Thursday, December 10, 2015

Nudity, Prudery, Tippecanoe — and Jake Pfeffer Too!

Nudity sells.  Not just in today’s marketplace but also in pre-Prohibition times. Then the principal expression was through whiskey advertising signs that were designed for use in all-male drinking establishments.  One of the most popular of saloon signs was for Tippecanoe Whiskey and Jake Pfeffer of Cincinnati was the distributor.

The Tippecanoe sign, shown below, disclosed an Indian maiden paddling a canoe with her breasts uncovered and very prominent.  She is shown in a landscape of water and vegetation that bespeaks of pristine nature and unsullied wilderness.  That image reenforces the labels asserting that this Kentucky whisky is “medicinally pure” and “recommended by physicians.”
Colorful and eye-catching, the sign had been lithographed on tin, giving it permanence.  Note the holes in each corner.  They allowed the saloonkeeper to tack it above his bar or on a prominent wall.  The same nude image also was available on color lithographed paper, tastefully framed as shown below.
The Native American beauty also appeared at the bottom of a shot glass,  bare chested, again the work of Jacob J. Pfeffer.  This item would have been prominent on a bar.  A patron who was served a shot of whiskey, could knock it down, look down upon this buxom lass — and perhaps order another.  But nudity on wall signs and shot glasses were items for inside the saloon, a place where women, and particularly women of gentility, were never to be seen — often not allowed.

Pfeffer employed a different standard, some might contend a prudish (or hypocritical) standard for Tippecanoe images that might be seen by the general public.   Thus the paper label of a Tippecanoe flask he issued showed the same Indian maiden and the same landscape, but — lo!” — the lady was all covered up.  Even the most easily scandalized would find little to fault if they saw a bottled of whiskey sitting on a drugstore or grocery shelf that bore that image.
Although he claimed proprietorship of Tippecanoe “Double Fire Copper” Whiskey,  Pfeffer was in fact the merchandiser, not the originator of the brand.  The source was the Union Distilling Company, located in Cincinnati, that had adopted the motto “None Better.”  This organization advertised as distillers but evidence is that it was getting its whiskey from Kentucky, including the Latonia Distillery in Kenton County.  Union Distilling almost certainly was a wholesaler and “rectifier,” that is blending and mixing raw whiskeys to achieve certain taste and color.  Like most dealers of this class, Union Distilling featured a blizzard of brands, using supplies from multiple sources and  then slapping on its own proprietary labels.  Among its brands  was “Tippecanoe,” a name it trademarked in 1905.

An arrangement by an outfit like Union Distilling with a distributor like Jacob Pfeffer for Tippecanoe Whiskey would not have been unusual.  The advantage to Union Distilling was that it could count on aggressive promotion of its whiskey without bearing marketing costs.  To Pfeffer it meant that he had a quality whiskey to sell that bore his imprint without being required to worry about from whence raw liquor supplies might be coming. 

Pfeffer had established his liquor business in Cincinnati in 1876, according to city business directories, the same year the German national became a citizen.  His first address was at 733 Freeman Street but he soon moved to the southwest corner of Eighth and Depot in the 21st Ward.  From there Pfeffer moved to Gest Street, a major Cincinnati thoroughfare that loops around the downtown.  After three moves on Gest, the company in 1898 moved to 1216-1220 Gest where it remained for twenty years.  In 1905 he incorporated the business as the Jacob J. Pfeffer Company and installed himself as president and manager.  Andrew Hochstrasser was named secretary-treasurer.

Born in February 1853 in Endingen, Baden-Wurttemburg, Germany, Pfeffer had emigrated from his native Germany to the United States in 1870, when he was about 17.  That was an age when many German boys left home.  At eighteen years they could be drafted into the Prussian army where many recruits died in basic training.  Jacob sailed on the steamship, Hamburg, into New York City and headed for Cincinnati, a city known for its strong German population and culture.  My assumption is that he early went to work for one of the city’s many whiskey wholesalers, learning the trade.  

The same year that he founded his business, Jacob found a wife.  She was Margaretha (sometimes given as Marquerite), a woman slightly older than he was, who also had been born in Germany.  They had one child, Regina, born in 1879.  At a relatively young age, Margaretha died in 1901.  Sometime during that same decade Jacob remarried.  This time his wife was Henrietta Marie Schorr, born in Ohio and 12 years younger than he.  In 1910 Jacob and Henrietta traveled to Germany together.  Among Pfeffer’s sales products in Cincinnati were German wines and the trip may have been on business as much as a honeymoon. 

Meanwhile, Pfeffer was vigorously promoting his  whiskey.  Like other liquor wholesalers, he was advertising his flagship brand by giveaway items to favored customers, like saloonkeeper and restaurant owners.  The gifts included advertising shot
glasses and back-of-the-bar bottles, such as the damaged one shown here.  A unusual item was a bartender’s stirring spoon, with “Tippecanoe” etched in the bowl and Pfeffer’s name on the handle.

Pfeffer also was featuring other United Distilling products in his advertising, including “Zeno” and “Lenox,” trademarked respectively in 1905 and 1906.  He issued a tip tray that featured those brands, along with Tippecanoe Whiskey.  Note that any hint of nudity had vanished from his advertising.  In its place was a sweet-faced little tyke, the picture of innocence and purity.

Pfeffer never got to enjoy the fruits of his endeavors in retirement.  He was still working at the head of his company when he died in 1913, sixty years of age.  He was buried in Cincinnati, not far from his first wife. The Pfeffer plinth and his gravestone are shown here.  The business he had created continued under the management of Andrew Hochstrasser until 1918, apparently a casualty of the statewide ban on alcohol sales in Ohio.  

One last thought on Jacob Pfeffer:  By dying early he missed the imposition of National Prohibition that closed saloons but opened speakeasies, where women were welcome.  With Repeal, women were allowed in barrooms everywhere and one by one the nude saloon signs came down in drinking establishment all over America.   By clothing his Tippecanoe maiden, it would appear,  Pfeffer was not being prudish — just prudent.

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