Alcohol by Mail, Early 20th Century Style

Like a good blogger, I have a constant list of ideas in a file somewhere: culinary books, ephemera, or collections to write about some day. Today’s feature has been on my list, probably since the day we got it (or very nearly). I forgot about it for a while, then put it on the list some months ago. It seems as good a day as any to look at an item about mail order booze…

The image above is a c.1910s mail order price list from Lowenbach Bros. At the time we acquired the item, tempted as I was to lose hours on a single sheet of paper, I resisted. Which is to say, I didn’t go down the genealogy road and attempt to identify or locate one or more actual Lowenbach brothers who may have been connected to the business. So, you can imagine how excited I was to do a little digging this morning for the first time in 4+ years and discover someone else was very interested in this family and had written about it on a blog devoted to the pre-Prohibition whiskey industry. So, if you want to learn about the Lowenbach family, which included three generations, check out the post on “Those Pre-Pro Whiskey Men.” It’s worth noting that the referenced blog post points the origins of the business being even closer to Blacksburg than Alexandria–it was in Harrisonburg!

(Hmm, what? Where were we? I may have been a bit distracted by the discovery of that blog…)

Anyway, our collection consists of this single mail order flyer. If you’re a cocktail historian or fan, many or all of the brands listed may seem unfamiliar. While there are certain brands and distillery locations that have been around for the long haul (a version of Old Crow, for example, has been around since the 1830s, though it’s had many evolutions). There were also plenty of more short-lived ones, too. And, as we know, Prohibition took a lot of business out of the running–including the Lowenbach Bros. I suspect this price list dates to the early 1910s, as the company was shut down by the ban and didn’t reopen afterward (at least not under the same or a similar name). I also love that the flyer includes bottled cocktails in three kinds from three different companies. Bottled cocktails have been around since the early days and while some version of them has always been on the shelves, there was a distinct decline in the latter half of the 20th century. Interest in them is on the rise again, as well as in barrel-aged cocktails. I feel like the Lowenbachs would have been behind that trend, too. After all barrels have always been integral to distilling and transporting alcohol.

I digitized the item for the post and since the whole collection is this one item, I was able to add to our digital collection site. You can look at it in on the web here: https://digitalsc.lib.vt.edu/items/show/6946. You can also read the finding aid online for the collection, too (though it may be time to re-visit it and add a bit more).

Items like this may seem odd or out of place, but they can still give us some great insight into cocktail culture and alcohol history. We’re here all summer, if you need some cocktail (or culinary) inspiration or just want to dig through some fun ephemera. You never know what you might find!

#FoodFriday Links (#1)

I’m taking this week off from a feature blog post while I try to work on processing some culinary and cocktail-related collections and/or additions that I’ve been hoarding in my office. However, it is #FoodFriday, so I wanted to share something–like these links!

  • Back in January, we talked about The Gentleman’s Companion and a bit about the “Papa Doble” (aka the “Hemingway Daiquiri”). You can read that post here. Just this week, NPR featured an article about the man behind the Papa Doble, bartender Constantino Ribalaigua Vert. If you’re interested in learning about the “Cocktail King of Cuba,” I recommend the article, which you can read here.
  • In March, we acquired a collection of more than 2,000 pieces of culinary ephemera, mostly trade cards and postcards, but some other items and formats, too. It was all collected by one person, Dr. Alice Ross, and it’s a great collection to get lost in! I just put up a finding aid this morning.  I hope to revisit it and add more detail in the future, but for now, you can read about the collection in the finding aid.

