Skip to main content

Author: Richard Sheaff

A Horrible Tragedy

The worst inland waterways shipping accident in British history happened on September 3, 1878. On that evening some 650 unfortunate men, women and children drowned in sewage.

The 700 people on board the paddlewheel steamboat Princess Alice had spent a pleasant day at the Sheerness seashore, and were enjoying a moonlight cruise return trip on the Thames, when the Princess Alice was smashed amidships as it crossed in front of a large 1400-ton coal ship, the Bywell Castle. The Princess Alice was sliced in two and sank within four minutes. Many of the doomed were trapped below in the saloon or in their cabins. Those who jumped off the boat discovered to their further horror that they were immersed in raw sewage. Seventy-five million imperial gallons of sewage had just been released into the Thames at that place, the location of London’s sewage pumping stations. Adding to the foul “water” at that spot was untreated waste from a gas plant, several chemical factories, and oil in from a fire earlier in the day. Hundreds drowned in the pollution, and sixteen who had been rescued later died from what had been ingested.

An embossed memorial card in my collection was issued in memory of the victims. The exact number who lost their lives is unknown as there was neither a passenger list nor a head count. Most victims were buried, unidentified, in a mass grave.

Following this tragedy, London began to treat its sewage, and changed to transporting the effluent to the North Sea in barges rather than simply dumping it untreated into the Thames. After various hearings  and competing lawsuits, the Admiralty Division of the High Court of Justice decided that some blame could be assigned to each ship.

A wood engraving of the Bywell Castle hitting the Princess Alice.
A more dramatic wood engraving of the event from Le Monde.
A model of the event in the collection of London’s National Maritime Museum. (Note the same memorial card at lower left.)
An unused ticket for that trip, in London’s National Maritime Museum. A handwritten note at the bottom says that the purchaser of this ticket decided not to go that day after all.

Hunt’s Remedy

William E. Clarke of Providence, Rhode Island produced and marketed “Hunt’s Remedy”, a widely sold nostrum for kidney complaints, for decades. Research into Providence city directories provides insight into Clarke and his activities. Clarke was a grocer situated at College & Benefit Streets in 1844. His name appears in 1860 listed as a clerk at a business located at 43 Wickenden Street; I suspect the number “43” might be a typographical error and that Clarkemay have worked at the apothecary and dry goods store of Benjamin Bailey at 46 & 48 Wickenden. Clarke’s home address is given as 58 Sheldon Street, which is also the address of John Clarke, “Carpenter & Builder”.

I strongly suspect that John (whose directory appearances and advertisements date back to 1850) was William’s father.

William’s name does not appear again until 1864, at the end of the Civil War. Research in other sources indicate that he enrolled in the 11th Regiment of the Rhode Island Volunteers on September 15, 1862. On October 1, 1892 he mustered in as a 2nd Lieutenant in Company A of that unit. Clarke was promoted to 1st Lieutenant in March of 1863, mustered in to Company C. In April of 1863, he was made Adjutant Aide-de-Camp on the staff of Brigadier General John Potts Slough. He was discharged from the Army on July 13, 1863.

On November 4, 1863 Clarke married Emma P. Mason of Providence. In the 1864 directory he is listed as an apothecary at 233 South Main Street (“Corner of South Main and Transit Sts.”), and as boarding at 58 Williams Street. In 1866 he is listed as a clerk again, at 40 Weybosset Street (the address of Mason, Dawley & Baker, apothecaries).

Importantly to the story of his career, in 1866 the earliest advertisement for Hunt’s Remedy of Providence which I have so far uncovered (appearing on a broadsheet “The National Hotel Register”, December 5, 1866, Worcester, Massachusetts) lists “William E. Clarke, Proprietor, 28 Market Street, Providence.” The 1867 Providence directory lists him as the proprietor of an apothecary at 28 Market Street. Later, in an 1883 Hunt’s Remedy “ABC” advertising pamphlet, Clarke states that Hunt’s Remedy “had been on the market several years prior to 1867” and also that “In 1867 Hunt’s Remedy attracted my particular attention”.

The Hunt’s store at 28 Market Street with his traveling wagon posed out front, complete with dog sitting in the front, 1860s.

