Extraordinary Ephemera: Catalogs as a glimpse into a bygone smoking era

From Pipedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

by Ben Rapaport

Originally Published in Pipes & Tobaccos magazine, Vol. 20, No, 4, Winter, 2016

A catalog, a list of goods or services for sale with descriptions and prices published as a printed document or in modern-day merchandising, an electronic document (e-catalog) on the Internet. Today, most information about products we need is online, because most companies and stores have a website and operate exclusively online. However, for more than 100 years, manufacturers, retailers and traveling salesmen used catalogs to reach buyers who couldn’t visit their factories or stores. Having first appeared in the 18th century, they were embraced by 19th-century manufacturers as the best way to reach the American market. In their day, catalogs were the main source of information; they existed out of necessity. They were crucial to sales and the most accessible representation of a company to the public.

Old catalogs are evocative reminders of the past, mirrors to a particular period. They give us a wonderful slice of daily lives, our culture in all its quotidian and mercantile glory of the past. That's their attraction. They are today’s ephemera; they are not, as many are wont to say, nostalgic junk. As The Catalog Kid, an online seller of auction catalogs, declares: they “are valued throughout the world not only as collectors’ items in their own right, but as indispensable reference guides.” Vigorous efforts to find and preserve trade catalogs were spurred by the publication in 1960 of Lawrence Romaine’s A Guide to American Trade Catalogs, 1744 to 1900. Rockwell Gardner of Stamford, Connecticut, a book collector and dealer, claims: “Today, museums, libraries and furniture collectors realize the importance of catalogues in documenting 19th- and early 20th-century furniture.”

After the 1920s or thereabouts, catalogs regrettably lost their charm and romance, typically presenting products in a more commercial and technical manner. The Insider’s Guide to Old Books, Magazines, Newspapers, and Trade Catalogs asserts: “Ninety-five percent of current demand is for pre-1935 catalogs.” Denise Lee Yohn, “Why the Print Catalog Is Back in Style” (Harvard Business Review, February 25, 2015) reports: “Catalogs may seem old school, but their increased capabilities and the brand-building potential suggest they’ll remain a staple in retailers’ toolboxes—and consumers’ mailboxes.” But I don’t see that happening in the tobacco trade today. Many pipe factories, pipe craftsmen and retailers find traditional print catalogs to be unresponsive, old school, and costly, so they have opted for the online catalog. But there’s one tobacconist who has gone against this digital tide, Dan Pipe and Cigar & Company, Lauenburg, Germany (http://www.danpipe.de). Since 1972, this retailer has issued an annual, full-color-illustrated catalog to active patrons and, more recently, an annual cigar catalog. In the most recent years, the pipe catalog has some 200 pages containing a wide range of products, great imagery in slick photography. Evidently, Dan Pipe believes that the print catalog still plays an important role in the retail sector.

So what might be the most elusive ephemeral document for a pipe smoker, a pipe collector, or a pipe and tobacco historian? Asked and answered: I’d say that it probably is a retail, wholesale, or factory catalog from ye olden dayes; such a catalog is the king of visual tobacco ephemera! These catalogs function like a DNA sample of the culture, social customs, and habits of smokers of that particular era, a valuable map depicting smoking trends and, perhaps, happier times. Toward the end of the 19th century, a catalog’s illustrated tobacco products got flashier. They showed the dazzling array of choices available to ordinary people. An idea of the breadth and range of smoker’s articles and accessories beyond pipes and tobaccos—esoteric sundries and accouterments such as smokers’ trays and tables, ash receivers, steam-pipe cleaners, and more—is revealed by looking through catalogs that the trade offered to the smoking public. Some old pipe designs can be a source of inspiration to today’s pipe craftsmen.

The value of an old catalog is subjective, while the information is often invaluable. As my friend, Ross Seyfried, states, “When you open an old catalog you are looking at reality, not opinion.” He uses old weapons catalogs as a basis to determine the value of a collectible gun. A more relevant example of an old catalog’s utility comes from someone much more knowledgeable than I on the history of Dunhill, http://www.cakeanddottle.com on March 2, 2014: “The modern shape catalog doesn't match the shape catalog of 50 years ago. I understand that they had to streamline in an era of decreased consumption, but it separates the brand into two distinct eras that are so irreconcilable as to practically be different brands.” That’s good information for a Dunhill pipe collector, but how would he have known this unless he had access to the catalogs of both periods?

