a water source and a railroad spur.  It is shown below on three lithographs.

Pabst (1836-1904) was also a pioneer in providing his own bottling plant on premises at a time when beer rolled out of a brewery only in barrels, to be decanted into bottles by the distributors or other independent firms.  A picture of that facility also was among the lithographs.  Note the proximity to rail.  

The final illustration in the booklet was a picture of the Frederick Pabst home, that I earlier misidentified as the present Pabst Mansion.  Rick Stabler, see below has corrected me. This illustration of the Pabst residence is not his mansion on Wisconsin (then Grand) Avenue but the house he lived in previously at 9th and Chestnut (Juneau Avenue). The home pictured was razed for brewery expansion when Frederick Pabst built his mansion on Grand Avenue. 

The Best Centennial booklet sold on eBay early in 2018 for $150 although far from pristine.  It clearly is a prize in someone’s collection.   I am happy that through the use of the computer and Internet it is possible to bring these lithographs to a wider audience.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Monkeys Doing Business

I continually finding advertising, particularly vintage advertising, a fascinating subject for exploration.  After it occurred to me that a number of ads, particularly for alcoholic beverages, employed monkeys and apes to sell products, I began to collect their images in an effort to understand why the primate humans were using their genetic cousins in the process of doing business.

The Brown Thompson distillers of Louisville issued a trade card, now more than a century old, that depicted three monkeys, all with long tails, climbing up a bottle of their “Old Forester” whiskey.  One has a corkscrew and presumably will be opening the whiskey with an eye to drinking it.  Unaccountably, the artist has dressed these monkeys in human garments, shirt and pants but no shoes.

The issuing distillery had been founded by George Garvin Brown who had been joined by his cousin from Northern Ireland, James Thompson.  They named their flagship brand after a well-known Louisville physician, Dr. William Forrester.   When Thompson decamped to start his own distillery,  Brown added George Foreman as his partner and the firm became Brown-Foreman.  The monkeys persisted in the advertising in the company’s “Bottom’s Up” Kentucky straight bourbon.  

The Roxbury Distilling Company used the face of a menacing monkey for its celluloid score keeping card, advertising “Roxbury Rye” as America’s purest whiskey.  Its offices were in Baltimore and its distillery in Roxbury, Maryland.  This outfit was owned by George T. Gambrill, a man frequently in trouble with the law. Convicted of fraud, through his own cleverness, he avoided going to jail for years and died without ever spending a day behind bars.

Monkeys and alcohol are not just an American phenomenon. Anisetta Evangelisti is a very sweet anise flavored liquor that is made in a Santelpidio, a small town in Southeastern Italy.  As noted on the trade card here, it is meant to be drunk in small glasses as a dessert liqueur.  The monkey on the shipping crate apparently had no glass and is taking it wholesale.

Pabst Beer had a reputation for unusual advertising and this trade card qualifies.  It purports to show a dog and money act in which the simian loads a barrel of beer on a car being pulled by a dog.   In vain I have sought to find more about 
Dekkin’s pantomime act, likely a vaudeville attraction appropriated by Pabst for its merchandising purposes.

Another brewery, this one the Norwich Brewing Co. of Norwich, New York, has given us a studious looking monkey who is carrying a sign suggesting that the reader not “monkey” with inferior beers but drink “White’s Sparkling Ale.  This brew claims to be “Good for Bad Health and Not Bad for Good Health.”   The brewery opened in 1904 and operated for eleven years until shut down in 1915.

Spoofing Darwin’s for theory of evolution was common everywhere  Merchant’s Gargling Oil, sold as fit for man and beast, found a natural foil in the English scientist and his ideas.   Its Victorian trade card shows a mandrill-like beast pouring the gargling oil on his leg while intoning a quatrain:   “If I am Darwin’s grandpa, It follows, don’t you see, That what is going for man and beast, Is doubly good for me.”  

Monkey Brand soap was introduced in the 1880s as a household scouring and polishing soap, in bar form, the product of Sidney and Henry Gross of Philadelphia.  Pumice was its primary ingredient.  After Lever bought the company in 1899. The name ‘Brooke” was used to promote the Monkey Brand soap both in the States and in Britain.  In George Bernard Shaw’s play “Pygmalion”(“My Fair Lady”) Henry Higgins tells his housekeeper to take Eliza Doolittle upstairs and clean her up, and to use "...Monkey Brand, if it won't come off any other way.”

In a riffle on the “dogs playing cards” theme, the Star Shoe Store of Coalinga, California, issued a glass paperweight with two dogs in a card game with a monkey.  The canines seem annoyed at the antics of the rhesus and the admonition is twice repeated on the weight:  “No Monkeying.”

The last two examples appear linked.  The first is a modern ad for “Gorilla Tape” featuring the face of a formidable looking ape holding a box of the product, said to be “incredibly strong.”  A second tape ad is from “Bear Tape Brand.”  Instead of showing us a bear, however, it features a cartoonish gorilla bending a pipe.  

The ad, it seems evident, is a spoof on Gorilla Tape as it describes this simian as a native of West Africa and the Congo, gives its dimensions and ends by saying:  “It beats its chest when excited and can be extremely dangerous when aroused.”   Bear Tape was an Australian-made line that featured a “teddy bear”  figure in its advertising.  While the Aussie boardroom may have been chuckling at this joke,  Gorilla Tape executives likely were not laughing.

There they are — eleven examples of the monkeys in advertising.  Everything from whiskey and beer to gargling oil, pumice soap, and tape. “Monkey business” is defined in the dictionary as “frivolous or mischievous behavior, trickery.”  But “monkeys IN business” — that is something else again.