Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Way to a Mother’s Pocketbook was Through Her Children

QUESTION: I discovered my first child’s advertising booklets quite by accident. I was actually looking through a box of assorted vintage paper goods at a local flea market when I noticed a tiny booklet. It was an illustrated nursery rhymes distributed by Clark’s O.N.T. Thread. I’ve seen other advertisements from the late 19th century but never thought anything about it. Why did advertisers use children in their ads? And why did they distribute children’s books to promote their products? I’d like to start collecting these little books, but I don’t know where to begin.

ANSWER: While there’s a dedicated group of children’s advertising booklet collectors, many people have never heard of them. However, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, children’s advertising booklets were a common item in many households. Everything from coloring books to junior cookbooks caught the eyes of advertisers.

As early as the 1850s, manufacturers realized the way to a mother's purse strings was through her children. What mother could resist the purchase of Clark's O.N.T. thread when doing so would include an educational booklet of rhymes for her little one? Besides, O.N.T. Black fast thread was "guaranteed never to show white on the seams after being worn or washed” –clearly a win-win situation.

But Clark's O.N.T. thread wasn’t the only company to take advantage of a mother's love for her children. The heyday of consumer advertising in the United States was in the last quarter of the 19th century. This was a time when steam presses and chromolithography made visually appealing promotional material relatively inexpensive, and when manufactured goods proliferated.

The great Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876, with its myriad of domestic exhibits, inspired thousands of different advertising handouts. Advertisers began to use the image of a comfortable middle-class life as an inducement to purchase their products. Well-fed babies and well-dressed children at play were themselves symbols of material accomplishment. Plus, they portrayed the picture of wholesomeness.

At the same time. advertisers became aware that the woman in the household made most of the buying decisions, especially of household goods. The logical conclusion was that promotions which doubled as toys for children might also attract sales.

Many of these little promotional booklets have survived. So what affects their value? Condition, subject matter, general appeal, author, and illustrator are all important when determining the value of a children’s advertising booklet or an ad with children in it. Though companies hired prominent illustrators to create these booklets, many of them aren’t given credit. Among the more famous ones are W.W. Denslow who illustrated The Wizard of Oz, Johnny Gruelle who did Raggedy Ann, and Maxfield Parrish, who became known for his high fashion Art Deco paintings. So booklets that feature these artists are likely to command a premium.

The Wonderful Lunch Boxes, illustrated by 20th century children's book illustrator Shirley Kite is a good example. Printed in 1925 and 1927, the book came inside boxes of a variety of Post cereals, including Bran Flakes, Instant Postum and Postum Cereal, Grape-Nuts, Toasties, and a cereal that obviously didn't go over too well----Bran Chocolate.

There was also a wide variety of advertising booklets available. Coloring books, nursery rhymes, and alphabet booklets were particularly successful as advertising promotional material. In most cases, advertisers created ingenious tie-ins with their products, using verse, parody and caricature. Occasionally, advertisers included watercolor “chips” in coloring books, and sometimes interleaved the pages with glassine to protect the images from smearing once children colored them.

However, not all advertising booklets were aimed at children. In 1910, Ivory Soap issued “Elizabeth Harding, Bride,” an advertising booklet with instructions on how to clean everything from blankets and brassware to hardwood floors and rubber plants all using Ivory Snow. It seems new bride Elizabeth feared her housekeeping abilities would be unacceptable to her new husband until Ivory Snow saved the day.

Jell-O was America's first packaged dessert, and owner Orator Woodward had a tough time convincing the public that combining water with white powder would produce tasty fruit-flavored gelatin. In 1902, Woodward hired door-to-door salesmen to hand-deliver Jell-O recipe booklets. The strategy was a key part of Jell-O's marketing for decades. And as with previous booklets, prominent artists illustrated many of them. One of the most famous is Rose O'Neill, best known for the Kewpie doll. A 1915 mint condition example of Jell-O and the Kewpies now sells for over $100.

Collectors can still find great examples of charming booklets for under $100, and many are still priced for less than $50.

Along with the promotional booklets, advertisers also used children in illustrations for some not-so-common products. One of the most bizarre was “The Dutch Boy’s Lead Party,” a paint book for children. Considering that housepaint used to contain lead, it seems a bit noxious to promote it with children. Then again, maybe that’s supposed to be pronounced “leed.”

