Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Kids Selling Whiskey II

A prior post (August 13, 2023) dwelt upon the use of children’s images to merchandise liquor, a pre-Prohibition practice that would certainly never be countenanced in contemporary America.  The examples of kids selling whisky continue to come to attention on ephemera such as trade cards, postcards, calendars and advertisements.   Shown here are another ten such items, along with commentary about their origins.

Louis Sommer was a Chicago druggist who featured an “in your face” depiction of a child hawking liquor.  Of all the ads shown here, Sommer’s is the only one showing a youngster holding a bottle of whiskey in one hand and a half-full glass in the other, suggesting that the tyke might have had a nip or two.  Sommer, who also used the brand name “Jim Dandy Whiskey,”  is listed in business selling drugs and whiskey from 1904 until 1918 when likely closed down by prohibitionary pressures.  

The second child shown here, obviously is gifted in being able compose in English. She is advertising two brands from Applegate & Sons, a firm founded by a Kentucky colonel named C. L. Applegate.  The Colonel first forges onto the scene in 1876 when he and a brother, Edward, purchased land in the small town of Yelvington in Daviess County.  There about 1878 they constructed a distillery.  Information from insurance underwriter records compiled in 1892 suggest that the Applegate property included a two frame warehouses, both with metal or slate roofs. Warehouse "A" was 115 ft north of the still house, warehouse "B" was 107 ft south. The distillery itself was constructed similarly. The property also included cattle and a barn.

The golden haired terminally cute child shown next appears on a oval metal serving tray advertising The Jacob Pfeffer Co., Cincinnati OH. Brands on the tray include Zeno, Tippecanoe and Lenox.  Pfeffer who was in business from 1876 to 1918.  He advertised as a “rectifier and wholesale liquor dealer and dealer of imported and domestic brandies and wines.  Admitting that he was a “rectifier,”  that is, a blender and compounder of whiskies, set him apart from other  dealers who disliked admitting that they truly were not distillers.

The hooded child that follows is shown in a trade card by the seashore where despite the cold, she has been digging in the sand.  This item  is from Andrew M. Smith who was was born in Denmark, came to the U.S. as a merchant sailor, served in three different outfits in the Civil War, and moved West.  He opened the first California Wine Depot in Salt Lake City, Utah, then moved to Philadelphia where his enterprise failed.  He then set up in Minneapolis in 1886 and found success. Smith died in 1915 but his son, Arthur Mason Smith took over the business.  Smith’s company used the brand names, “Amsco,” “Fine Old U.S. Cabinet Rye,” “Flour City Rye,” “Golden Buck,”  “Harvester,” and “Pennant.”

A greeting card showing a small boy urinating in the snow to spell “Good Luck”  may have had a secondary message.  The Bonnie brothers, whiskey dealers of Louisville, Kentucky, initially were four.  After the eldest retired, Ernest Bonnie, the youngest and still in his 30s, wanted out.   The remaining two Bonnies bought him out for $70, 000, more than a million in today’s dollars.  For that compensation Ernest sold all interest in the business and in the brand names. Unlike his brother, however, Ernest had no intention of retiring from the whiskey trade. Taking two Bonnie Bros. employees with him, he shortly thereafter went into competition with his siblings using the name, E.S. Bonnie  Company and continued use of the Bonnie name.  I surmise this card was Ernest’s subtle way of “sticking it” to his brothers.

The next image of a tyke is that of a lad who apparently has had a successful effort at spear fishing or, alternatively, has stolen a barrel of dead fish.  It appeared on a trade card issued byL. R. Cain who advertised himself as a wholesale and retail dealer in wines, liquors and cigars in Decatur, Illinois.  His featured brand was Old Gum Springs Hand-Made Whisky.  Cain’s card indicates that he also was proprietor of a saloon.  He advertised “a good, substantial lunch every day.”

The three child images to follow feature two children, in each case a boy and girl, but in distinctly different modes.  The first, a 1906 calendar advertising Export Pony Whiskey, uses a design by Ellen Clapsaddle, a noted illustrator of children.  She is credited with more than 3,000 greeting cards and her images of children continue to be popular.  (See my post on her, March 2, 2012). Here she has given us two youngsters having a tete-a-tete across a stone fence.  This calendar was issued by the U.S. Bar, located in Los Angeles.

Old Maryland Dutch Whiskies issued a series of trade cards, often depicting children.  The company itself is something of a mystery, claiming to be located on Maryland’s Eastern Shore but failing to show up in any directories.  It is possible that the brand name came from a Baltimore rectifier who chose to remain anonymous.  Some of the assertions made on the card are novel.  They include: “When not taken immoderately, there will be an entire absence of Nervous Prostration.”   And “Emphatically ‘The Whiskey of our Daddies.’”

What are we to think of a card that shows two kids dress as adult, of whom the boy is throwing coins into a hat with no crown being held by a frog in a suit.  The trade card includes a poem that fails to help with an interpretation:  “Children cry, Papa’s dry, And wants some Sour Mash Rye.”   The flip side of the card advertised Schwartz & Malmbach’s “famous” whiskey as sold by J.E. Hughes, the proprietor of the Central Hotel in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania.  Hughes obviously ran a saloon along with the hotel and also asserted “Good Livery attached.”  Your horse was well cared for while you were drinking.

The last image is an 1897 ad from Green River Whiskey and shows the five children of a proud distilling father,  John McCulloch.  McCulloch, a former U.S. revenue agent, shucked his federal career when the opportunity arose for him to buy an Owensboro, Kentucky, distillery.  He built the whiskey into a well-recognized national brand.  Among his strategies was vigorous advertising.  These children are not from an artist’s imagination but portraits of real people. At left, the boy hugging the baby is his McCulloch’s eldest son, Wendall.  The baby is his brother, Charles.  Below them are two other brothers, on left is John Wellington, Jr. and on right, Hugh.  Standing at right is his daughter and the oldest child, Martine.  Several of his sons as adults followed him into the whiskey trade.

There they are, ten more examples of selling whiskey by using the images of children.  As unthinkable as it is in our age, the practice was common in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and apparently a successful merchandising strategy since it was so frequently used.

Notes:   More complete treatment of several of the “whiskey men” cited here may be found elsewhere on this website:   Applegate & Sons, July 21, 2012;  Jacob J. Pfeffer, December 15, 2015; A.M. Smith, May 19, 2013; E. S. Bonnie, April 29, 2014;  John McCulloch, April 1, 2014.

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