Sunday, May 12, 2019

Looking into Beer Pocket Mirrors

The invention of celluloid in 1872, the first commercial plastic, opened up new avenues for advertising.  One was the pocket mirror, a small device with a shiny metal surface on one side and a multicolored ad on the back.   The American brewing industry was quick to see the advantages of giving these to customers as a means of keeping their brands in mind.  The vast majority of these were issued pre-National Prohibition and thus have entered — or soon will — the definition of “antiques.”

An example of the artistry pocket mirrors display is the Native American in a feathered headdress that graces an artifact advertising Ryan’s Pure Beers.  This brewery was founded in 1865 at the end of the Civil War.  In 1887 Thomas Ryan, the former mayor of Syracuse, New York, became the sole owner of the brewery and changed its name to his own, operating it until 1900 when he sold out to local brewer Charles Hoffmann.  Hoffman kept the Ryan name on the facility until closed down by Prohibition. 

Equally impressive art work adorned a mirror issued by the Olt Brewing Company of Dayton, Ohio.  It is an angel surrounded by hops and wheat holding aloft a wand in one hand and a stein of beer in the other.  John Olt and his four sons, Charles, Frederick, Edward and Oscar, incorporated the Olt Brewing company in 1907.  By 1912 Olt Brewing employed seventy people and annually produced about 35,000 barrels of beer and ale.  Originally incorporated for $50,000 in 1907, the value had increased to over $180,000 before Prohibition closed it.

The Falstaff Brewing Corporation was a major American brewery located in St. Louis, Missouri.  With roots in the 1838 Lemp Brewery, the company was renamed after the Shakespearan character Sir John Falstaff in 1903.  The figure of the fat knight came to dominate the advertising for the brewery.  The brewing company closed in 1921, and sold its Falstaff brand to a firm that survived Prohibition by selling near beer and hams under the Falstaff name.  

In the fall of 1897, J. Henry Zitt of Chicago traveled to Lexington to investigate the possibility of establishing a brewery.  He liked what he saw in economic prosperity and population growth and by 1898 had erected a splendid new brewery.  The cost of the brewery was $150,000 (equiv. today to $3.3 million.) In excess of one million bricks were used in its construction.  The Lexington Brewing Company annual capacity was 40,000 barrels or roughly 600,000 cases.   Given the identification of Lexington with horse racing, the image on the mirror seems highly appropriate.

Occasionally, a brewer would provide a mirror that was a “tie-in” to a larger ad campaign, as demonstrated by this Utica Club brew from the West End Brewing Company in the New York city.  Utica Club's most famous campaign icons were a pair of character beer steins  "Schultz and Dooley.”
The mirror depicts only Schultz, a German, with a mustache and Prussian spiked helmet.  Beer steins with these two characters regularly sell for more than $1,000 at auction.

It was common for brewers to display a bottle of their flagship brand on the mirror back, as shown in the next four examples.  The Adam Scheidt Brewing Company originated in a Norristown, Pennsylvania, facility about 1866.  After a series of ownerships.  Scheidt would go on to become one of the largest brewers in the region, producing 60,000 barrels of beer a year, and had a branch location in Baltimore.  Its flagship, appropriately, was the Valley Forge Special. 

While Scheidt’s beer boasted of “unsurpassed quality,”  the Mathie Brewing Company touted its flagship “Red Ribbon” brew as:  “The beer that costs no more but tastes like more.”  Founded in 1903, this organization was located on East Main Street in Los Angeles said to be a “mammoth establishment.”  The beer sold throughout California and adjoining states until the brewery was shut down by Prohibition in 1920.  After Repeal it re-opened briefly before closing for good.

George Muehlebach immigrated to Kansas City, Missouri, in 1859.  A decade later he bought an existing brewery, razed it and and replaced it with a "Beer Castle" built in Romanesque style with a mansard roof  tower.  Muehlebach’s beer proved very popular and the company survived during Prohibition by selling non-alcoholic beverages.  During World War II, the brewery more than doubled production from 66,000 barrels a year to 161,000, before eventually being sold to Schlitz.