From http://www.rebornpipes.com: “For me these old catalogues from an earlier time always are delightful to read and remind me of some of old pipe shops that I have enjoyed throughout my life.” As misterlowercase posted on pipesmagazine.com: “For those who haven't seen them, the old catalogs are fun to look through, and I especially appreciate the fact that they’re available for online viewing, because the actual printed physical object itself usually sells for mad money too, and they don't pop up that often.” Chris Keene’s website, Chris’ Pipe Pages, exhibits many vintage catalogs; according to http://www.smokingpipes.com, his website is one of the top 10 resources for pipe smokers. Samuel Goldberger posted catalogs from W. Ø. Larsen (1961-2), Pipe Dan (1961-2), and Dunhill, About Smoke (1927) on his website, http://www.finepipes.com. And the December 1951 Dunhill catalog can be viewed at http://pipesmagazine.com/forums/topic/1951-dunhill-catalog-very-very-very-image-heavy. In April 2013, an associate and I created a virtual museum on Facebook, The Tobacco Pipe Artistory. To date we have posted about 20 really old factory catalogs of clay, meerschaum, porcelain, and wood pipes that can be viewed at https://www.facebook.com/tobaccopipeartistory/photos_stream?tab=photos_albums. Yet many say that clicking through web pages doesn't compare to the tactile hard copy. I can relate to that.

Are old catalogs worthwhile acquisitions? It depends. The really informative ones are as scarce as hens’ teeth; many fetch big bucks nowadays. AbeBooks.com suggests: “If owning the true first edition is beyond your budget, don't despair—you can still experience classic books with facsimile editions.” And Gary Schrier has taken up this very cause for pipe aficionados. His company, Briar Books Press, has assumed the mission to revive vintage catalogs, and so far he has reprinted exacting facsimiles of a few early 20th century British catalogs, Dunhill, BBB, and Loewé. May he continue to prosper, print and propagate! Going back in time, I present three catalogs that are informative, revelatory, and educational; they exemplify the gilded age of smoke. All three proffer everything for the Everyman—pipe and cigar smoker, snuffer and chewer—all things necessary for the use, storage, maintenance, display, and transport of tobacco consumables. (As an aside, the founders of these three companies emigrated from Germany.)

To my knowledge, the oldest American, full-product-line catalog is from manufacturer, importer, retailer and wholesaler Wm. [Wilhelm C.] Demuth & Company (WDC), New York. In the press, Demuth was identified as “the richest pipe merchant on the East Coast,” and “the largest concern of its kind in the United States.” In its own advertising, Demuth claimed to be the “World’s Largest Pipe Manufacturers.” In an interview of Leopold Demuth, the president (“Trying to Get Pipes Off Novelty Basis,” Printers’ Ink, December 31, 1914), he stated: “We make up ourselves over 2,000 different styles of all kinds—briar, meerschaum, corn-cob, clay, and so forth, and change a great many of the styles every year, part for the spring season and part for the fall or holiday season.” According to queens.brownstoner.com, November 2014, “The Demuth Company made many different kinds of pipes, but their meerschaums put them on the map.” Demuth became a subsidiary of S. M. Frank & Company in 1937, and it was liquidated in 1972.

Illustrated Catalogue of Smokers’ Articles and Show Figures is believed dated to about 1875, some 13 years after Demuth went into business; there were a few later editions, but those years are not known to me. The catalog’s Preface states:

It is the most complete work of its kind ever published and, we can safely say, representative of the largest stock and the most varied assortment is this country or in Europe. We have attempted to bring before the pubic illustrations of each and every article in our immense line of goods—that would be an endless task—but have limited ourselves to a fair representation of our leading styles, such as have met with universal approval and established themselves in the trade as staples.

