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.


Beer Me! (After all, it’s National Beer Day!)

Today is National Beer Day–And, for good reason! It’s the 83rd anniversary of the Cullen-Harrison Act, which was enacted on March 21 and signed by FDR on March 22. This 1933 piece of Congressional legislation provided for the sale of beer (or wine!) with an alcohol content of 3.2%. Last year, we talked about the act in a bit more detail, and I won’t go back into it today. The important part is that it signaled a change in the air (and the glasses) throughout the nation. So, this week, I found two pieces of beer-related ephemera. While we aren’t entirely sure when they are from, it’s definitely after 1933, so both of these pamphlets owe their legacy to Mssrs. Cullen and Harrison.

The first is “Carling: The Story of Brewing,” from the Carling Brewing Company in Ohio (not to be confused with the larger, multi-national Carling Brewery), which began in 1934. See, it all comes back to Prohibition–and, in this case, the inability to sell cars during the Depression. The building had been a car manufacturing plant that proved less-than-successful in the early 1930s and the plant was converted to a brewery instead, under the name Brewery Corp. of America. The name changed to the Carling Brewing Company in 1954, suggesting that our pamphlet hails from the mid-1950s or later. It’s a short pamphlet about the process of brewing and is essentially like a modern “FAQ” section on beer.

Our second pamphlet also likely comes from the 1950s, “Food for Entertaining: Better with Beer.” Published by the American Can Company, it includes meal plans that go well with beer and recipes for many of the dishes (some of which are beer-based). The corporate emphasis here is on the can and its design and in fact, the recipes and advice all generically reference using “beer” or “ale,” without a nod to a particular brand or style. As long as you’re buying something, I guess?

While your archivist/blogger is off at a conference next week, presenting and taking in the food/cocktails of a city I’ve never visited before, you’ll have the opportunity to enjoy a post I’m preparing this week about a newly-acquired piece of advertising ephemera (I must be on an ephemeral roll?) for a very different sort of beverage.

For today, though, don’t forget to raise a glass to the forward-thinking of two men and the beginning of the end of Prohibition. Cheers!

New Pamphlet Round-Up #3!

It’s been more than 6 months since I did a pamphlet round-up and, as I once again have about 0.5 cubic feet of pamphlets in my office, it seems like a good time. These haven’t officially made their way into the Culinary Pamphlet Collection just yet (and I have one item below that’s going into the Culinary Ephemera Collection), but they should be soon. On a side note, we’ve also started acquiring some items that will be the start of our new Agricultural Ephemera Collection, but I’ll save that for a future post.

First up, a couple of items to help prepare you for the Thanksgiving holiday, include turkey tips, cranberry sauces uses, and some cottage-cheese based hors d’oeuvres.

Turkey Techniques from the Reynolds Wrap Kitchens (c.1980s?)
Pure Cranberry Sauce, page 1
Pure Cranberry Sauce, page 2
Serve Cottage Cheese: Selected Recipes from the Sealtest Kitchen

Then, it’s back to basics, with some pamphlets on flavorings for baking, cooking with meat, and all of the things you can do with salt.

Baker’s Pure Fruit Flavoring Extracts (also the makers of Walter Baker chocolate products!)
The Homemaker’s Meat Recipe Book, c.1948
Make It with Salt, n.d.

To wrap up, we’ve got something from Battle Creek Health Foods. It’s full of recipes using a variety of vegetarian-friendly products developed by John Kellogg. And if that doesn’t have you feeling better, how about a tonic? Although it was an advertisement to buy boxes and labels for what we would likely call “patent medicines,” the ad even included recipes for druggists to make their own supplies.

Modern Menus and Recipes for Your Health, c.1920s?
Patent Medicine Label Advertisement, J. F. Lawrence Printing Co. page 1
Patent Medicine Label Advertisement, J. F. Lawrence Printing Co. page 2

Next week, we’ll be back with some tips for the hostess with another sponsored pamphlet. In the meantime, feel free to ponder your cranberry sauce and cottage cheese opportunities!

New Pamphlet Round-Up #2!

The week has gotten away from me and the last month’s posts were a bit on the long side, so I’m going with a round-up this week. I haven’t done one since last summer and I have two boxes of pamphlets in my office waiting to be added to the Culinary Pamphlet Collection, the Cocktail Ephemera Collection, and the Culinary Ephemera Collection. The finding aids don’t include these new materials yet (it’s on my to-do list!), but I thought I’d share a preview! You can click on the thumbnails for a larger image and to read the full caption.

This is just a fraction of some of our new pamphlets. If you’re curious to see more, pay us a visit or let us know in the comments section below!


We haven’t featured a cocktail item in a while, and, since we have another quirky piece of ephemera we found over the summer, it seems like time to share! Meet the “Mixed Drink Recipe Guide” from Tel-O-Drink Co. in 1948:

If you’re a regular reader, you may recall, back in the day a post we did on a Prohibition-era sliding drink card. This item is in the same family of cocktail gadgets, albeit with a shorter menu. The drink recipe on the outside edge lines up with a recipe and a picture of the appropriate glass for serving. It is double sided and includes recipes for 24 drinks, most of which could be considered mid-20th century classics, from the gin martini to the single serving Planter’s Punch.

This particular item is also stamped with an advertisement for a store in Jamaica, NY. When to comes to culinary history, creative advertising always seems to be, well, creative. Why hand out a booklet full of recipes when you can find a more interactive way to mix and pour? I can drink to that!

