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.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

This Fan’s Tribute to Jack and Misty


 To my recollection this is the first time in nine years of this blog that I have posted an article on music.  It is an act of necessity.  For years I have been a fan of Jack Blanchard and Misty Morgan, a married couple who have been singing original songs together since 1967 and who I believe deserve considerably more recognition as American songwriters and musicians of note.

My first exposure to their music was driving to work in the 1970s listening to WMAL in Washington, D.C. and a program featuring disc jockeys Frank Harden and Jackson Weaver.  Weaver was a fan of the couple and almost daily played their “Somewhere in Virginia in the Rain.”  I was hooked and still am by that song:

I'm callin' from somewhere in Virginia in the rain,
I never thought I'd hear your voice again,
I heard the windshield wipers callin' out your name,
Somewhere in Virginia in the rain.

Its appeal is the effortless blending of male and female voices in a few simple lines and rhymes to tell the story of a money-short couple who have had an argument.  The man is calling from a road trip to make up — and she is very understanding.  One line told about his windshield patched with cellophane.  That particularly spoke to me, having myself ridden 350 miles in a car like that.

By some chance circumstance, Jack and Misty were born in the same hospital in Buffalo, New York;  Jack in 1942 and Misty in 1945.  Both lived in Ohio as children.  They met in 1963 in Florida, where Blanchard was working as a comedian and Morgan as a pianist.  By 1967 they were married and singing together.  

I am fascinated by the cover photo of what may have been their first album that identifies them as “Early Teenaged Rockers.”  Their subsequent music might have been classified as “country” but never “rock.”  Their novelty song, “Tennessee Bird Walk” made it to the top of the country charts and No. 23 on the pop charts.  The song got them a Grammy nomination for duet of the year. They also did well with other novelty songs like “Legendary Chicken Fairy,” “Humphrey the Camel,” and “Yellow Bellied Sapsucker.” 

Therein, to my mind, lies the difficulty in Jack and Misty being adequately being recognized for their work by the music world.  My experience as a journalist is that if you can write humorous material, something most in the trade cannot, it stereotypes you and shuts out serious reporting.  Something similar, I believe, has befallen Blanchard and Morgan.  Songs like “There’s More to Life,” “Bethlehem Steel,” “Miami Sidewalks,” are artfully crafted lyrics and marvelously sung.  These are just a few of the contributions this couple has made to the American songbook without adequate appreciation.

The last time Jack and Misty made the charts was 1974 with they hit No. 23 with “One More Song.”  During the 1980s and 1990s their careers slowed and they issued only two albums.  The 21st century has seen a revival.  As shown in the photo here they were inducted into the Buffalo Hall of Fame in 2010.  They have established a fan base in Australia, performing there frequently and issuing three albums on that country’s Omni Record label.  Now living in Florida, the couple has established their own record label, called “Velvet Saw.”  On it they have released earlier material as well as new songs.

In 2007, frustrated by my inability to get their music on CDs, I went for answers to their website and quickly had a reply from Jack Blanchard.  Purchasing several of their CDs directly, I received one called “Beginnings” that carried a personal message:  “Dear Jack, Enjoy” and signed by each.  It remains a particularly cherished recording and I play it often.  They also sent me two business cards that I keep as souvenirs.

My hope is that the music world, especially Nashville, will wake up and put Jack Blanchard and Misty Morgan into the Country Music Hall of Fame.  After all others known primarily for novelty songs like Tom T. Hall, Homer & Jethroe, and Grandpa Jones are there.  There should be plenty of room for Jack and Misty.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Spoofing the Classics Brewery Style

This is the fourth post I have devoted to breweries that issue trade cards that reference well known operas and plays but substitute lines that extoll the sponsoring beer.  August Busch of the St. Louis Anheuser Busch Brewing Company appears to have initiated the advertising trend, to be followed by other beer-making organizations.

The Dick Brothers of Quincy, Illinois — Matthew, John and Jacob — looked down the Mississippi River about 140 miles and decided to emulate Busch and a brewery that was its major competition in the Midwest.   Rather than opera, the Dick family tended toward recreating Shakespeare.  

