A Tea, a Counter-top Ad, and a Dead President

I know–that sounds vaguely like the start of a joke. And, after reading a little further, you might continue to think that’s the case. I promise, it’s not! This week, we’re featuring a newly-acquired piece of advertising ephemera. It’s a bit difficult to introduce. So, for the moment, I’ll let it speak for itself: The Garfield Tea counter-top advertisement…

Garfield Tea table topper, Stillman Remedies Co., likely c. 1885.
Garfield Tea counter-top advertisement, Stillman Remedies Co., likely late 1880s (maybe 1885?).

This 3-d piece has a flap that folds out in the back, so it would have most likely sat on counters to advertise. Judging by what we know of the company (see below), the product wasn’t sold until some years after the assassination of James A. Garfield. At the earliest, it probably dates to 1885, four years after his death. Which of course raises the question of why? (Or, as some of my colleagues and I said when we saw it, “Whaaaaa?”) There’s no obvious connection between the man or the man as President and a laxative tea, but that didn’t stop Stillman Remedies Co. We know the product came as a loose tea, a bagged tea, and in syrup form. Oh, and while there probably wasn’t actually a “Dr. Stillman,” there does appear to have been a medical man behind things.

Most of what I was able to glean of the Stillman Remedies Co. comes from now-digitized New York State documents, labor reports, and periodicals of the time. They were in business by at least 1888 (possibly sooner) and still around at least as late as 1910. For example, in 1897, from Documents of the Assembly of the State of New York, Volume 18, we can tell how many male and female employees they had (2 male, 25 female) and that maybe manufactured a variety of medicines (patent or otherwise), but it’s hard to say for sure. Garfield Tea was the name that come up in conjunction with the business and the owners in the historical record. The periodical, The Medical World, Volume 16 offers us the best explanation of what was actually IN Garfield Tea: “Our examination showed it to contain chiefly senna leaves and crushed couch-grass. There are perhaps small amounts of other drugs present; but if so, they are relatively of little importance.” Hmm, not exactly inspiring, that last part. But, therein lies the danger of patent medicines of the time in the days before the Pure Food and Drug Act–no one was obligated to tell you what was in the box or the bottle. Most descriptions that exist in the modern age come from the small print on the advertisement itself or from one single contemporary description that was published word-for-word in multiple sources. There are some great images of other packaging through The Herb Museum’s website, though.

The Michigan Reports: Cases Decided in the Supreme Court of Michigan, Volume 76 suggest that people behind Stillman Remedies Co. were actually Emmet and Helen Densmore, which opened up a new pathway for research. (This case was a battle between the Densmores and a former employee who had been authorized to distribute the product in certain locations. The Michigan Reports include an opinion that reversed the first decision, in favor of the defendant, but it is unknown how the new trial turned out. There was at least one other case later on, too, in New York.) Dr. Emmet Densmore (1837-1911) was a physician and author, as well as owner of Stillman Remedies Co. (which is occasionally also referenced as the “Garfield Tea Company”). He had originally been involved in oil in his home state of Pennsylvania and later worked with his brothers on early typewriter designs. His books related largely to food, diet (favoring raw foods and limiting starches), and hygiene. His last work, in 1907, however, dealt with the question of the equality of the sexes.

At which point, it seemed wise to quit digging. After all, what I had intended to be simple post about a strange advertisement turned into an even stranger exploration with way more information than anyone could want. Yet, despite all that, Stillmore Remedies Co. and the Densmore still have some secrets we can’t divine (at least not in a couple hours’ worth of research). “Why Garfield?” and “Why a laxative tea as your prime product?” and “Why use Garfield to sell a laxative several years after he was assassinated?” (I kept expecting to find a lawsuit on the use of his image!) While we all ponder those questions and more, the advertisement is destined to become a part of our Culinary Ephemera Collection’s series on patent medicines. And you’re welcome to see it in person. We’ll be here, right along with the late President Garfield.

 

Burdock Blood Bitters

Burdock Blood Bitters! You try saying that three times fast while we work on introducing it. This week, we’re back to bitters. Not the ale and not the cocktail kind (though we’ve talked about how THIS kind of bitters led to the latter before), but the wondrous, magical, spectacular, patent medicine kind! (Have we sold you yet? No? Then read on…we have testimonials!)