And don’t forget! Special Collections staff will be on hand at the Presidential Installation at Virginia Tech (http://www.president.vt.edu/installation/experience-virginia-tech.html), so if you’re coming to the showcase on Saturday morning, be sure to stop by and visit with us! We’ll be sharing items from the History of Food and Drink Collection and enjoying the opportunity to talk with the community!


Dining on the Rails: Menus from Norfolk & Western

Dining on the railroad can be quite an experience…from a historical perspective, of course. In 2012, Special Collections acquired a collection of Norfolk & Western menus. They range from the full-color, glossy-covered, multi-course meal to the single sheet, ephemeral list of snacks you might find on a shorter journey. And they don’t just cover food. Our collection includes a beverage (with cocktails!) menu that feature drinks, cigarettes, playing cards, AND aspirin. The collection even contains two unused checks for dining car service. Although we can’t date the collection (or the items) specifically, the contents suggest that they start around World War II and may go through the 1960s.



The finding aid for this collection is available online. The entire collection has been scanned and I hope to have it up on the web soon, but until then, enjoying this sampling. Whether you were in the mood for an omelette, a steak, a salad (the “famous salad bowl,” of course!), or Virginia apple pie (baked on the train!), N&W had you covered. It’s interesting to see how complex some of the meals and meal choices were and one wonders about the challenges of preparing food on the train.

So, until next week, hop on board with the “Nation’s Going-est Railroad” and check out your choices!

A Patent Medicine, a Cocktail, and the Fine Line

As our History of the American  Cocktail Collection expands, we’re pleased to announce the creation of a new Cocktail Ephemera Collection (Ms2013-027). The collection is place to group like materials and provide easy access to them. As we acquire new items, we will continue to add them. You can see the current finding aid, with the early framework of the collection online. To start, we have some postcards and pamphlets. We also have the first of our advertising/promotion materials: a c.1880 counter top display for “Tolu Rock & Rye.”

This particular “Tolu Rock and Rye” appears to have a short history of distribution between 1880 and 1881 (possibly a little later) as a patent medicine. It was sold pre-made in bottles for ease and efficiency of consumption, a characteristic common to patent medicines (and cocktails in the 19th century, too!). And, like many patent medicines, it seemed to cure a laundry list of ailments.

Classification of rock and rye as a “medicine” in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was actually a very clever strategy. It made it easy for suppliers to avoid unwanted attention from the temperance movement and to avoid the taxes placed on alcohol at the time. As a “medicine,” Rock & Rye might be drunk straight, or mixed with hot tea. Recipes ranged from a basic mix of whisky and rock candy to more complex blends including citrus and herbs. This “Tolu Rock and Rye” likely also contained tolu itself, a fragrant tree resin. Following Prohibition, Rock & Rye continued to appear as a cocktail in bars and saloons.

Information on the item suggests this “Tolu Rock and Rye” was distributed by Donaldson Brothers, New York (likely among others). Contemporary newspapers and advertisements indicate this particular brand of “Tolu Rock and Rye” was a secondary company of Lawrence and Martin Company of Chicago. Rock and rye concoctions containing tolu, however, were produced by several companies during this period.

Modern cocktail books and websites include new and classic recipes for Rock & Rye, if you’re looking to try it at home. Recipes range from simple to basic. One of  nice thing about this drink is that there is room to experiment with flavors.

We hope to make existing (and future) items in this collection available online, so be sure to check back with us. In the meantime, feel free to stop by. This is very much a visually-based collection and there is plenty to see!


Sweet (and Sour) Drinks and the “Sweet Science”

After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.

Section 1, Amendment XVIII, Constitution of the United States

Earlier this month (January 16th) we passed the 93rd anniversary of the day the Volstead Act went fully into effect. Of course, as history tell us, passage of the Eighteenth Amendment did little to prevent drinking in the United States. Rather, it created a booming underground (or bathtub or garage or shack or hillside…you get the point) business. When it comes to Prohibition history, there are some amazing pieces of cocktail ephemera out there. Today’s feature is a playful example, and a a recent addition to our collection. 

The front of the card includes a list of cocktails common in the 1920s and 1930s across the top and a list of ingredients down the left side. The clever design allows you to select a drink and display the contents (spirits, flavors, and garnishes) in the visible column. Although the columns don’t line up perfectly, you can get the general idea. The Fedora includes 1 part Bacardi (or other rum), 2 parts brandy, 2 parts curacao, 1 part rye, 1 dash of lemon juice,  and 2 teaspoons of powdered sugar served in a medium glass with a straw and fruit garnish. But, of course, since this item dates to about 1931, as the card carefully states, the ingredients “are flavors and non-alcoholic.” In the second image above, you can the complexities of the tiny card.

Our example of the Fedora has come a long way since the 1930s. In the modern era, you might see this drink called Fedora Punch (and even that could lead to a lengthy debate on whether it qualifies as a traditional punch or not!). There are many variations of a modern drink called the Fedora (either Scotch or bourbon based, for the most part) and most with fewer ingredients, but all appearing to stem from our 1931 example and its predecessors.

And of course, like many pieces of cocktail ephemera, it has some kind of tie to the a world of fun and frivolity. The image on the front, depicting groups of festive, singing gentlemen ( imbibing non-alcoholic flavorings ONLY, you recall) is just the kind of crowd who might be in the market to see a fight. Precisely the kind of entertainment a boxing promoter might be able to provide.

When your next social event arises, Hazel 7022 may no longer be in service, but at least you can have a good cocktail in hand. Cheers!