The first card shown here ostensibly shows Nathaniel, presumably the well-dressed and hatted gentleman in the foreground, downing a beer and intoning that Dick Bros. Quincy Beer is “a most singular and choice drink.”  It presumably is from Act IV, Scene I, of the Bard’s “Love’s Labor Lost.”  Unfortunately for the purposes of accuracy,  Nathaniel, as a pedantic clergyman in the comedy, does not appear in Scene I.  He does not show up until Scene II.  That inaccuracy, however, did not harm a similar card recently selling at auction for $50.

Whoever was advising the brothers on Shakespeare may have been sampling the product too freely.  The next card, also celebrating “Love’s Labor Lost” also is miss-identified.  Designated as from Act IV, Scene I, it apparently is meant to show the King of Navarre, who with his companions has sworn off marriage, relaxing with a beer.  He is having not just one, the caption tells us, but three Dick Bros. brews.  In case we cannot read, one of his companions is holding up three fingers.  Unfortunately, no comparable scene occurs anywhere in Act IV.

But whatever love the brewing brothers may have had for Shakespeare was not completely lost.  Their next card, from Act V of “As You Like It,”  is in sync with the playwright.   It depicts two women, royal cousins, who have been banished from court by the Duke.  Dressed as men they are escorted into the forest by Touchstone, the Duke’s jester.  In the original, however, the jester was not holding a bottle of beer.

Nor does Shakespeare does indicate that Hamlet was having a beer with his friend Horatio as they planned to “out” the King as a murderer through the mechanism of a play, that is the gist of Act III, Scene II.  Forgetting the plot the Prince of Denmark here is rhapsodizing that his “dear soul was mistress of her choice” in selecting Dick Bros. Quincy Beer.

The flip side of the card carries a line drawing of the brewery, whose operations once were larger than Anheuser-Busch.  Founded by the brothers in 1857 in a small shack with limited output, by 1870 their facility had grown to 27 buildings covering nearly ten acres.  Its brewing kettle was so large it was contained in a five story building.  Prohibition and World War II brought hard times and the brewery declared bankruptcy in 1951 and the property was auctioned off.

That fate was far in the future, however, when Dick Bros. issued its final card shown here.  It was from Act II of “Boccaccio,” an operetta in three acts by Franz von Suppe with German libretto, taken from “The Decameron” by Giovanni Boccaccio.  First performed in 1879, it would have been well known to the German speaking clientele of Dick Bros.  While seduction was a central idea, plying a woman with a glass of beer was unlikely.

Another brewery making use of the color lithographed cards with humorous captions was the Fulton Avenue Brewery of Evansville, Indiana, shown here.  This brewery, located at the corner of Fulton Avenue and Division Street, operated for more than 100 years, with “time out” for National Prohibition.  Over the years the company changed names and owners several times until 1997 when it was forced to file for bankruptcy and the main building razed the following year. 

I can find only one trade card from the Fulton outfit.  It spoofs a German operetta in three acts by Carl Millocker, in English called “The Black Hussar,”  that had its first performance in Vienna in October 1884.  The operetta played for the first time in the U.S. in 1885 at two New York City performances, one in German and the second in English.  The setting is an army post at the time of Napoleon’s advance into Russia, 1812-1813.  None of this is evident on the trade card.  Instead we see two comely young women sipping a Fulton Avenue beer and intoning doggerel verse.

The last two cards are examples from Anheuser Busch that have not appeared in my previous posts.  The first celebrates Tony Faust Beer, a brand named for a St. Louis restaurant owner who was a good friend of August Busch.  Many Faust beer cards celebrate the central figure of Goethe’s story.  Instead of hesitating to drink a potion from the Devil that will give him his youth again (but damn his soul), this Faust is trembling over a goblet of beer that might give him indigestion, but little else.

The final trade card here celebrates “Les Huguenots,”grand opera by Giaome Meyerbeer that was five years in creation.  Introduced about 1832 in Paris, the work was very popular and was produced a number of times in the U.S.  The design is faithful to the story, showing the Count de Nevers, a Catholic, welcoming Raoul, a young Huguenot who has been sent by the King of France two reconcile the religious conflict.  In the opera the Count has copious supplies of wine brought to the table and urges Raoul to drink.  The card substitutes as a libation, Anheuser Beer.  