Ephemeral Medicines (Patent and Practical)

Earlier this week, I got to spend a little quality time with the Culinary Ephemera Collection (Ms2013-028). There was a folder full of items waiting to be added. Items for this collection pile up a bit slower than for the Culinary Pamphlet Collection, so I don’t need to go back to it quite as frequently. But, despite some beliefs, many times, manuscript collections aren’t “done” when a finding aid is posted. They can become living entities that accrue new materials, require additional attention, or end up in need of corrections. Given the folder for items I had, in this case, it made sense to give the finding aid a little depth. If you’ve looked at it before, it was listed in series, but there wasn’t much detail in the contents list. This week, I was able to itemize some series and even given some historical background on a few of the more substantial and unique items. While I love all the items in the collection, I have talked about a couple of my absolute favorites before (Garfield Tea and the J. F. Lawrence Printing Company prospectus), this particular week, I was distracted by folder 14, which contains ephemera and items relating to “Medicines (Patent and Practical).”

First, a Latin lesson. I don’t know how good yours might be (mine’s there, but not nearly as strong as I would wish). “Non multum sed multa” is your classic “not quantity, but quality.”

The pages that follow are the history of and advertisement for “Kola-Cardinette,” a medicine made up of kola-acuminata (or, more modernly cola-acuminata aka the plant that produces kola nuts), cod liver oil, and cereal phosphates. The main effect of kola or kola nuts is caffeine. While I couldn’t discover exactly what cereal phosphates are or were, it does seem to have often been combined with kola to boost its effectiveness. The National Museum of American History, for example, has a bottle from a similar product, and you can find a number of digitized resources talking about other products. This particular Kola-Cardinette was the work of The Palisades Manufacturing Company in Yonkers, NY, and the pamphlet comes from about 1895!

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Another compound from about the same time, was this echinacia compound called “Eusoma.” The inside is a reprinted lecture given by Dr. C. S. Chamberlin in 1904, extolling the virtues of the product through a series of case studies, all of which used echinacea lotion and resulted in the healing of all sorts of skin issues and small cuts. Not a cure-all, but a cure-some? Other products are a little more targeted:

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Thomas Hollis’ Bitters are specifically aimed at curing issues with certain parts of the body. They seem to have come in a powder form to be mixed with liquids, which isn’t the kind of bitters we might think of today (or even the kind of patent medicines!), but where else can you make a beer that will cure what ails you!

Last up is an ad on cardboard that was likely attached to packaging for cases of the products:

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Many patent medicines also came in pill form. While this item doesn’t tell us a whole lot, we have another item in Special Collections related to Dr. Morse: an almanac from 1908, full of advertisements, testimonials, and information about the year itself. The pills were touted as a “great blood purifier,” but in the context of the time, that meant a lot. Contaminants in the blood were believed to be the root of all illness, so something that could purify could, in theory, cure everything. Of course, we know that cure-alls were anything other than that, but plenty of people were on board with the theory.

Dr. Morse’s pills are among the more documented of 19th and 20th century patent medicines, thanks to a lot of research done on the family behind it, the Comstocks. The article is can tell the story better than I can, but it’s worth pointing out that some form of of these “Indian Root Pills” was available from the 1830s until the 1960s!

While we don’t recommend you go looking for a patent medicine to cure your ills today, if you’d like to learn more about them, we’re certainly happy to help. We have sponsored almanacs, pamphlets, and advertisements galore to give you insight into this lucrative and historically fascinating business.

Chickens, Cattle, and Cultivation

A while back, I hinted to the fact that we here at Special Collections were working on another collection of ephemera, constructed from  various purchases made and donations received since last year. I didn’t want to actually create a finding aid for the collection until I had at least a few items to go on, so I kept stock-piling pieces in my office. Last week, though, the Agricultural Ephemera Collection (Ms2015-053) became a reality! You can read the guide for the collection online. This collection came about for a couple of reasons. First, we were acquiring small pieces relating to aspects of farming, agriculture, livestock that weren’t necessarily connected to each other directly. Second, we are making a conscious effort to gather materials relating to food technology and production, which we’re thinking about as the agricultural, commercial, and scientific lives of foods and how these processes have evolved over time, and the system in which we as humans interact with those processes.

For now, this collection is organized around four main subject areas: agriculture, farming, livestock, and poultry & fowl. As we add new materials, these major topics may expand, or we may add new sub-topics to the existing ones. Below are examples from each, just to give you an idea of what we’re starting to collect for researchers and scholars!

