Monday, January 28, 2013

Thomas Martindale: The Hunter and His Jugs

During his lifetime Thomas Martindale, shown here, was esteemed as a big game hunter and civic leader.  But it is as a Philadelphia merchant whose company, Martindale & Johnson, produced three of the most collector-sought American whiskey jugs by which he may be remembered today.

One ceramic bears the name “Minnehaha - Laughing Waters.”   It has a cobalt blue underglaze transfer design of a Indian brave in a canoe attacking a sea serpent with a bow and arrow, while a European gentleman lies prone at his side.  The name “Minnehaha” is derived from the poem by Henry Longfellow called “Song of Hiawatha.”  It is a long epic tale about an Indian brave who does many heroic deeds to assist his tribe. Minnehaha was his sweetheart.
The poem was staple reading in American schools for decades and the characters would have been familiar to most people of the 19th and early 20th Century. We can assume that the Indian shooting the serpent is Hiawatha.   This Indian brave frequently was depicted with a bow and arrow, often pointed at a deer. Although I have scoured the poem from stem to stern,  I cannot find any reference to Hiawatha besting a sea serpent.  Moreover, white men appear in the poem only at the very end and with little attention.  The encounter depicted on the jug appears to have been the concoction of the artist, identity unknown.

The second jug depicts the winsome Minnehaha sitting near a waterfalls. It comes in two versions. In one  the title is the same as on the first and the illustration is in a crisp dark cobalt. In the second “Laughing Waters” is missing and the cartoon is lighter blue and lacks strong definition. This jug also is found in a sepia brown.  The third Minnehaha jug has nothing to do with Native Americans.  It appears to depict two small birds amidst a floral background looking intently on the ground.   On further inspection it would seem that the birds are on an elaborate Victorian stage and illuminated by rows of footlights.  The jug comes in a sepia brown and blue.  Like the others it bears a elaborate M&J monogram at the back.

Thomas Martindale, the man  responsible for these attractive containers,  was born in 1848 to  poor parents in England,  emigrating to the United States at the age of eight with his family.  After trying several occupations in his early years, according to an obituary, in 1869 he entered the grocery business in an area of Philadelphia known as “Old City.”  He bought a half interest in a small store there but in a short time had built it into a leading grocery in the city and eventually bought out his partner.  Martindale’s store has became known as “The Oldest Natural Food Store in the USA.”  Under the founder’s leadership, according to company literature, the store included a lunch room, some office space and a plant to manufacture a coffee substitute. The foods served in the lunchroom were salads, soups, the Martindales coffee substitute,  tea, healthy baked goods sweetened with honey and maple syrup, and ice cream sweetened with honey.

During this period,  Martindale also found a wife.  He married a local Pennsylvania-born woman named Rosanna Crum, more commonly called “Rosie.”  They would have two children,  Thomas C., born in 1873 and James, born in 1878.  About 1880 he moved his growing family to an imposing house at 413 33rd Street, shown here.  Built in 1859, it was a three-story, Italianate-style double, rough coat over brick. It featured central recessed entrances; outer  pitched gabled towers and a Victorian porch extending from entrance.  It still stands and has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1985.

Seeking a broader horizon, about 1883 he teamed with a local named William Johnston to found a grocery at 10th and Market Streets. Ironically, given his reputed prejudice against such food items as coffee and sugar, Martindale had no compunctions about liquor.   His company was listed in business directories as “Importers, Grocers, Wine and Spirits Merchants.”  In fact, whiskey was a mainstay.   The flagship band was “Dirigo,”  a Latin phrase meaning, “I lead.”  The firm issued several shot glasses for that label.  “Weardale” was another Martindale brand and, as we have seen, “Minnehaha.”

During the late 1880s,  Johnston appears to have departed the partnership and by 1887 the company has changed its name to Thomas Martindale & Company.  By 1900 city directories showed Martindale as president.  He also was making an impact in Philadelphia civic life.  He was the first president of the Poor Richard Club,  a private club in Philadelphia whose members were mostly members of the ad industry.  It was founded in 1906  as a way to promote and enforce ethical advertising guideline but functioned largely as a place to nurture business, social, and political relationships.  He also was the founder of the Philadelphia Trades League and an active member of the Retail Grocer’s Association.

By now Martindale’s passion had become big game hunting.  An interior photo of his home displays a number of his trophies. Shown here on horseback on the frozen tundra, he was particularly avid for hunting in Alaska and the Canadian Northwest.  Not only did he write books about his adventures, he was frequently asked to speak to men’ groups. In January 1916 he gave a talk to an Philadelphia area college alumni association in which he was introduced as a “true man,”  at once a successful merchant and leading an active, masculine life.  In turn, Martindale exhibited his hunting trophies including caribou racks, polar bear pelts and mountain sheep fleeces, all the while extolling the virtues of the outdoors and exercise.

Ironically, Martindale may already have been ill. Later that year as he prepared for another  hunting expedition in Northern British Columbia, according to an obituary, friends urged him not to go because of signs of bad health.  His doctor disagreed, believing that the open air would be good for the businessman.   About one month into his trip,  Martindale was beset with “boils and carbuncles and a facial disorder that his friends believe to have been paralysis.”   Failing rapidly, he died far from civilization and his body had to be carried by his companions on a woodland trail to the nearest railroad line.  A special train was dispatched that carried him on to Skagway where his body was embalmed and shipped to the U.S. by steamer. Following services funeral services in Philadelphia, he was buried in Westminster Cemetery.

Before his death,  Martindale had groomed his son, Thomas C., to take the reins of the grocery firm.  The son, a lifelong bachelor and natural foods advocate, proved to be an able manager while continuing to live with his widowed mother in the house on 33rd Street.  When Prohibition was levied, the Martindale alcoholic products disappeared forever.   They are remembered still, however, through the fancy ceramic jugs that Thomas Martindale had decreed for them.

Note:  Because of the expressed interest of some readers of this blog, I am below adding a photo of the Martindale jug of two birds in the blue version.  The photo recently was sent me by a friend and associate who has purchased it.



  1. Thanks so much for this post! Martindale's Natural Market is still alive and well outside of Philadelphia. Though not owned by the Martindale's family any longer, we still like to keep in touch with them.

    Debbie Formica

    1. Dear Ms. Formica. Sorry to be so long in responding. Missed your cow. Missed your comment until now. Martindale was an extraordinary man. I once owned two of his jugs shown above. Jack

  2. So I have one of the whisky jugs with the 2 small birds but it is no the blue color. Any idea about it? I have researched but only show it mentioned in brown.

    1. Dear Jack Burton: As a result of your comment on the Martindale piece, I have now added the blue version of the birds jug to the post with a comment. I once owned the brown version but only recently saw the photo of the blue one. It is very rare.

    2. Any idea what it is worth and where the best market to sell it would be? I am interested in selling mine as this is not something I collect.

    3. Dear Jack Burton: I do not keep track of prices. My Martindale birds jug (brown) was bought for $500 in about 2000 and sold circa 2008 for about $800 at auction. My advice would be to give it to one of the bottle auction houses for sale or try it yourself on eBay. Jack