Although King’s Pure Malt was sold as a tonic for “to assist the stomach to retain and digest food” and “enrich the blood and strengthen the system,” it was, in fact, a variety of beer, containing six percent alcohol.  Founded in 1908 in Boston,  King added hydrophosphates of iron and lime to the brew to lend it a medicinal character.  It too may have fallen victim to Prohibition, closing about 1918.

The final pocket mirror here is from a drinking establishment not a brewery.  It is included here not just because of its interesting picture of St. Paul’s Budweiser Tavern, indicating a saloon tied to the St. Louis brewery.  This item sold at auction in December 2018 for $127.27, signaling the value that some pocket mirrors have accrued over time.  Every indication is that as th years pass prices will continue to advance, especially for those issued pre-Prohibition and still in good condition.  For example, the mirror with the Indian image that opens this post was valued at $550 in a 2002 catalogue.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Artifacts from a Traveling Life

The much of my working life involved traveling abroad — by actual account 80 trips overseas and work in 65 countries in every part of the globe.   At least for my early travels, I was keen on bringing back artifacts that reflected something of the culture and art of the countries.  As the house filled up, however, the collecting desire diminished.   Here is a selection from my holdings, several featured because of a story behind their acquisition.

Memorable as my first piece, the Indonesian statue of the elephant god, Ganesha, is an outstanding piece of Balinese wood sculpture.  Meticulous carved completely by hand on a dark hardwood, it reflects a craftsmanship virtually lost during ensuing years.  In 1969 I had wandered down the beach from my Denpasar hotel when approached by a young man in ragged clothing.  He offered me this marvelous statue in exchange for my shirt — a shock.   Because I had packed lightly for the side trip to Bali and had no spare, I gave him as much money as I had in my pocket.

In 1970, now employed by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, I made a solo study mission to Asia to review U.S. military training programs.  While in South Korea I was attracted to this pitcher and chalice.  To me their graceful lines bespoke the artistic genius of the people.  Told that the pair had been handcrafted from copper shell casings left from the Korean War, the Biblical prophet Isaiah’s dictum about “beating swords into plowshares” came to mind and I bought them.

During the Indochina War, I made three trips to the countries embroiled in the conflict.  A souvenir sought by many, military and civilian, who came to Vietnam was a large ceramic pachyderm known to the illuminati as a “buf-e” — “big ugly f…… elephant.”  I resisted their attractions until 1974 when a Saigon “buf-e flogger” (merchant) displayed a new design fashioned after the three headed elephant symbol of Laos.  I bought two that since have graced our dining room.

In 1974 as a way of assessing how well the Agency for International Development (USAID) was implementing important changes the Congress had made in assistance policies, I was part of a investigative team that visited Central and South America.  At that time concentrating on wood carvings, a head of Don Quixote, well conceived and executed, caught my eye in a shop in Colombia.  It too has a permanent place in our dining room.

The next artifact, a Cambodian silver box, carries a tragic story with it.  In 1975 just a matter of days before the Communist Khmer Rouge stormed into the capitol of Phnom Penh,  Sisowath Sirik Matak, a royal prince and assistant prime minister, gave it to me when solo I went to meet with him about the crisis.  He was realistically pessimistic about the future but refused to leave Cambodia ahead of the enemy, writing the U.S. Ambassador:  “But mark it well that, if I shall die here on the spot and in my country that I love, it is too bad because we are all born and must die one day. I have only committed the mistake of believing in you, the Americans.”  Just days later he was shot with other officials in front of the National Postal Building.  I never look at the box without thinking of his bravery.

That example might be contrasted with the fate of Nguyen Van Thieu, the last president of South Vietnam.  I was attached to a 1975 delegation of House and Senate members asked by the White House to go to Indochina in an attempt to spark an emergency appropriation for the war effort.  While in Saigon the delegation met with Thieu in the Presidential Palace where he presented each of us with the lacquered, inlaid vase shown here.  When new funding failed and Communist forces were at the gates of Saigon, Thieu was whisked away to Taiwan by the CIA and later moved to Massachusetts.  He died of natural causes in Boston in 2001.