First up, there’s color advertisement for Springfield Buckeye rakes. This is a small folded pamphlet (which is shown unfolded here) with both pictures and a short description of the products.

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Springfield Buckeye Rake advertisement (front)
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Springfield Buckeye Rake advertisement (back)

Next, we have one page (of two) from a blank order sheet. Created by and representing the Pomona Hill Nurseries in Greensboro, NC, this was a way for farmers to order plants, trees, and other items.

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Blank order form for Pomona Hill Nurseries, Greensboro, NC

The Mason Produce Co.’s name may be a bit misleading, or at least limited–they sold a whole lot more than grocery goods (which are only a small part of what’s on this Thanksgiving flyer). They even sold bear, terrapin, and animal furs!

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Mason Produce Co. advertisement and price list for poultry and poultry products, game, and more (1911)!

Last up is a piece with a local collection: a small cardboard advertisement for Dickinson Dairy Feed. The product itself came from elsewhere, but this particular advertising card promotes a place in Marion that sold it.

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Dickinson Dairy Feed advertisement from Marion, Virginia

Right now, the collection is small, but like some of our other ephemera-full collections, I expect it will grow quickly! At any rate, you’re always welcome to visit and see what we have relating to agriculture, culinary history, and food culture!

New Pamphlet Round-Up #4

So, earlier this week I finally sat down and updated the Culinary Pamphlet Collection (Ms2011-002). Over the last several months, I had been collecting new additions and since the 0.5 cu. ft. box in my office where I store items had reached capacity, it seemed a good time. I added 19 new folders for food or appliance companies and added items to about 30 existing folders–it was quite a haul! Here are a few highlights:

“The Presto Recipe Book for Little Girls and Their Mothers” comes from the Heckler Products Corporation and is dated 1937. It’s primarily baking recipes like the cakes below.
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“Recipes that Pep-Up Meals with Wise Potato Chips” put chips in and on everything. Seriously…everything. Published in 1957, it features chips with dips, in meatloaf, on coffee cake, in candies like fudge, and even under creamed seafood!
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This unique little advertisement from Libby, McNeill, & Libby is actually also a scissor-sharpener! The front side talk about available products and the back has directions for use of the sharpener. Functional advertising is useful–and creative–approach to “getting your product out there!”

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Last up (for now), here are a few pages from a fold out pamphlet by the William G. Bell Company, maker of Bell’s Seasonings. (We’ve talked about Bell’s once before, in a Thanksgiving post during the first year of the blog.) For only 8 small pages (4 shown below), this item is packed full of company history, recipes, and suggestions.

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In addition the Culinary Pamphlet Collection, I also updated the Cocktail Ephemera Collection (Ms2013-027) last week, adding new pamphlets (for wine, spirits AND temperance!), bottle labels, and some neat artifacts. I’ll save that for another post, since we just received three MORE new artifacts I need to add and these items are prime “feature” content. Next up, I hope to add the small folder of ephemera I have waiting to go into the Culinary Ephemera Collection (Ms2013-028), which includes a series of collectible trade cards, among other things.

In other words, there are PLENTY of great new items and publications coming into the collection and you’re always welcome to stop by! The blog barely scratches the surface of our shelves.

Hey, Wanna Trade? (Cards): Oysters, Baking Powder, Beef Tea, and More!

