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.

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