The man in the doorway is likely William E. Clarke, and the driver holding the reins may well be his traveling salesman W. B. Blanding. ( from a stereo view in Sheaff collection )

Various sources have reported over the years variations of a story saying that a Dr. David Hosack (1769-1835), practicing in New York City, concocted and sold a medicine said to cure kidney, liver and bladder problems, as well as dropsy (swelling of soft tissues from water retention). The medicine was reported to have been re-formulated from a medicine used by earlier Dutch settlers, and Hosack’s version was credited with saving the life of New York City grocer Frederick P. Hunt, who—after substantial recovery—began himself to manufacture and sell the nostrum, beginning in 1850. After Hunt’s death, his wife and a Dr. John C. Peters tinkered with the formula and continued to market it. The formula and the rights to manufacture it were bought by William E. Clarke on May 9, 1872. Thus, Clarke’s 1883 assertion that the medicine had been sold before 1867 must have been referring to sales by Mr. Hunt, and later Mrs. Hunt.

Alternately, one source (The Advertising Trade Card Quarterly, Summer 1998) states that the Hunt’s name came about because Clarke had been employed by Providence physician “Simeon Hunt . . . to compound his prescriptions for bottling and sale to the public around 1870, and . . . the company took on life of its own”. This narrative has yet to be confirmed. There was a Providence Simeon Hunt who marketed a different nostrum called “Hunt’s Gold Leaf Liniment” (advertised, for example, in the August 24, 1868 issue of the Providence Daily Journal).

“On May 9, 1872, ‘The Great Kidney Medicine’ came into the possession of William E. Clarke of Providence, Rhode Island. A few months later the name “HUNT’S REMEDY” inscribed on a broad, ribbon-like label with notched ends was entered according to Act of Congress in the office of the Librarian of Congress at Washington, as a trade mark.” (Henry Holcombe, Patent Medicine Tax Stamps, Quarterman, 1979 p.94)

According to one source, Clarke had opened a second apothecary shop located at the corner of Broad and Mathewson Streets, along with maintaining his original shop at 28 Market Square; that second store was closed in 1872.

On June 3, 1873 a rectangular small space ad for Hunt’s Remedy began to appear in The Opera Glass publication. Also in 1873, he was granted a patent for a bottle stopper. In 1873-74, “Mr. Clarke introduced “Hunt’s Health Pills and Liver Cure’, familiarly known as ‘Little Gems’.” (Holcombe, p.95) These were put up in tin boxes selling for 25¢. In 1877 Clarke introduced another medicine, “Hunt’s Infallible Eye-Wash”. (Holcombe p.95). In this same period, be briefly marketed mineral water in now-scarce torpedo shaped bottle.

In 1875, Clarke was admitted to the Rhode Island Pharmaceutical Association.

Somewhere in the early 1870s, Providence changed the house numberings on Williams Street, and by 1874 Clarke’s home address had become 68 Williams Street.

Over time, advertisements for Hunt’s Remedy, “The Great Kidney Medicine”, appeared in numerous publications around the country.

“Hunt’s Infallible Eye-Wash, the Best in the World for all troubles of the Eyes—Soothing, Cooling, Healing, Always Cures, Price 50¢” was introduced in 1877.

Clarke decided to have made a custom, “private die” 6¢ medicine revenue stamp to pay his required taxes on proprietary medicines. In 1878, “(Clarke) directed the National Bank Note Company of New York to engrave a die. A proof was approved by the Commissioner of Internal Revenue . . . on January 20, 1879. / / The entire issue on watermarked paper amounted to 115,249 stamps, about 550 sheets.” (Holcombe, p.95-96) The stamps began to be delivered to Clarke in 1879, with the final shipment made on November 24, 1880. (An Historical Reference List of the Revenue Stamps of the United States [the “Boston Book”], Toppan, Deats and Holland, 1899, p.235)

Hunt’s Remedy was sold in two sizes. The smaller embossed (“Trial Size”) bottle, selling for 75¢, required a 3¢ revenue stamp; the larger, selling for $1.25, required a 6¢ stamp. (Holcombe) Both of the bottles for those bottles were aqua in color. A much smaller “One Dime Size” sample bottle in amber glass is also known, but quite rare (two known to the author); these bottles are rectangular.

A 3¢ Hunt’s Remedy stamp in the same ribbon-logo design as the issued 6¢ stamp was created, but that stamp design was never approved or issued. A die proof is known.

“Early in 1880 a . . . die was ordered from the American Bank Note Company of New York, which had assumed the National (Bank Note Company) contracts for the printing of revenue stamps.” (Dr. Daniel Hoffman, Linn’s Stamp News, June 5, 1978, p.96) “This 3¢ blue stamp had as a central design “a man wrestling with death [a skeleton], who he is about to strike with a bottle [of Hunt’s Remedy].” (ibid) “A proof from this new 3¢ die was approved in February 1880, and a single printing of 9,000 stamps was made in April of 1880.” (ibid)

[ Note: The proprietary stamp tax was repealed as of July 1, 1883, and so these revenue stamps were no longer required on patent medicine products. ]

By 1880, Clarke’s business had been moved to 319 South Main Street.