In the aforementioned A Guide to American Trade Catalogs, the Demuth catalog from about 1900 is described as follows: “Without any question the best pict. record of American Gay Ninety smoking.” Bound in cardstock covers, this 95-page, illustrated catalog with some pages in color offers a rather complete array of goodies—applewood, briar, rubber, clay, oil colored imitation meerschaum pipes and bowls, and real and imitation meerschaum pipes in cases; meerschaum cigar holders; amber mouthpieces and stems; cigarettes, cigarette papers, match safes, rubber tobacco bags and pouches; cigar and cigarette cases; snuff and chewing tobacco boxes; Turkish water pipes; metal bust figures; Havana cigars, and more—essentially, just about everything that a smoker would need or want, given the custom and habits of late 19th century American smokers. The product line ranged from segars and smokers’ articles—but no tobaccos—to show and cigar-store figures, walking sticks, signs, and other carved objects, rather peculiar adjuncts for a tobacconist. A brief company history accompanied by some scanned catalog pages is accessible at three online locations: (1) http://tobaccopipeartistory.blogspot.com/2014/12/william-demuth-company-wdc-catalog-new.html; (2) https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.121946204556418.31639.101191206631918&type=1; and (3) Google Drive.

This WDC catalog is not an everyday find, but my friend Paul Jung has a c. 1875 copy for sale. Contact him for price and condition report at spjrob@yahoo.com.

The second catalog is from importer and manufacturer, George Zorn & Co., Philadelphia. The Tobacco Record, Philadelphia, June 29, 1889, called Zorn, established in 1875, the Philadelphia Pipe House, and New York’s Tobacco, March 14, 1902, called the company “the big pipe jobbing house.” Some time later in that decade, the company transitioned into wholesaling and retailing playing cards, novelties, paper hats and noisemakers for parties, and tricks. In 1989, Jung reprinted facsimile copies of the Fifth Edition Catalogue of Pipes & Smokers Articles; this edition is believed to be from around 1892. The catalog’s 160 pages— fully illustrated in black and white throughout—are replete with everything pertaining to smoke and then some, a veritable universe of smokiana—clay, stone, Irish meerschaum, Powhattan, corn cob, cherry and Weichsel, Japanese bamboo, lava, imitation, applewood, snakewood, sweet briar, French briar, imitation meerschaum, genuine meerschaum, meerschaum chip, China, student, patent and bread pipes, and Turkish water pipes; meerschaum buttons, amber mouth pieces, cigar and cigarette tubes, and smoker sets; novelties such as trick matches, ash receivers, pipe cleaners, pocket lamps, smokers’ sundries, tobacco bags and pouches, pocket match safes, ash trays, cigarette papers, cigar cases, cutters and lighters, snuff boxes, tobacco cutters and shavers—all that’s needed to aid the custom of smoking and many things not. Interestingly, this catalog included customer education, lengthy tutorials on meerschaum, amber, and French briar and lots of “how to’s.” On July 3, 2015, eBay seller brokenarrowleather offered a copy for a “buy it now” price of $59.96. That’s a ridiculously low 2.2¢ for every page that illustrates a vast array of vintage tobacco products.

The third catalog with which I am intimately familiar is extraordinary, unrivaled, a flagship reference, a pièce de résistance of unparalleled eye-candy content! It’s from Great Britain’s Salmon & Gluckstein. Samuel Gluckstein arrived in London in 1841 and started a tobacco business in 1855. Headquarters was located at Clerkenwell Road, E.C., London. It claimed to have more than 120 branches in England. The catalog states: “Largest and Cheapest Tobacconists in the World.” Wikipedia asserts that it was “the world’s largest retail tobacconist, owning 140 retail outlets in 1901.” Someone wrote in 1896: “If the retailers keep to their present prices, all the best of the retail trade will go to Salmon & Gluckstein, and they will deserve their success, for no shops in the world are so tastefully dressed as theirs.” (Imperial Tobacco purchased Salmon and Gluckstein in 1902, but the brand remained in prominence until 1955.)

S&G boasted being “tobacco manufacturers, tobacco cutters and spinners, cigar makers, snuff grinders, cigarette manufacturers, pipe makers and mounters, goldsmiths and silversmiths, importers of Havana, Mexican, Manilla, Indian, and other cigars, meerschaum and amber, and cigarettes and tobacco from all parts of the world.” I found the following on page 7 of the catalog rather amusing: “All goods marked in plain figures, and sold for Cash only.” In one of its leaflets distributed to the public, the company promised that a Salmon & Gluckstein pipe “positively prevents the nicotine entering the mouth.” The company mantra was “The more you smoke, the more you save.” Shrewd about advertising and promotion, the company issued various sets of tobacco silks, cigarette pack insert cards and decks of “Ixion Slip” playing cards at least through the 1920s.