So, the Burdock Blood Bitters Almanac and Key to Health isn’t conveniently numbered or given editions. But, given the holdings of other institutions and the existence of other copies, it appears to have been published by a company in the United States (Foster, Milburn & Co. of Buffalo, NY) and a company in Canada (T. Milburn & Co. of Toronto, Ont.). Publication dates vary, and it may have been issued in Canada first, where the earliest one appears in 1866. The earliest date I could find for a U.S. edition was 1882 for the 1883 calendar year. And the almanac was still going strong in 1934! Whatever was in Burdock Blood Bitters, it was doing something (or at least convincing people it was)! We don’t get a nice clean list of ingredients (this was well before the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906), but we are told that “B. B. B.” is a vegetable compound (pg. 2) and on page 10 (not pictured) that it “does not contain a particle of Mineral or hurtful drugs.” Vegetable compounds were not uncommon, made in the home or commercially, and we have talked about at one other producer of them before, Lydia Pinkham. Then there’s Charlie White-Moon, whose concoction was made of “roots & herbs.”

Despite the fact that patent medicines like this suggest they cure a lot of problems (hence the nickname “cure-alls”–though they often cured nothing), some companies might have admitted to limits, whether overtly or subtlety. Burdock Blood Bitters Almanac and Key to Health, for example, is loaded with testimonials and advertisements for not only itself, but other products, too. If you’ve been following us for a long time, you might recall our first post about patent medicines, back in 2012–“The Cure for What Ails You.” It featured a trade card for a product called Dr. Thomas’ Eclectric Oil.

woman with fandescription of ailments cured

Although we still don’t know exactly how long “Dr. Thomas” (probably just a moniker and not a real person, as was sometimes the case) was in business, we know the product was sold from at least the late 19th century (and we can now confirm 1888) into the 1910s. So, imagine the exciting surprise of finding Burdock’s almanac advertising it, too!

Burdock Blood Bitters: Almanac and Key to Health, 1888. Dr. Thomas' Eclectric Oil advertisement.
Burdock Blood Bitters: Almanac and Key to Health, 1888. Dr. Thomas’ Eclectric Oil advertisement.

And there are a few other full page ads for other products, including this one:

Burdock Blood Bitters: Almanac and Key to Health, 1888. Hanson's Magic Corn Salve advertisement.
Burdock Blood Bitters: Almanac and Key to Health, 1888. Hanson’s Magic Corn Salve advertisement.

While there may be a little bit of overlap between what Burdock Blood Bitter and Dr. Thomas’ Eclectric Oil claim to cure, it isn’t much. And Hanson’s Magic Corn Salve is right out of both their wheelhouses. So, it’s fair to guess, if someone will buy one product to fix a laundry list of problems, they might be willing to buy some others. It’s good advertising…and good business.

Interested in other Burdock advertisements? At least one other edition of Burdock Blood Bitters Almanac and Key to Health, from the Canadian publisher in 1913, is available online through the Internet Archive. East Carolina University has one of Burdock’s trade cards in their digital collection from about the same time as our almanac. I’ll try to get the entirety of our 1887 scanned and posted  in our digital platform, Special Collections Online. In the meantime, you can check out the nearly 200 publications and 6 manuscript collections in the History of Food & Drink Collection represented there.

February is Black History Month and I hope to have one or two posts this month on that theme, starting next week. Until then, remember to avoid all those B. B. B. imitators!

It’s All in the Cards…Trade Cards, That Is

Often, food (and other) companies, produced trade cards in sets. The idea was that they combined advertising (“Hey, here’s how you can use our product!”) and collecting (“Hey, get all the cards!”). Of course, it didn’t mean that everyone collected a full set or that a full set survived through time–hence the reason trade cards can be considered ephemera. This week, we’re lucky enough to have a full set of this particular group of trade cards to share with you, from Armour Packing Co., c.1900.

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First, there’s the obvious: what do a monkey and a parrot getting into a brawl have to do with canned meat? That sounds like the start of a joke, but sadly, I don’t actually see a connection myself. Still, it’s a memorable set of cards.