Later in 1975 I led a Congressional staff mission to Africa reviewing USAID and Peace Corp programs.  One high point was our visit to Ghana where we met with the U.S. Ambassador, Shirley Temple, the former child film star and a charming, bright personality.  She was very forthright with us on problems of the Peace Corp in Ghana.  While in Accra my eye caught an “Ashante stool,” a seat carved from a single piece of wood upon which Ghanian gentry are said to sit.  For the past 43 years this stool has graced our foyer where it has proved handy for pulling on boots or, more commonly, depositing the days’ mail.

The final artifact is a blue and white pen holder from China.  I bought it in Beijing as  part of the first delegation of House and Senate staff members invited to the People’s Republic.  We arrived just in time to be part of the deadliest earthquake of the 20th Century at Tangshan on July 26, 1976, one that killed anywhere from 240,000 to half a million Chinese.  As a result of damage in Beijing 100 miles away, our itinerary was drastically altered and we saw parts of China no American officials had yet visited.  As I look at the pen holder the memories return of that tremendous shaking.

Eight items, eight memories of travels taken.  Each piece has earned a place in our home where they make a presence and bring the past into the present.

Note:  I have provided a more complete description of the Great Tangshan Earthquake and its effects recorded on this blog, March 24, 2017.  

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Remembering the Hoosier Hot Shots

Not long ago I brought up the subject of the Hoosier Hot Shots to a group of six friends, all of them 70 plus years old.  None of them could recall the singing group of Indiana natives that captured huge audiences of listeners to their radio programs beginning in the mid-1930s and extending into the 1970s.  That is a shame, given the impact the quartet had on millions of Americans, especially during difficult times.

Shown above, the Hoosier Hot Shots, while able to play multiple instruments, generally stayed with clarinet (Gabe Ward), string base (originally Frank Kettering), guitar (Ken Trietsch) and slide whistle (Ken’s brother, Paul, known as “Hezzie).  Hezzie also played a homemade instrument made from a washboard with various noisemakers attached.  All of them accomplished musicians, the Hot Shots’ repertoire focussed on swing and jazz standards as well as their own compositions of a comic variety.

Those humorous songs always have been among my Hot Shots favorites.  Among them is “I Like Bananas, Because They Have No Bones.”  It begins with  customer complaining that a fruit vendor has not been displaying his favorite fruit.
The lyrics continue:

I don't like your peaches,
They are full of stones,
But I like bananas,
Because they have no bones.
Bo-de-o-don't give me tomatoes,
Cant' stand ice cream cones,
But I like bananas,
Because they have no bones.

Another “nonsense” song written by the Hot Shots that has had some interest down the years — even to be included in a Boy Scout handbook for singing around the campfire — is “To the Indies to the Andes in his Undies.”  Here are some sample stanzas. 

From the Indies to the Andes in his undies,
And he never took a shave except on Mondays.
He didn't eat a thing but chocolate sundaes,
'Twas a very, very daring thing to do.
Well, sir, he carried for a charm a kippered herring,
To protect him when the tropic sun was glaring.
Whoever met him thought he needed airing,
'Twas a very, very daring thing to do.
Otto Zilch - he's the idol of the nation.
He’ll be called to the Senate for investigation.
And he carried for a spare a pair of panties,
But they didn't fit him well they were his auntie’s,
From the Indies to the Andes in his undies,
'Twas a very, very silly thing to do,

Curious about the name “Otto Zilch,” I did some research on the last name and found that “zilch,” meaning “a nullity” or “nothing,” likely dates from a 1931 magazine article with which one of the Hot Shots may have been familiar.   Zilch is an actual family name of German-Slavic origins, however, and an “Otto Zilch” lies buried in the Fletcher Cemetery in Starke County, Indiana.  His tombstone is shown here.   The Hot Shots could not have had him in mind since this Otto died in infancy in 1901.