Hunt’s Remedy issued a number of striking custom trade cards, as well as the occasional stock card imprinted with Hunt’s information. The only dated card is the one issued in 1883, featuring a comely girl in a blue sailor suit. Also in 1883, Hunt published a 56 pages plus cover booklet, “ABC of Society”. Among other things, it includes and interview with “Colonel Clarke” entitled A True Story, attributed to the Providence Journal. Hunt’s Remedy (labeled bottle and outer box pictured and described) is named a product of “Hunt’s Remedy Company, Proprietor”. Several other Clarke products are also promoted: “Hunt’s Infallible Eye-Wash”, “Clarke’s Florentine Dentifrice” (pictured), “Clarke’s Anti-Bilious Pills” (Clarke’s signature shown) and “Clarke’s Tooth-Ache Drops”. Clarke is reported to have been in the prescription business for 25 year (i.e. beginning about 1858). Regarding sales of Hunt’s Remedy in the Providence area, Clarke says “Mr. W. B. Blanding has sold in two years 33,120 bottles.” He states that the remedy had its greatest sales in New England, and goes on to say “Some medicines build up a reputation in the Territories and Western States, where anything will sell; but Hunt’s Remedy was its widest field in New England . . . The Remedy is known, however, throughout the United States and Canada, and in foreign countries.” “For the purpose of bringing Hunt’s Remedy to the attention of the many thousands of sufferers from kidney and liver diseases, a stock company has been formed with sufficient capital to introduce the remedy into every part of the country and throughout the domain of the world.” [Note: Author has never seen a stock certificate for Hunt’s Remedy.]

Hunt’s Remedy contained a high proportion of dogbane (Apocynum cannabium), according to The Medical Record, July 19, 1884.(The Quack Doctor, Caroline Rance, History Press, Ltd. 2013) Dogbane is similar to digitalis in its effects on the cardiac system. Native Americans used the plant to make twine, fishing nets, cloth and medicines. It is said to have sedative and hypnotic effects, and has been to treat fever, diarrhea, intestinal worms, dysentery, rheumatism and syphilis.

Regarding Clarke’s military rank, he remained involved with the Army after the war. “Company B, of the First Rhode Island Volunteers was recruited among the members of this company, and took part in the battle of Bull Run, July 21 and 22, 1861. The regiment had been known for a long time as the Providence Artillery. In 1869, it changed its name to the Burnside Zouaves; but the next year the name was again changed to the United Train of Artillery. The regiment has been commanded since October, 1874, by Colonel William E. Clarke. The regiment is in a very flourishing condition, and has upon its muster-rolls over two hundred active members.” (The History of Providence, 1878)

Another, previously unknown, embossed bottle for a Clarke product was discovered in 2002. Cylindrical, aqua, 5” tall, with an applied lip, it reads INFANT SOOTHER / WILLIAM E. CLARKE / PROPRIETOR / PROVIDENCE RI.

In the 1886 Providence directory, the Hunt’s Remedy Company is listed at “112 South Main Street, corner James”; but Clarke himself is listed not with Hunt’s, but as general agent for the Eagle Machine Company, a manufacturer of folding steel gates. In 1887 Clarke left Eagle Machine and joined the Quaker Medicine Company. From 1886 to 1888 Clarke served as the representative in Common Council from the Third Ward; from 1888 to 1890 he served in the same capacity representing the First Ward. In 1889 he resigned from the Rhode Island Pharmaceutical Association. He served as Alderman from the First Ward from January 1, to May 26, 1890.

In 1890, The Hunt’s Remedy Company is listed at 319 South Main Street, with Edward R. Dawley, an apothecary who had been Clarke’s employer in 1866. Dawley apparently had worked for Clarke at Hunt’s Remedy since 1882, until becoming Secretary of the company in 1884, and taking over as proprietor in 1886.

