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Hearth to Hearth: Poems in Food Advertising

Hearth to Hearth: Poems in Food Advertising – The Journal of Antiques and Collectibles – July 2002

The art of persuasion- advertising – was almost one of those phenomena that emerged full blown in the 1870s. Within a very short time enterprising manufacturers and merchants grasped the possibilities and strategies of advertising. Almost overnight they understood the need to create markets, to suggest the status (often created) implicit in a particular possession, and to educate the American housewife on how to make her husband’s income appear larger through her consumer savvy. Even before 1880, and for a period of some twenty years, a great deal of this new advertising took the form of trade cards- colorfully printed hand-outs, enclosures, and display items; they were so fascinating to the public that they were collected and saved, contributing substantially to the new craze for keeping scrap books. (Incidentally, scrap was entertaining printed ephemera that had proliferated in the earlier decades of the century—hence the term scrap book.) A mixture of information and hype, beauty and humor, the versified commercial trade card messages drew on an earlier literary means of suggesting significance, importance and nostalgia, not a bad thing at all if one was touting some new product, restaurant, market, or service.

Sometimes this was done a little self-consciously, as in the case of a trade card for the Trenton Cracker Company, that manufactured The Stapler Cracker. The message side of the card read:

You may pluck the Man from out of the Moon
Or Tear the azure from the skies,
But you can’t find CRACKERS better than our’s,
Or catch us asking a price that’s high.

The picture side of the card showed a ragamuffin piping a tune and pleading “Oh Give Us the Stapler Cracker, Trenton.”

Some trade card advertisements took the guise of children’s entertainment. In addition to the puzzles (“how many animals can you find in this picture?], rhymed stories for children appeared to offer mothers and their children a little diversion, while at the same time slipping in the commercial message. The good mother attending to her children with an innocent little fable worked to seduce and persuade both generations. To this end, familiar poetry was sometimes adapted by use of inserted lines or punned references to the product.

The Queen of Hearts
She made some Tarts
all on a Summer’s Day;
The Knave of Hearts
He stole those Tarts
And with them ran Away
Because they were baked with
Ceresota Flour.

Fairbanks Lard used this technique in a long series of trade cards advertising lard. In one, the pig dressed as a sailor walks on the beach in sight of a sailing ship and quotes,

She walks the waters like a thing of life,
And seems to dare the elements ot strife,
With all hands active, both on deck and yard,
Happy because they have Fairbank’s pure Lard.
(Byron, Corsair.)

History of one sort or another was apparently a favored approach. At its simplest, references to famous people or events appealed to patriotic feelings: St. Charles Cream, a canned milk product, showed the American army cooking in the field, and noted that

The brave Soldier Boy,
Far from home and mother,
Swears by St. Charles Cream
Claims there is no other.

Some poem-advertisements offered “lessons” in history. Peninsular Stoves put out a little booklet that purported to trace cookery through the millennia. Beginning with biblical themes, it progressed through pre-historical scenes to Egyptian stoves, colonial fireplaces, and finally the company’s own cast-iron cookstoves. Each period was described in a stanza and illustrated by simple images of appropriate kitchen technology, concluding

Thus through the long ages
Advancement was slow
While kings and their pages
Ate charcoal or dough,
And both were contented
With second class loaves
Until man invented
Peninsular Stoves.

In a similar way, Merrell Soule Company, the makers of None Such Mince Meat, printed a 12-page booklet entitled History of a Mince Pie (no date), in which a clever cook is determined to save time and eliminate the drudgery of mince meat preparation. Excerpting from the long story:

The Cook comes home from the grocery store,
With smiling face and sparkling eyes.
“No longer” says she “will I stand the bore
Of making mince meat for my pies.”

We learn that her None Such purchase is put to good use. We see how she constructs and bakes the pie and entertains her employer’s young children all the while. The entire family is delighted, and the youngsters of this clearly privileged family continue to specify this product when dining out.

This is a scene which shows full well
That content and plenty are here:
The children are happy and delight to tell
Of feasts enjoyed through the year.
Now the pie is prepared as the picture shows
That all are anxious to try,
Was made by the Cook who fully knows,
The best’s “NONE SUCH” Mince Pie.