During their career the Hoosier Hot Shots recorded hundreds of records and appeared in more than twenty motion pictures with stars like Gene Autry, Dale Evans and the Three Stooges.  During the mid to late 1940s they did series of musical “shorts” for Columbia Pictures.  Late in that same decade (1949-1950), the Hot Shots had their own half hour program on the Mutual Broadcasting System.  Since my family as yet did not have a TV, I hunkered down eagerly by the radio every Saturday waiting for Ken to intone:  “Are you ready, Hezzie?”  Then the boys would tear off into their opening number, such as  “When There are Tears in the Eyes of the Potato.”

Today the Hoosier Hot Shots music may sound dated or even “corny” to some but the secret of their four-plus decade run, I believe, is rooted in the their times.  They began performing during the hardest economic era in the Nation’s history when millions of American were out of work and hurting.  The Great Depression was not just financial but psychological.  With their upbeat, free swinging musicality, spontaneous arrangements, and frequent close harmony they helped lightened the burdens of everyday life.  It was hard to think of the Hoosier Hot Shots without smiling.

World War II brought its own tensions and sorrows.  Now at the peak of their popularity the Hot Shots toured with the USO to entertain the troops in North Africa and Italy.   Newsreels spots of their performances often were part of the weekly trek to the cinema palace.  Their records regularly made the Billboard country charts and they were regulars on the National Barn Dance from WLS-AM in Chicago, broadcasts that could be heard nationwide.

But time flies and fame is fleeting.  Unfortunately few are alive today who heard and appreciate the Hoosier Hot Shots.  But if you have an Amazon Echo or a similar device in your home, ask it to play a number by the group.  I did recently and four wonderful songs rolled off before I was forced to other pursuits.  Oh yes, and Hoosier Hotshot CDs are readily available from Amazon and other sites.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

When Authors Sold Booze

Authors being affectionate toward, and sometimes addicted to, strong drink is a tradition almost as old as literature itself.  Writers and alcohol bear an identification that a number of distillers and brewers over the years have believed would sell their products.  This post is devoted to examining the advertising approaches to accomplishing that goal.

Shakespeare has been a perennial favorite for peddling booze.  An example is a Budweiser ad from the 1940s that has a picture and a seven paragraph blurb about the Bard’s life and character.  Only in the last graph, does the ad get down to business, reminding us that Shakespeare and other “literary giants” met at taverns where their conversations were held “over foaming tankards of beer.”
Then we learn that “Budweiser sparkles with life,” presumably in a tankard.

 A more contemporary look at the Bard is provided by the label from “Soul of Wit” beer, likely designating a Belgian whit beer.  It derives from a line from Hamlet, Act 2:  “Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit, and tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes, I will be brief.”  Rather than use that line the label spoofs Hamlet’s soliloquy as “To drink or not to drink, there is no question.”  Shakespeare light.

The Canada Dry distillery featured a portrait of Dr. Samuel Johnson, the great British encyclopedist, to sell its “Fine Arts Whiskey.”  The connection was a portrait of Johnson by Sir Joshua Reynolds where the artist blended his colors to create a masterpiece.  Similarly, the distillers of Fine Arts are extolled in the ad for blending  straight whiskeys to create “a masterpiece of flavor.”  The presentation ignores the fact that Johnson himself was a teetotaler.  

A St. Louis brewery called “Old lnkwell” issued a line of beers whose labels featured a line of safely dead American and English authors, both men and women. Among them was a brew was called Midnight Draught, “a biting and bitter New England dark ale inspired by the troubled writer and poet Edgar Allen Poe.” The label fails to mention that, among his troubles,  Poe struggled constantly against alcoholism and that his addiction cost him employment, relationships, reputation and ultimately led to his death.

Mark Twain, who wrote often and favorably on alcoholic spirits,  was another favorite author of the distilling trade. [See my post of April 4, 1910 on Twain].  Shown here are two ads from an Old Crow whiskey series that feature the American humorist and novelist.  Although at one time the whiskey had been the top selling bourbon in the United States, it underwent a swift decline after Repeal of National Prohibition because the whiskey developed a taste many drinkers found unpleasant.  Parent company National Distillers may have conceived the Twain series as giving a patina of age and quality to Old Crow.