In 1890, Clarke is still listed as working at the Quaker Medicine Company, at 6 South Water Street.The Hunt’s Remedy company under Dawley remained in listed in subsequent directories through 1899. Dawley moved the firm to a different location in 1894. The firm continued to be listed in Providence without Dawley’s name through 1902, when it’s last advertisement appeared. In 1896 Dawley also became an officer in the Heather Blossom Whiskey division of the B.H.R. (Beverage Hill Road) Distilling Company of Pawtucket (the address for the Heather Blossom division was the same as for Hunt’s Remedy), quitting that in 1897. Dawley left the Hunt’s Remedy business in 1903, and became a city collector until his death in 1906.

One source states that in 1892 the Hunt’s Remedy Company was acquired by Charles N. Crittenden Company of New York, and sold by them in 1904. The exact relationship between Dawley and Crittenden is unclear.

The Pure Food and Drug Act, which reigned in unregulated patent and proprietary medicines sold to the public, took effect on June 6, 1906.

Clarke was elected Providence City Clerk on May 26, 1890 (succeeding Henry V. A. Joslin); he took office on June 2, 1890 (Providence City Manual, 1910, p.186, p.209), and he served in that capacity until his death on November 7, 1912. He also became Providence Record Commissioner on March 8, 1906 (Providence City Manual, 1910, p.209).

There was also another company which sold something called HUNT REMEDY (not “Hunt’s”) toward the end of the patent medicine era. Sold in a rectangular aqua bottle similar to the Hunt’s Remedy bottle but larger, it’s label identifies the maker as “Hunt Remedy Company, Ltd. / Trade Mark / Manufactured by Henry Thayer & Company / Cambridge, Boston, Mass.” That Hunt Remedy Company, Ltd. also sold Hunt’s Remedy (with the ‘s), ca. 1907, in a package giving its address as “originally from The Hunt Remedy Company, Ltd, Providence”.

Advertising corkscrew (known as a “cast cork ring”), embossed “Hunt’s Remedy” on the top, which came with each package. These were manufactured by the firm of C.T. Williamson (successor to Clough & Williamson), Trenton, NJ. An 1881 promotional piece by that company (in Sheaff collection) lists W.E. Clarke as a customer.

The two sizes of aqua glass Hunt’s Remedy bottles looked basically like this, though there are numerous variations resulting from various molds used for various lots of bottles ordered. (Drawing by Joseph K. Baldwin, from his book Patent and Proprietary Medicine Bottles of the Nineteenth Century, 1973 p. 260)

Small (4 1/4″ tall) “ONE DIME SAMPLE” bottle, the only Hunt’s bottle in amber. Very rare (two known to date)

The most common Hunt’s Remedy trade card “Copyrighted 1883”

Metal sign, extremely rare

The most graphic Hunt’s Remedy trade card

Extremely rare, large (5 1/2″) store card in a design very similar to the smaller trade card. Two known.

The issued 3¢ private die proprietary stamp, RS 56

Trial color proof of the 3¢ ( one of several in Sheaff collection )

Plate proof block of 8 of the 3¢ in the issued color, with American Bank Note imprint at bottom

Steel engraved bookplate of well-known Revenue stamps collector and researcher George F. Turner. Each stamp was newly engraved for the bookplate at a size smaller than the actual stamps; The Hunt’s Remedy medicine revenue stamp, printed in red ink, is enlarged at the right above.

The issued 6¢ private die proprietary stamp, RS 57

A mis-perforated example of RS 57

Trial color proof of the 6¢ ( one of several in Sheaff collection )

Another trade card with the beating-off-death-with-Hunt’s theme

Trade card, cured man leaping out of bed

Trade card, doctors amazed by the patient’s recovery after using Hunt’s Remedy

Trade card

Trade card

Trade card

Trade card

Back cover of 1883 “ABC” promotional booklet

Front cover of 1883 “ABC” promotional booklet

Front cover of 1887 promotional booklet

Back cover of 1887 promotional booklet

A stock trade card imprinted for Hunt’s

A stock trade card. Clarke & Durfee being researched.

Advertising cover, 1883

Envelope used to mail one of the Hunt’s promotional booklets

Envelope, bearing the Rhode Island state seal, which contained a 2-page broadside directed at women,promoting the use of Clarke’s medicines for female monthly needs.

A Hunt’s Remedy billboard sign on the Providence waterfront, 1860s The large brick building in the background belonged to an iron works, and is today a building owned by Brown University. The man posing outside the front railing of the boat could be the boat’s captain or owner . . . or could possibly be William Clarke, based on the fact that this stereo view came with and is a companion to the Clarke storefront stereo view shown above. ( from a stereo view in Sheaff collection )

1875 broadside, @ 10″ x 15″

1883 advertisement

1887 advertisement

1884 advertisement

1882 advertisement

1880 advertisement in a pharmaceutical journal

1883 advertisement

1884 advertisement

1883 advertisement

1896 advertisement

1884 advertisement

1866 ( ! ) advertisement

This advertisement is reproduced in the book One For A Man, Two For A Horse (Gerald Carson, 1961), original source unknown. Comparing with the photograph above, the wagon detail seem accurate.