Note:  The three prior posts on this blog that feature these color lithographed beer cards appeared April 13, 2013; October 24, 2014; and January 1, 2018.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

The Origins and Use of Nippon Whiskey Jugs

Reacting to the modernization begun during the Meiji Period in Japanese history, brothers Ichizaeon (left) and Toyo Morimura founded a company, later named Morimura Brothers with the idea of establishing overseas trading for Japanese products.  In the 1890s the firm shifted from retail to wholesale operations and concentrated on pottery and porcelain ware.  By 1901 the Morimuras were advertising as “The Company that makes Japan’s Finest China.”  As early as 1878 the brothers had opened a business in New York City, selling among other things, pottery.  These goods became known as “Nippon” and later “Noritake.”

Among other items the Nippon pottery featured Japanese-produced highly decorated European-style hard white porcelain jugs, holding about a quart of liquid.  Although more expensive than ordinary American salt-glazed ceramics, the elaborate designs insured that these items would not be tossed away.  Accordingly they were bought by American distillers and liquor wholesalers to gift their very best customers, likely saloons, hotels and restaurants.  

Evidence of European influence can be noted on the several jugs that carry motifs redolent of Dutch pottery.  Shown here with a Netherlands aspect are two scenes with windmills and below, a boy and a woman wearing a Dutch bonnet, walking a dog.  Each one of these ceramics would have been decorated by hand in the Morimura’s factory.

The European touch also is evident in a jug featuring a monk smelling a flower, monks being a common subject for spirits jugs in countries like Germany, Austria and France.  Country scenes, a staple design for porcelain containers manufactured by Continental potteries, also were imitated.

The Morimuras could authorize more exotic themes.  The vessel at left with its delicate scroll work and lack of any illustration bespeaks an Arabic origin.  Egypt clearly was the influence on the second jug, showing palm trees along the Nile River while the pyramids appear on the horizon.  The jug below left with its vivid colors limns a picturesque scene has a distinct Asian flavor.  The round door  in the wall reminds me of similar entrances in China.  

The only Japanese flavored Nippon ceramic I have found features horsemen whose mounts have the angular heads and bodies typical of Japanese equine depictions.

Which American whiskey producers used these jugs is largely unknown.  When given away almost all would have carried a paper label identifying the source.  It quickly would have been washed away to reveal the full luster of the ceramic.  An exception is the jug and closure, shown below, that bears the name of E. M. Higgins and his “Old Velvet” brand of whiskey.  Higgins was a successful Rochester, Minnesota, grocer and liquor dealer, who gradually became engaged in several other economic ventures.  

In 1901 Higgins sold the business he had run so successfully for twenty years.  The buyer was the Gucker family of Rochester, led by William J. Gucker, who may have been a bookkeeper for Higgins.  Shown here, Gucker became the secretary, treasurer and general manager of what continued to be named the E. M. Higgins Company.  The enterprise continued to be a highly profitable one, which brings us back to the Nippon jug.  

The pottery mark on the base of the ceramic, according to experts, dates it after 1911, meaning that not Ezra Higgins but Gucker was responsible for commissioning the jug from the Morimura Brothers.  In so doing, Gucker may have been appropriating the name “Old Velvet.”  That brand had been registered with the U.S. Patent Office about 1891 by the J & G Butler Company of Columbus, Ohio.  The trademark did not deter copycats.  As many as seven other liquor houses across America also used the name, perhaps under license from the Butlers, but more likely not. 

The U.S. market for whiskey containers disappeared with the advent of National Prohibition in 1920, meaning that most of the jugs shown here are 100 years old or approaching that age.  As such, they are antiques and the prices they receive at auction reflect their relative rarity.  They sell from $200 to $600 at auction.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

The Advertising Art of Milburn Wagons

Born and raised in Toledo, Ohio, from time to time I have featured its historic industries on this blog, including the Buckeye Brewery and Libby Glass, the latter a place I briefly worked.  Recently I have become interested in the story of the Milburn Wagon Company,  a manufacturer located in Toledo that grew from a small shop in Indiana to the largest wagon maker in the world.  This American industrial success story was fueled, at least in part, by the colorful trade cards Milburn used to advertise its products.