Another Old Crow ad, however, contained an almost comical error.  It purports to show the Western writer, Bret Harte, discussing a manuscript with his friend good friend Mark Twain.  In matter of fact, the two could not stand each other.  In his Autobiography Twain wrote:  “In the early days I liked Bret Harte and so did others, but by and by I got over it; so also did the others.  He couldn’t keep a friend permanently.  He was bad, distinctly bad;  he had no feeling and he had no conscience.”  The scene in the ad could never have happened.

When Heublein Cocktails got two authors together it matched friends, playwright Moss Hart and celebrity author/publisher Bennett Cerf.  Although the text emphasized a “slight disagreement” (over how to make a martini), the photo showed the two men with dueling sabers.  Reproved by his wife for the image, who pointed out that he didn't need the money, Cerf is said to have replied:  “Everyone needs money. Besides, I like the publicity and I'm all dressed up in a dueling outfit in the ad.”

Cerf (1898-1971), who is remember by old timers for his participation on an early TV show called “What’s My Line,” also provided an endorsement for National Distillers’ featured brand of scotch.  “When I drink Scotch, I ask for today’s Old Angus.  It’s an excellent whiskey.”  For a man known for his wit, this endorsement seems by Cerf seems rather uninspired .

Another Old Angus ad featured  Ogden Nash (1902-1971), an American poet well known for his light verses, of which he wrote more than 500.  Considered America’s premier author of humorous poetry, Nash made guest appearances on radio and early TV and spoke on college campuses.  His take on alcohol was summarized in the verse:  “Candy is dandy but liquor is quicker.”  In contrast, National Distillers has Nash intoning the utterly prosaic:  “Folks to whom we serve Old Angus — thank us.” 

Lucius Beebe (1902-1966) was the author of some 35 books, many of which involved high society, railroads and the Old West, and a journalist who once ran the Territorial Enterprise newspaper in Virginia City, Nevada.  The newspaper was relaunched in 1952, and by 1954 had achieved the highest circulation in the West for a weekly newspaper.  Once again the Old Angus ad saddles this colorful  writer with a line he would never have written himself.

No one who knows anything about Earnest Hemingway would peg him as a beer drinker.  The hard stuff — whiskey, rum, etc. — were his libations of choice.  Ballentine Ale must have paid him a princely sum to endorse its brew.  What is more, the brewer added a long screed that purports to be by the author’s own hand putting “a glass of Ballantine Ale into words.”  Unfortunately the text “ad-speak” fails to reflect Hemingways distinctive writing style.

The final ad is from Smirnoff Vodka showing Truman Capote looking pensive while in his right hand he holds a drink that mixed virtually tasteless alcohol with orange juice, popularly known as a “screwdriver.”  Some believe the mixed drink was invented by interned American fliers during World War II.  Capote’s presence in the ad is an ironic reminder that he, like Poe and Hemingway, struggled with alcoholism during much of his life.

Today few if any authors are celebrated as were those cited above.  Literary fame means little to most Americans in the 21st Century.  Liquor and beer ads today feature movie stars, sports heroes and other celebrities, and almost never writers.  Thus we are spared seeing the Nation’s “literary lights” brought to banality by the ministrations of admen.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

The Thousand Dollar Pocket Mirror and More

Shown right is a figure of a woman, strangely clothed and awkwardly positioned.  She is part of an advertisement for The Owl Liquor Co. of Eureka, Nevada, that appears on a pocket mirror, likely a giveaway item for the liquor house.  This artifact recently sold at auction for a whopping $1,100 plus a buyer’s premium of $247.50.  This sale spurred me to devote a post to liquor-related pocket mirrors, of which I have a small collection.

If it had not been for the efforts of a New York inventor named John Wesley Hyatt to find a substitute for elephant ivory in billiard balls, these items would not exist.  As the result of his experiments he created a substance we call celluloid — the world’s first industrial plastic.  Put into mass production in 1872, celluloid rapidly became popular for its ability to be shaped and to carry elaborate colored lithographic images. In particular it was suited as backing for small mirrors that could be stowed away in a pocket.  Because celluloid took color well it proved a good venue for advertising.