Small card



A later product (“Hunt”, not “Hunt’s”), Henry Thayer and Company

Another imitator, Radams Microbe Killer, adopted the medicine-beating-off-death motif, even embossing it into the glass of its bottles. Contemporary analysis indicates that this nostrum contained sulphuric acid, muriatic acid, red wine and by volume mostly water. (19th Century Medicine, Bill & Betty Wilson)

(logo image from Quack Quack Quack by William Helfand, 2002)

Military marching band affair at Clarke’s 59 Williams Street house, 1886. Clarke is thought to be the gentleman in top hat at the front gate, or one of the men in uniform near the front.

59 Williams Street in 1959 (Providence Journal photograph)

59 Williams Street today

Front cover of the periodical Puck, 1882, a cartoon about American quack medicine hucksters. Some patent medicines may have been helpful to buyers; most were clearly enterprises intended to separate rubes from their money; many contained alcohol, opium, morphine . . . or all three.

Until The Pure Food & Drug Act of 1906, it was an unregulated industry.

My adaptation of the Hunt’s Remedy trade card for a U.S. postage stamp issued in 1998 as part of the Celebrate The Century series; one of the stamps commemorating events from 1900-1910, Scott #1080.

A First Day of Issue item showing the 1900-1910 sheetlet which includes the Hunt’s design.

The U.S. Postal Service also issued a series of collateral comic books for each decade of the century; this is the space where a collector could mount one of the Hunt’s-based stamps.

Woman’s Home Guard

For a variety of reasons, St. Louis, Missouri became a leading center for aviation in the early 20th century.Back in 1859, balloonist John Wise set a long-standing record by flying some 1,150 miles from St. Louis to Henderson, NY. Captain John Berry and others experimented in St. Louis with balloons and dirigibles. Albert Bond Lambert and Andrew Drew formed an early aero club and airfield. In 1912, Thomas Benoist founded a company to manufacture airplanes. In 1912 Bert Berry, the son of Captain John Berry, made the first successful parachute jump, releasing himself after hanging from a Benoist airplane (below).

Captain John Berry became known as “The Dean of American Aeronauts”. In 1917, he set out to establish a corps of woman warriors, offering training in “aviation, ballooning and automobiling” to be known as the Woman’s National Aviation Home Guard (see promotional blotter at top left). An article on the front page of the November 10, 1917 issue of The St. Louis Republic newspaper announces the formation of this “Death Legion of U. S. Women”, reporting that 1,000 St. Louis women had already signed up, and that 1,000,000 women were anticipated countrywide. Members of this home guard would “give their lives if necessary and will do the work of men in order that this country may win the world war. The game spirit among women that resulted in the female ‘death battalions’ in Russia, the organizers say, is responsible for the idea.”

Broadside for Woman’s National Aviation Home Guard of North America taught at Captain John Berry’s School of Automobiling and Aviation, 3910 Washington Boulevard.
(Missouri Historical Society)

The November 25, 1917 issue of the paper featured several halftone pictures of women in the Woman’s National Aviation Home Guard donning the uniforms of the corps. “A million women qualified to act as mechanical engineers, automobile drivers and airplane pilots will be available for service at home or abroad when the organizations is completed.” “. . . branches have been established in Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas.” The May 12, 1918 issue shows a number of St. Louis women—including some identified as members of the Woman’s National Aviation Home Guard—taking rifle target practice at a local shooting range. The broadside at top right (courtesy of the Missouri History Museum, St. Louis) features a photograph of “Miss Clara Laurell . . . One of many pupils enrolled”. Captain Berry is listed as Aviator in Charge.

After this flurry of media attention, the whole program seems to have disappeared from view.

Made in The USA

Many items of historical ephemera bring fresh things to think about, new subjects to explore. An impulse buy at one ESA annual auction lead me down some interesting roads. The lot was an 1809 billhead/receipt with an unusual and interesting eagle-and-stars device at the top, surrounded by the words “AMERICAN MANUFACTURE.” The document struck me as a bit odd in that it bore no company name or location.