Second, there’s Armour Packing Co. of Kansas City, Missouri. If you spend too much time around culinary ephemera, certain names start to ring a bell. When I first saw this, I thought, “Oh, Armour & Company, purveyors of canned (and other) meat products!” As a matter of fact, Armour Packing Co., maker of our trade card set, is a different company.Armour and Company has a long history that’s well-documented. Armour Packing Co., on the other hand, is a bit more mysterious in this modern age. But that hasn’t stopped us before!

In 1862, Philip Danforth Armour was one of the founders of a company called Plankinton, Armour & Company. As you might guess his partner’s name was John Plankinton. After the Civil War, Plankinton, Armour & Company was able to expand beyond its Wisconsin origins and into other markets, including places like Kansas City, Missouri. In 1867, Philip and his two brothers would found Armour and Company, based in Chicago, which started out exclusively in the meat packing business. Several years later, in 1870, the Armour Packing Co. opened in Kansas City (and was open until at least the late 1930s). So, despite the fact that Plankinton, Armour & Company has business in the Kansas City area prior to 1867 and Armour & Company had business there after 1867, the two companies don’t appear to be directly related…

Still with me?

What that does suggest is that the two companies were in direct competition with each other. They shared a region of the country and railroad transportation was reaching new levels. So, the national market would have been open to both. There is a photograph of a train car decorated with the Armour Packing Co. logo and one from Armour & Company online, both from the first 15 years of the 20th century. The similar name could have been a benefit or a disadvantage, depending on how they used it. And, it could have caused some brand confusion, but there don’t appear to have been any lawsuits between them. If the two companies had started around the same time today, we might imagine a more litigious setting. Still, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there was plenty of work in the meat packing, transporting, and selling business for everyone. Seriously. We’ll look at more of that history in the future. 🙂 Until then, may all your hotels, yachts, schools, and home pantries be full…of something other than canned meat.

Oh, and if you’d like to come in for a closer look, you’re always welcome. The Armor Packing Co. trade cards are located in our Culinary Ephemera Collection, which is chock full of surprises.

Producing Profits from Produce

In case it wasn’t obvious from the fact that last week’s post appeared in so timely a manner on a Wednesday as planned, this week should tip you off. Archivist/blogger Kira was and still is out of the office, but I planned two weeks ahead this time! (On a side note, while you’re reading this, I’m at a week-long academic seminar called “The Politics of American Foodways, 1765-1900,” sponsored by the American Antiquarian Society. You can assume I’m thoroughly enjoying being a food history geek this week.) Through the magic of the ability to schedule blog posts, our feature today is a fun publication from 1948:

HD9005M471948_FCTo be honest, there isn’t much to say on the particular history of this publication. Rather, it’s one of those instances where it’s just really neat to look at and get a sense of what merchandising was like in the mid-20th century.

This book is full of technicolor images, colorful displays, and lots of helpful advice for A&P store managers and employees. One page even has an illustrated check list, “Eight Checks to Help You Please Customers” concluding with a friendly reminder that “Smiles mean sales.”

The second half of the book covers the wide range of fruits and vegetables. Each page consists of a picture (most are in color, but a few more “exotic” items aren’t), background information on the origins of the produce, and how it should be stored, handled, and displayed. Some items have additional information, like how something is graded, what varieties it comes in, or how it can be used.

We hope you’re enjoying your summer and finding some great recipes and ingredient to accompany it. And remember, even if you’re on vacation, we’re not! You can always pay Special Collections a visit, whether you’re doing research, or just want to find that perfect picnic snack.

Stove Technology: Progress and Efficiency

We’re back this week to talking about stoves. It’s not entirely intentional (we did talk about ovens back in May), since what attracted me to this feature wasn’t the stove, but the title. In fact, I didn’t even realize it was a corporate-sponsored, kitchen stove-based booklet until I reached the copyright page.

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While I knew this wasn’t a publication from the future, a small part of me couldn’t help but hope. Still, Meals That Cook Themselves (1915) is interesting. It covers a little of all our favorites: economy in the household, efficiency in the kitchen, meal planning, and product placement.