Among those who recognized the marketing value of these pocket mirrors were J & A Freiberg whose Cincinnati liquor house enjoyed a 62-year life from just after the Civil War until the coming of National Prohibition.  One of their many brands was “Puck Rye,” a mischievous character in Shakespeare’s play, “Midsummer Night’s Dream.”  Puck is represented here  on a pocket mirror by a small boy with a top hat and whiskey bottle.  

Comely women often were depicted on pocket mirrors.  George Alegretti, a grocer, liquor dealer and saloonkeeper in Stockton, California, provided the world with the archetype beauty of the time, replete with bouffant hairdo and bee-sting lips.  Alegretti’s giveaway illustrates in the flowers how well celluloid took delicate colors.

The “Harvest King” brand presents a photographic image of a woman in advertising its brand of whiskey, said to make “A sick man well and a well man happy.”  This brand originated with the Danciger Brothers of Kansas City who fashioned themselves as the Harvest King Distilling Company.  In fact, they were “rectifiers,” blending whiskeys bought from authentic distilleries.  

Pocket mirrors came in two shapes, both round and ovals, with typical size for the latter at 2 3/4 by 1 3/4 inches. An ad was on the back, a reflective surface on the front.  As shown on this example for “Good Friends” whiskey, often the ovalsrepresented a whiskey barrel with one end devoted to the advertising.  Although Samuel Goodfriend of Wellsburg, West Virginia, meant his to represent comity between Quaker and Native American, they could be passing a bottle.

It is not a coincidence that the pocket mirror for Bald Eagle Whiskey, would advertise the flagship brand of S. F. Petts & Co. The driving force behind the Boston liquor wholesalers, Sanford Petts, was himself a certifiable Yankee Doodle Dandy. Many of his forebears had served General Washington gallantly in the Revolutionary War.  By using the national symbol to sell whiskey Petts was invoking his patriotic heritage.

The Buffalo Springs Distillery was typical of the many small town distilleries that once abounded in Kentucky.   It originally operated from late fall until early spring, employing local farmers for the period between harvest and planting. As one of the few sources of non-farm employment, it dominated the local economy and was a powerful part of the commerce in Scott County.  It produced several bourbon brands.  After Prohibition it was substantially rebuilt and reopened.

John Casper, a well-known distiller in North Carolina was dislodged from the state by prohibition laws.  He thereupon moved some of his operation to Arkansas, as the “proprietor” of the Uncle Sam Distilling Company in Fort Smith. An ad for this firm indicates he took Casper brands like Gold Band and Golden Rose Whiskey with him.  His pocket mirror is unique for showing a primitive still.

The Orinoco brand of whiskey was created by an Irish immigrant named Edward Quinn in Alexandria, Virginia.  It subsequently was taken by his son, also named Edward, over the border to Washington, D.C. where he established a saloon and liquor store on Pennsylvania Avenue.  When as a young father he died about 1911, his widow sold the business to another local Irishman named D. J. O’Connell.  O’Connell also got the rights to the Orinoco brand name and made the most of it.

James Maguire was thumbing his nose at the notorious “Whiskey Trust” when he refused to buckle under to the monopoly and issued his Montezuma Rye. Retail customers could buy Montezuma Rye in glass bottles, sized from quarts to flasks, or get their liquor in an attractive canteen sized metal bottle that carried a bronze plaque on each side.  McGuire also featured giveaway items to customers, including pocket mirrors.  Through the excellent color qualities of celluloid, the latter provided an effective merchandising tool.

The final item shown here is from the Owl Liquor Company, the same outfit that issued the first pocket mirror shown here that sold for a hefty bounty of almost $1,350.  The picture on this mirror is of a sweet little girl holding a flower.  Unlike its companion above, it shows no discoloration of the celluloid, a common flaw on  these items and appears to be in mint condition.  The price tag is unknown but likely in the $1,000 plus range.  It reminds us that virtually all these artifacts date from before National Prohibition and are at least 100 years old or approaching it fast.