An excellent example is the multicolor lithographed trade above that shows two spirited, high stepping horses horses pulling a Milburn wagon within a bucolic  rural scene featuring mountains in the distance.  Note that the driver is seated well back from the front of the wagon.  

Contrast that seating with the Milburn card shown above.  This vehicle looks much more like a Western buckboard, the seat being located at the extreme front.  Although most company sales were east of the Mississippi, Milburn has been credited for its contributed on opening up the West for pioneers.   One trade publication in 1888 commented that:  “…They are shipping business wagons to almost every city east of the Rocky Mountains, and have a fine trade in the Mountains from Deadwood to Denver.”

Capitalizing on the Western image, Milburn provided its dealers with a wall sign showing a settler, with his wife and baby aboard, holding off at pistol point a group of three raiders intent on stealing his wagon and horses.  The label on the sign tells the story:  “The Demand for the Milburn Wagon.”  The company also used this image, slightly altered, in its newspaper advertising.

By this time the largest manufacturer of wagons in America, with worldwide sales,  Milburn Wagon had begun modestly, the endeavor of a British immigrant to the U.S. named George Milburn who tried farming and other pursuits before in 1867 investing in and later taking over an existing wagon works in Mishawaka, Indiana.  As business thrived, Milburn asked the town fathers to help defray the cost of building a railroad siding to his plant.  When they refused, he looked for a place to move.

Toledo, always on the lookout for new businesses, proposed a stock offering that raised $300,000 from locals and offered a discounted piece of land located adjacent to a railroad for the factory.  Consequently in 1873 the Milburn Wagon Co. opened in Toledo.  A trade card like the one above might have a line drawing of the factory on its flip side.

Before long Milburn Wagon Works were the largest wagon makers on the globe, with sales offices in nine American cities from Albany, New York, to San Antonio, Texas, and a customer base from Europe to Australia.  The manufacturing process was completely mechanized. requiring workers only to operate machines.  The average number of men employed at the factory ranged from 550 to 600.  By the mid-1800s Milburn was producing about 600 wagons a week in its Toledo plant, the equivalent of one finished wagon almost every 10 minutes— pre-dating the Detroit auto assembly lines.

Moreover, the firm had pioneered in hollow axles that while still as strong as solid ones allowed them to term their wagons as “the lightest running in the world.”  That claim was backed up by a trade card of bevy of frisky young women drawing one.  

The company also had patented an improved type of wagon wheel that was lighter but strong.  Although most Milburn illustrations showed two horses pulling their rigs, the company also made a one-horse wagon.  Like others it is painted in a characteristic green with the Milburn name prominent on the side.

Another Milburn patent covered its braking system that allowed for easy parking of the wagon.  It was operated by the right hand of the driver who activated it by pulling foward on the rear level and released it with the front lever.  Well-built and simple in construction, these sturdy wagons could be purchased for as little a $150.  Little wonder that so many heading West did so on a Milburn.

Featured is a trade card that states:  “45 years, building nothing but wagons, hadn’t we ought to know how?”  This was not entirely true;  as the years went by.  Milburn in Toledo began to build buggies and carriages.  Nor did the company miss a step when the automotive age meant the end of horse-drawn vehicles.  Between 1915 and 1923, the company made 4,000 electric cars as well as auto-bodies for other Midwest manufacturers.  In 1923 the Milburn era ended when its works were purchased by General Motors for its Buick division.

An entire book could be written about the history of the Milburn Wagon Company,  As a Toledo boy who arrived long after the firm’s demise, however,  I want to remember the company as the source of innovative multi-hued advertising that continues to remind us of an America when things were a lot simpler.

Note:   This is not the first time I have displayed my penchant for wagons.  On October 12, 2013, on this blog I posted an article entitled, “Circle the Wagons” (Under Glass) that featured a group of ten glass paperweights with a variety of wagon images on them.