The item turns out to be of some historical significance. It is a receipt for “One hundred & seventy pounds of Sea Island cotton yarn,” bought of Robert Whittle by “Tench Coxe, Esq. PPS.” Therein hangs the tale.

Tench Coxe of Philadelphia was a complex and fascinating figure. A prominent personality before, during and after the American Revolution, he was a friend of Jefferson and Madison and a correspondent of Franklin. Trained as a political economist and a lawyer, Coxe served as a commissioner to the 1786 federal convention at Annapolis, as well as a Pennsylvania delegate to the 1788-89 Continental Congress. During the formative revolutionary period Coxe was a tireless advocate about the right to bear arms, and about . . . American manufacture. Later dubbed “The Father of the American Cotton Industry,” Coxe helped to draft and edit Hamilton’s important plan to industrialize the United States—the 1791 Report on the Subject of Manufactures. Coxe provided most of the statistical data, and a good bit of the conceptual framework. Hamilton believed that the future of America would depend upon manufacturing rather than agriculture, and advocated for protective tariffs to protect and grow American industries.  The economic principles laid out by Hamilton and Coxe would later be incorporated by Henry Clay into the “American School” of economics. Abraham Lincoln—a self-described “Henry Clay tariff Whig”—assimilated what were essentially the Hamilton/Coxe principles into his platform for the Republican Party.

Tench Coxe encouraged the building of American factories and industries to supply the fledgling country’s needs, whenever possible, rather than purchasing goods from Europe. He was the first and most relentless advocate for the raising of cotton in the South. Coxe dispatched an agent to England to pirate away the then-secret technology of the Arkwright textile milling machinery and bring it to the United States, but his man was caught in the act and seized just before he set sail with a set of brass models. A year later Samuel Slater succeeded in importing that same technology to Pawtucket, RI, where in 1793 he established our first mill to convert cotton into cloth. The Slater Mill is considered to be the birthplace of the American industrial revolution.

It can be argued that Coxe played a pivotal role in moving the new nation toward an industrial North and an agricultural, cotton-growing South . . . with its burgeoning demand for slave labor to plant and harvest the crop.

Coxe published reports and books tracking the progress of all sorts of American industries and he reported the capacities and outputs of each in detail, state-by-state, town-by-town. A participant in the Pennsylvania Society for the Encouragement of Manufactures and the Useful Arts, he delivered numerous speeches on the subject. Benjamin Franklin and David Rittenhouse gave substantial publicity to Coxe’s efforts.

Tench Cox personally invested in various industries. He initiated the process of large-scale investment in North Carolina, land known as the “Speculation Lands,” acquiring for himself some 400,000 acres (at 9¢ per acre!). His descendants were prominent in the industrial and other development of the Asheville area.

Coxe had a tumultuous political history. He resigned from the Pennsylvania militia in 1776 to march as a Loyalist into Philadelphia with Howe’s command; arrested, he asked forgiveness and became a Whig and an ardent patriot. He then joined the Hamilton camp as a Federalist, and was appointed in 1789 as Hamilton’s Assistant Secretary of the Treasury. In 1792, President George Washington appointed Coxe Commissioner of the Revenue; Adams removed him from this position. Coxe then switched his loyalty to become a Republican, and Jefferson appointed him Purveyor of Public Supplies, a War Department post which he held from 1803 to 1812. Coxe also served for a time as a leader of the “Quids”, a faction of disaffected Jeffersonian Republicans.

This 1809 AMERICAN MANUFACTURE document served as an order from Coxe, in his position as Purveyor of Public Supplies (PPS), for Sea Island cotton for the military. It is also a signed receipt for payment to Robert Whittle, and a signed receipt (”Geo Ingalls”?) as the goods were put into  inventory at the U.S. Arsenal. The latter signed receipts are marked as duplicates, there apparently being a desire to have the entire transaction recorded on this one piece of paper.

A wonderful thing about printed ephemera as windows into the past is that one exploration often leads to another and another and another . . .

Tench Coxe

A printed notice by Coxe, in his position as Purveyor of Public Supplies.

Coxe had an enormous influence on the establishment of the cotton industry in the South, and thus also on the institution of slavery.

The “Experiment”

This small copperplate engraved ticket, found in a Providence antiques mall, is interesting on several levels. The engraver was William Hamlin (1772-1869), Rhode Island’s first engraver. According to an article in Rhode Island History, Hamlin “probably engraved less than one hundred plates.” (1) His “engravings” were actually etchings. A certificate he executed in 1798 for the Providence Marine Society “contains the earliest extant view of Providence.” (2) (also see Wikipedia)

He was also a goldsmith and an instrument maker. Three different Hamlin trade cards are known, one from sometime before 1832, another from sometime after 1847, and a third from between 1847-1867. (3) A checklist of Hamlin’s engravings appeared in the March 1925 issue of the magazine Antiques.