Oddly enough, though, there are two of our more common elements from blog post features missing: recipes and images. Meals That Cook Themselves isn’t a recipe book. It’s more like a strange cross of a diary and an advertisement. As a result, it’s written in first person by the author and it largely an explanation of how the Sentinel fireless cooker greatly improved her life (and presumably, how it can do the same for other housewives). The publication covers how the stove works, why it saves time and money, how wonderful it makes the food, and even the science behind fireless cooking. It does include a few meal plans, largely as a way to illustrate the economy of the product. However, one of the best parts is Chapter X: “Questions that Women Ask about the Sentinel.” Or, if you prefer, the 1915 equivalent of the modern FAQ  (frequently asked questions). This chapter is in partially-conversational, partially formal language with questions like “But surely pastry cannot be put into a cold oven?” and “Will not the oven become rusty and a great deal of steam be condensed in using this fireless method, if there is no outlet for the escape of steam?” (I think for the moment, we can overlook the fact that “If 60 or 70 minutes of direct heat is needed for a 10-lb. roast, it does not seem as if the Sentinel is as economical as you say?” isn’t actually a question. And besides, the explanation is sound.)

Hurrah for fireless cooking, Christine Frederick is basically telling us, especially if it’s a Sentinel! It’s not exactly a new advertising ploy, given the publications we’ve looked at before, but it is a solid message, and one designed to speak housewife to housewife. Now, if only we could find a way for those meals to REALLY cook themselves…

Gelatine (Yes, that’s with an “e”) from Across the Pond

After several months of stockpiling new items for the Culinary Pamphlet Collection, I finally had a chance to add half a box worth of new materials. There were plenty of new additions to companies for which we already have folders and lots of new companies are now represented. The collection itself is now into Box 5! Among the additions are two advertisements for one our favorite topics–you guess it–gelatin. Or, in this case, gelatine. J. & G. Cox was an Edinburgh, Scotland, based company, so we have acquired an extra “e.” (You’ll also get some additional vowels in the some of the recipes below.)

Cox_ad1_a Cox_ad1_b Cox_ad2Unfortunately, I don’t have any hints as to when these advertisements were created. I know that the company was active in at least the first four decades of the 20th century, but it could have slightly earlier roots, too. Between the 1910s and the 1940s, much like Genessee Pure Foods Co. (later Jell-O Company and General Foods Corporation–Jell-O Division) and Chas. B. Knox Co., this company produced LOTS of small pamphlets with recipes. J. & G. Cox even published at least one pamphlet in French, as well: “Recettes choisies, Cox’s instant powdered gelatine.” I found two copies cataloged by universities in Canada. Lest we forget, gelatin was not an exclusively American product. Until it was commercially available in the late 19th century, it was made at home, by housewives everywhere.

The advertisement on the more orange colored paper is the one with recipes. It’s also the one that appears to have been marketed for American audiences. It has a small “U. S. A.” in the upper left corner and is labeled “specially prepared for exportation.” Yet, the recipes are clearly in British English and have a certain air of British cuisine about them. The other advertisement is more of a single-page essay praising the quality, benefits, and low cost of the Cox’s gelatine. It even includes a testimonial from a chemist. However, both make a reference to it being prepared for export, suggesting J. & G. Cox’s market may have been broad. Both ads are a little different from the pamphlet-type items gelatin companies also produced and gave away. And while these two ads do stand out a little more because of it, the audience and the intention was the same: selling product to consumers, whichever side of the Atlantic they were on.

Rawleigh’s: Almanacs, Advertisements, and Information

This week, we’re featuring an almanac from 1926. More specifically, Rawleigh’s Good Health Guide, Almanac and Cookbook. As you might notice from the images above, the W. T. Rawleigh Company make a LOT of different products. The company began in 1889, is still in business today, and is still just as diversified. The almanacs were  yearly (or at least almost nearly) from at least as early as the 1910s and well into the mid 20th century. (Special Collections also has a 1957 almanac in its holdings.)

The title for this item really says it all. There are traditional almanac pages with weather information, sunrise and sunset times, and other predictions, grouped two months together. Opposite each is an essay, offering advise on maintaining good health or on some aspect of the company. Other pages combine mini-essays and recipes on a variety of topics: cooking for unexpected guests, feeding infants (always popular in advice-giving publications!), a vegetarian diet, and more.

What jumps out the most (at least for me) are the color images on the front and back covers are striking in their vividness and their idyllic scenes. While they may not have a blatant connection to the products and advise dispensed within, they certainly make you stop and smell the lilacs.