To read more articles on antiques, please visit the Antiques Article section of my Web site.  And to stay up to the minute on antiques and collectibles, please join the other 18,000 readers by following my free online magazine, #TheAntiquesAlmanac. Learn more about religious antiques in the special 2018 Holiday Edition, "The Art of the Sacred," online now.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Under the Coverlets

QUESTION: I’ve long admired the colorful coverlets that are often on display in museum gift shops. Recently, I saw an exhibit of them at a museum in Indiana. The variety was astonishing. I know they were done on a special kind of loom, but I forget what it was called. Can you tell me more about how these coverlets were made and a bit about their history?

ANSWER: Coverlets originated in Europe. Early ones, woven on a four-harness type loom, didn’t have complex patterns like those made in the mid 19th century in the United States. Their unique designs were made possible by the invention of the “Jacquard” loom.

Household weavers usually women, produced these decorative and warm bed covers. They created simple but visually exciting geometric overshot coverlets. Complex, figural designs were more difficult to produce alone on the same loom. That changed in 1806 when Joseph Marie Jacquard of France invented a mechanical attachment that could be attached to most looms by professional male weavers. A series of punched cards  guided the raising and lowering of the warp threads to form complex designs. Repeated motifs could be endlessly varied and re-combined. Floral designs, birds, simple buildings and stars were common, with a central section usually framed by a border along the top, sides, and bottom. Many Jacquard coverlet weavers "signed" and dated their textiles on the decorative corner blocks at the bottom corners.

The Jacquard attachment first appeared in America in the early 1820s, probably by one of the many German, English and French hand weavers who had immigrated from their native countries in Europe. These immigrant weavers tended to settle in areas with populations of their own ethnic group and near sources of good quality wool. Many brought some type of Jacquard attachment or at least the experience to use one. Some even developed their own devices based on Jacquard's idea and patented them in the U.S.

The earliest American Jacquard coverlets appeared in New York and Pennsylvania in the late 1820s. As weavers saturated the market in the Eastern states, and weaving became more mechanized and moved into a factory setting, many weavers moved westward into Ohio and Indiana, and eventually to Illinois, looking for new markets as well as farmland. Raw wool and commercially spun yarns as well as natural and synthetic dyestuffs needed for weaving could easily be obtained throughout the state. The weavers settled in or near agrarian communities among people of shared backgrounds and familiar with folk motifs and designs used in coverlets, primarily those from Germany, France and England. The weavers made lasting contributions to the communities in which they settled, opening businesses and promoting weaving; perhaps most importantly, they brought a touch of color and technical design to an expanding 19th-century population on the western frontier.

Jacquard weavers derived the patterns and motifs they used from well-known folk traditions of Western Europe. The designs of most Illinois coverlets can be traced back to Ohio and Pennsylvania coverlets. The center field patterns were either a large, repeated symmetrical motif on two-piece ones or a centered medallion on single-width coverlets. Floral motifs appeared most frequently, in the Four Lilies and Sun-burst, Four Roses, Octagonal Four Roses, Four Leaves and Four Acorns, and Four Bellflowers patterns. Star and Sunburst designs were also common.

Illinois Jacquard coverlets, like their Pennsylvania counterparts, had borders along each side and the bottom. Popular traditional Germanic motifs include the distelfink, or thistle finch, and Grapevine. A corner block or name line identifies the weaver, his location, and usually the year of production.

Typically, weavers produced cotton coverlets for weddings and births. Wedding or bride coverlets or blankets were required items in a young woman’s hope chest. Starting around 1825, major towns had a resident weaver whose job it was to make blankets and accept work on commission. The weaver may have had an apprentice and the weaver’s loom was the site of his/her business dealings. Coverlets were double woven and produced with wool and imported indigo blue and madder red or brown dyes. A traditional early 19th-century woven coverlet would cost the buyer between $5 and $15. Coverlets were much more commonplace than quilts from about 1823 to the end of the Civil War in 1865.

Learn more about Jacquard coverlet and rug weaving by reading "Weaving their Way Into History" in The Antiques Almanac. This is the story of a family who has kept Jacquard coverlet weaving alive in Pennsylvania.

To read more articles on antiques, please visit the Antiques Article section of my Web site.  And to stay up to the minute on antiques and collectibles, please join the other 18,000 readers by following my free online magazine, #TheAntiquesAlmanac. Learn more about the early 20th century in the Fall 2018 Edition, "20th Century Ltd.," online now.