The catalog is Illustrated Guide for Smokers (January 1899); the flyleaf title varies slightly: Illustrated Price List Uniformly Current at all the Modern Trading Establishments of Salmon & Gluckstein Ltd. Whether the company issued a catalog soon after it incorporated in 1864 or after 1899 is not known. The W. D. & H. O. Wills Limited/ Imperial Tobacco Collection has a copy of this 1899 edition described as “a vibrant catalogue offering a range of tobacco related products.” One page of this catalog is illustrated in David Wright’s The Pipe Companion (2000). Scanned images of a range of its tobacco products as they appear in the catalog are found at http://www.tobaccocollectibles.co.uk, and images of a number of its cigarette cards and products are found on Google using the search words salmon gluckstein cigarette cards and salmon and gluckstein tobacco.

No surprise, the catalog advertises pipes, cigar and cigarette cases, cabinets and machines, cigar cutters, tobacco jars and pouches, vesta boxes, and ashtrays, a panoply of puffer paraphernalia. The illustrations were meant to help individuals visualize the products. The advertising is spectacular! The glossy pages replete with vibrantly colored images—and prices—must have inspired customers to purchase S&G products. What sets this catalog apart from the other two—perhaps apart from any other catalog from any other company, from any other country, at any time prior to or after 1899—is the simulated green leather binding, the high-grade paper, and the lustrous chromolithography of the contents; some critics consider chromolithography to be “original art.” The expressive power of a range of sparkling and luminous colors that is found on just about every page is unseen in today’s print tradition. To me, the S&G is the aristocracy and pedigree of tobacco and pipe catalogs.

Gary Schrier describes the reprint of the 1912 BBB Catalogue No. XX (1912) as “A tobacconist’s catalogue brimming with pipes and smoker’s requisites, this wholesale catalogue takes you back to a time when the pipe-smoker’s lifestyle was taken rather seriously.” The reprint of Dunhill’s about Smoke. An Encyclopedia of Smoking (5th edition, 1928) is an engaging catalog, almost all of its 206 pages illustrating lots of fumophilic finery. In the Preface, Gary writes that it is “…the epitome in consumer trade catalogues: it illustrated the vast breadth of its product line at a considerable expense, and it was made available to everyone.” And he ends the Preface with: “The fifth edition of about Smoke is a resource that smoking enthusiasts, collectors, researchers and historians will come to regard as a period classic.” Quite true! Twenty-nine years earlier, Salmon & Gluckstein used that same marketing and merchandising strategy, so my rejoinder is that if I compare these two English catalogs (catalogues)—although some may argue that it’s comparing apples and oranges—Dunhill remains relevant today, and S&G is long gone from the tobacco scene; while about Smoke contains many more pipes and tobacco choices than Illustrated Guide for Smokers, if playing poker, the latter calls the former and raises, not because it’s from an earlier period (i.e., older, hence more valuable), but because complex chromolithography beats traditional offset printing every time. In a word, I am judging the character of the catalog, not its contents.

What’s the current-market value of this catalog? Hard to determine, because demand is unknown, and supply is in all likelihood non-existent. It took me 30 years to get my copy. Chances are that the next person who desires a copy may have to wait 30 years! The last copy for sale to the public was in August 1997 when London’s Bloomsbury Auctions sold a “worn and badly water-stained” 1899 edition for £218 (approx. $350). All things considered, although this amount may seem exorbitant for an old catalog, and I may be biased, but it seems to be quite reasonable relative to what that same amount of money might bring today for any other pipe-related ephemera of far less majesty and historical importance.

Printed things, “the minor transient documents of everyday life,” in the words of the Ephemera Society’s founder, Maurice Rickards, such as fliers, event programs, bookmarks, almanacs, posters, business and greeting cards, labels, ticket stubs, catalogs and myriad other printed things are typically meant to be thrown away…eventually. Thankfully, these three catalogs have survived the ravages of time. They are illustrated guides to a rather complete record of a vast assortment of tobacco products and colorful packaging, visible clues to a drastically different culture of smoking vis-à-vis today. These three and, perhaps, others (although I personally don’t know any others in this league) are extremely interesting and exceedingly informative—veritable storehouses of valuable information—to a certain community of collectors, enthusiasts, historians and researchers. I am of this community.

A final word. If anyone has a late 19th century or early 20th century pipe or tobacco catalog from any country that can surpass the exquisite, elegant, and alluring presentation of any of these three—especially this S&G catalog—I’d sure like to know.