The “Experiment” was a boat powered by horses. According to the aforementioned article about Hamlin, it was “a boat built in 1807 by Varnum Wilkinson for the inventor, David Grieve. Grieve’s background was as a tailor on the island of Nantucket. The “Experiment” was driven by a propeller, with its power supplied by the horses walking on a treadmill. This revolutionary craft appears to have made but one voyage, a rather unsuccessful one, before being seized by Grieve’s creditors.” (4) However, another account states that “Experiment” continued as a passenger and excursion boat on Narragansett Bay in 1810, and was a very early example of a boat driven by propellor. (5)

David Grieve had been granted a patent on February 24, 1801 for “Boats to ascend rivers.” Unfortunately an 1836 fire destroyed all U S. patent office records from between 1794 to 1836. Grieve was apparently a well-known man about town in his day, who dressed rather flamboyantly and was something of a wit. “(Grieve) and another Providence man, John Nichols [ Jonathan Nichols, a blacksmith from Vermont. ed ], conceived the plan of propelling vessels by the use of screws, or by what is now called Ericsson’s propeller. A ‘propectus’ was proposed, and shares were sold, and in that way money raised to build a vessel about 100 feet long with a 20 foot beam, which drew only a few feet of water. She was designed by John E. Eddy, had three masts [ the ticket shows one mast. ed ], and was rigged by Richard Marvin, after the manner of a Dutch galliot. Her machinery was constructed by Ephraim Southworth. She was hastily and somewhat rudely built, and was ready to be tried about the middle of August, 1807. She was to be moved by horse power, and Marvin Morris . . . who . . . supplied the eight horses to put the machinery in motion. The vessel started from Jackson’s Wharf on Eddy’s Point, and went off finely on an ebb tide, bound for the village of Pawtuxet, and with the wind and tide in her favor made a speed of four knots an hour . . . On the return a gust of wind drove the boat upon the mud flats . . . where she lay all night. Such was the end of the “Experiment.” (6) It is thought that the boat did not have a keel, which may have made it more subject to the forces of wind.

The boat was subsequently purchased by a Boston mechanic at a sheriff’s sale. Under tow to Boston by a sloop, it went adrift and was wrecked in Buzzard’s Bay. (7)

Thus the ticket shown here was extremely ephemeral. Written on the back by David Grieves is “B J Ives” and “D Grieve”. Ives must have been one of the passengers aboard, said to have been a group of the Grand Lodge of Masons of Rhode Island, plus a wedding party.

Some of the horses can be seen.
1 Rhode Island History, Vol.20 No.2 April 1961
2 Ibid.
3 “William Hamlin: An Elusive Providence Instrument Maker”,
    Rittenhouse, Journal of the American Scientific Instruments Enterprise,        Vol.3 Issue 12, August 1989, pp 136-137
4 Ibid.
5 Antiques magazine, March 1925, p.134
6 The Sea Trade in Rhode Island an Providence Plantations, Robert Grieve,       Providence 1902, p. 511-512
7 “When Horses Walked on Water”, Kevin J. Chrisman and Arthur B. Cohn,       Smithsonian, 1998, p.25

Anthracite and Abracadabra

I collect items carved from hard anthracite coal.

Recently I found a particularly interesting example, one which has lead me to stories beyond the object itself.

As seen below, it was a presentation piece from Scranton, Pennsylvania (in the heart of coal mining and coal carving country) given to W.W. Durbin by Herman Bonnert during a magicians convention in 1936. Both Durbin and Bonnert were men of significance in the world of hocus pocus, piff-paff-poofers (sometimes referred to as the “black arts”).

But first I suppose we might first consider whether or not items made of coal belong under the umbrella of “ephemera”. Well, coal is the product of millions of years of time passing after the life-and-death cycle of ancient plant growth. Certainly, the plants were ephemeral. Coal itself is mined and broken into small chunks for intended ephemeral use . . . to be burned for its heat value. This particular piece of coal was diverted by a Scranton craftsman to fashion a presentation piece during a short-lived conference, given to one man now long-gone by another man now long-gone. Life itself is indeed ephemeral . . . “It’s a mighty short trip from the cradle to the crypt”, as the song goes.