This kind of ad is most interesting, as it is difficult to be sure just who was meant to read it. The family of the story is clearly wealthy, implying that people of stature and taste (who could afford to buy anything and to hire a good cook) would prefer the product, and thereby offer the authority of success. It is also entirely possible that the promotion was aimed at the hired cook herself, as she was the clever protagonist in this little story, and had controlled the purchasing power in that she did the marketing. But either way, it was most certainly offered as children’s entertainment, to judge by the many anecdotes involving them, the simple discourse and jingoistic style.

Hires Root Beer gave the history (?) of its own product in five stanzas, making a temperance claim at the same time:

From a copy of the Ledger baby’s soldier hat was made

Mother when she made it noticed in the paper well displayed
Able words that told the story of the worth of HIRES BEER
“Ah” said she, I’ll write and let them send a package of it here.”
When it came she and her household had a jolly lot of fun
Getting it all made and bottled, and when that was safely done
How delightful was the drinking of the aromatic draught
Ice kept in the pitchers clinking as the wholesome drink they quaffed.
They had plenty for the neighbors, all of them both rich and poor
Luckily they sent a bottle to a little country store
Kept there by a poor old woman, who the flavor liked so well
That she promptly bought a dozen and made the whole lot up to sell.
Everybody came to buy it till she couldn’t get it made
Half so fast as she could sell it, and to meet the lively trade
She engaged more hands to help her and she still had such success
That she strives with want no longer, but lives HIRES BEER to bless.
HIRES BEER may be dear reader, something you have yet to try
If so, then a single package for a quarter you should buy
Make it up and drink it freely, and you never need to fear
That it will intoxicate you- ‘tis the PROHIBITION BEER.

This success story had to carry some weight, fitting as it did the popular dream. However, that an old woman accomplished the economic goal almost makes it believable, as women in that era were not supposed to participate in the work place.

Among my favorites are the before and after ads in which you are cautioned on the use or non-use of a product. These often required that you fold down a flap to change both the setting and the faces:

They were a newly wedded pair,
And he was rich and she was fair,
Their house was beautiful to see,
The home of ease and luxury.
But bad cooked food and cold rooms, soon
Will chill the warmest honeymoon,
From which remarks, no doubt, you’ll guess,
Their stoves were not a great success.
You turn the page and change the scene:
All now is as it should have been—
Their food is cooked just to the “T,”
The temperature the right degree.
A happier pair cannot be found.
Though you should search the country round,
The “Acorn” Stove and Heater soon
Makes life one constant honeymoon.

Another in this genre quotes an authoritative “doctor:”

The Wise Doctor’s Recipe
‘Tis bad cooked Meals, the Doctor said,
That most the germ of Sickness spread.,
From this source indigestion, pain
Dyspepsia wan, with all its train
Of horrors comes, and earthly care
Becomes a burden hard to bear.
“But” said the Doctor with a smile,
(And with a pen he wrote the while)
“’Twill quickly end your misery
If you will take this recipe
Your meals will all be well cooked for
You’ll have the CHAMPION MONITOR.”

And his prescription was: Rx: Buy the Champion Monitor. Dr. Wiseman.

Every lady in the land
Now has a Polish at her hand,
And thinks it better than a bar,
More quickly used, much better far.
Easy, clean, bright of shine,
Lovely, she says,
In saving time.
None was ever seen like

They are endless. Their poetic persuasions are all too transparent to us in our intensely commercial world, based as it now is on generations of market research and industrial psychology. Their innocence and naive charm have the power to amuse even the most anti-commercial of us today.

Alice Ross brings 25 years as a dedicated food professional teacher, writer, researcher and collector to her Hearth Studios, at which she teaches workshops in various aspects of hearth, woodstove and brick oven cookery. She has served as consultant in historical food for such noted museums as Virginia’s Colonial Williamsburg and The Lowell National Historical Park in Massachusetts. Ross wrote her doctoral dissertation in food history at the State University at Stony Brook. Currently, she is involved in a major kitchen report on Rock Hall Museum, a 1770’s Georgian mansion on Long Island. Dr. Ross’ e-mail address is Her web site is

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