As our unofficial “Ephemera Month” comes to a close, I, as usual, over did it. I planned to scan a few trade cards (other than some of the one we’ve featured previously here and here and here). The next thing I knew, I was scanning almost an entire folder of trade cards in the Culinary Ephemera Collection, with visions of uploading them to our digital platform in the near future. So, there went the morning. There were only a few in the folder, but many, many more waiting to be added to the collection from some recent acquisitions–and I didn’t have time to start on the cache of Arm & Hammer/Dwight & Church birds! Here are a few examples:

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Clearly, trade cards are used to sell anything and everything! These examples include food products and (patent) medicines, but others in our collection are from Metropolitan Life Insurance Company,  baby food companies, stove companies, and we even have a series from a Chicago-based canned meat company that feature quotes and illustrations from Shakespeare (more those another day). Many, like the Quaker Oats, came in collectible series–we have two of the twelve. A number of the ones we recently discovered here were signed or contain notes indicating something of their provenance, like the Craighill’s Compound Syrup of Sarsaparilla one, which reads “Pearl Burks from her Teacher 1897.” Like books and manuscripts, even these little ephemeral pieces of paper can have a story and raise questions. Did a teacher reward students with these or was this particular student a collector and the teacher knew that?

It’s hard to pick a favorite from the few above, let alone the whole folder, and trade cards will stand out to people for different reasons. There’s something that will catch your attention with most, whether it’s the illustration, the product, the testimonials, or the advertising techniques. However, certainly ONE of my favorites is the tiny, folding piece from the Liebig Company, with its elegant cover image, convenient calendar, and well-placed add for extract (good for “beef tea soups and gravies”).

I’ll post an update when I get all the cards into Special Collections Online. But, in the meantime, you’re always welcome to come and flip through our trade cards and ephemera in person! No doubt you’ll find something to make you smile or wonder.

Preserving the Ephemeral (The Tasty, Odd, Ephemeral)

I seem to have inadvertently turned April into “Food Ephemera Month” on the blog, so why mess with a good thing? We have an entire box of culinary ephemera, another of cocktail ephemera, and we’re starting a collection of agricultural ephemera. You can’t say we don’t have folders to choose from! So, this week, it’s a mini round-up of some small, unique, even quirky pieces of advertising history that have survived well beyond their years and purpose. These are all newer pieces, on their way to being added into the Culinary Ephemera Collection (Ms2013-028)

We’ll start with dessert, because who doesn’t want dessert first!

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This is a 1946 bag from a drumstick ice cream cone (which is still a classic today). (It’s clean, I promise–we’re not inviting bugs into the archives!) The packaging may have changed over time, but the contents are still the same: a cone of vanilla ice cream with chocolate and peanuts. Mmmm!

Next up, a little something Virginia-based!

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…And no, I’m not really sure what “bacon squares” are, but I’m open to the possibilities.

Baby food advertisements are common in the late 19th and early 20th century. They often featured happy-looking babies (shocking!) and testimonials. The front of this 1891 trade card from Mellin’s Food includes a color image. The back is a bit simple, but it does give us a little hint.

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This other baby food ad comes from Wells Richardson & Co. It does have a back side, but before we acquired it, it appears to have been mounted on cardboard or some other heavy paper. When it was removed, most of the paper to which is was glued came with it, so although there’s a great deal of text, the majority of it is obscured. But, that is one happy child in a giant food tin!

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We talk a lot about baking and baking products on the blog, so this small oval advertisement from the Royal Baking Powder Company seems like a fun item to share. It’s only a little over 3 inches in length and contains just a single recipe on the back. How anyone managed to save this without losing it is a mystery!

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Last up is something particularly odd. Although the majority of the ephemera that’s been featured on the blog before is paper-based and 2-D, that isn’t always the case. (We have some great new cocktail ephemera which are really more like artifacts on the horizon!). Some of them have, well, a little something extra, like this item from Town Talk bread.

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Yes, that does say “Lipstick tissues.” Here’s what the inside looks like:

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So every time you blot your lipstick, ladies, think of Town Talk bread!

I should also note that about 3 months ago, we discovered a treasure trove of trade cards in a drawer as we were moving some collections and many are food related! I’m still working through them and figuring out which collections they might join, but at some point in the future, there will be a post about the series with bird illustrations and probably more advertisements featuring angelic images of children. Until then, though, remember: While I’m not advocating for hoarding, sometimes even the things you think aren’t valuable can give you an interesting glimpse into culinary history!