This 1936 IBM conference in Batavia, NY had nothing to do with computers: those gathered there were invited members of the International Brotherhood of Magicians, founded in 1922. Its first President was W. W. Durbin. Durbin had practiced as a professional magician from 1897 to 1902 and was the owner of the American Egyptian Hall Theater and Museum, a magic museum in Ohio. It is still in operation, the oldest magic museum in the United States. Durbin went on to become a lawyer, politician, and Registrar of the U.S. Treasury. The first IBM convention in 1927 was held in his back yard in Kenton, Ohio. He edited the IBM magazine The Linking Ring from 1927-1937. Durbin was legendary in the world of magic. The IBM continues to this day, with some 11,000 members organized into 300 Rings (local groups) around the world.

Durbin was made honorary Mayor of Batavia during the run of the conference and was recognized several times at events there, both for his leadership of the conference and for his work as President of the I.B.M. No mention is made either in the May CONVENTION NUMBER of The Linking Ring or in the June issue—which detailed all the many conference performers—of the presentation of this coal award. Nor is Bonnert ever mentioned by name, though there were a number of festive activities during the programs which were nowhere fully described.

W.W. Durbin

Interior of Durbin’s Egyptian Hall

Herman Bonnert

Herman Bonnert of Scranton was also something of a legend in his own right . . . he is widely considered to be the first “balloon twister”, the originator of the art of fashioning animals and other things out of balloons. His coal award inscription to Durbin says that it is FROM HERMAN BONNERT, BALLOON MAGICIAN. Bonnert had apparently been the hit of a later 1939 IBM convention and clearly was present at the one in 1936. A report on the earlier 1934 conference (also held in Batavia) noted that “Magic and Magic galore in the past weeks. First the SAM, Ladies Night, then the Keystone State Federation of IBM Rings came with a two-day convention. Both were a huge success. Delegations from Baltimore, Lancaster, Scranton, Harrisburg, Allentown, New York and several other cities arrived altho the cold was extreme. Zero weather failed to keep the faithful away. The most novel performance was given by Herman Bonnert from Scranton, Pa. He makes all kinds of designs out of ordinary balloons.” (The Sphinx, Vol. 33, no.1, March 1934)

In The Linking Ring, Vol. 14, no. 12, February 1935, it was reported that “Black Diamond Ring No. 63 of Scranton, Pennsylvania met at the store of Herman Bonnert (well known in magic circle for his difficult balloon creations), his place of business known as The Keystone Novelty Shop.”

The building depicted on the front of the coal carving is, of course, a coal breaker, a large building near each mine where large chunks of coals were broken down into smaller chunks.

A coal breaker

One feature of this piece of adorned anthracite is leading me down another line of inquiry. Beneath both inscriptions, Bonnert (or whoever made the piece for him) placed an unusual scroll, which I suspect might be some sort of magicians-world symbol. Magicians do have their shared secrets.

The scroll (or symbol?)

It might perhaps be a stylized all-seeing eye, akin to these below . . .?

I am currently looking into relevant back issues of The Linking Ring and The Sphinx: An Independent Magazine for Magicians, seeking any additional information about Durbin and Bonnert at the 1936 convention in Batavia. Perhaps if I am lucky I may find a mention of the presentation of this carved coal item . . . if so, I will report back in this space!


November 8, 2020

Just acquired another coal carving from Scranton, dated 1946. I believe it was made by the same carver, based on comparing some details, especially the decorative “scrolls” in the upper corners (see discussion at the end of the above post).

A 1941 memorial carving by the same maker (the scrolls again, etc.). On March 10, 1941, when the Strand Theater in Brockton, MA burned down, 13 firefighters died and 20 others were injured when the roof collapsed into the fire. This memorial piece, inscribed with the names of the 13 casualties, was given to Brockton by the Scranton, PA Fire Department.
It is on display in the Brockton City Hall.

Following the Breadcrumbs . . .

I recently bought a card on eBay primarily because it showed a whale, and I collect 19th-century trade cards and letterheads which feature whale images. Once it arrived, I realized there must be an interesting story behind the image and the card.

The card promotes the Nautilus Dining Room on India Street, close by the Boston waterfront. “Call on Capt. Andrews” at the restaurant, says the card, and notes that the image shows “The Andrews Brothers crossing the Atlantic Ocean on the boat “Nautilus.” Length of keel, 15 feet: depth 2 feet, 3 inches. Boston to Paris, 1878.” The image depicts the Nautilus mid-ocean,  under sail near a huge whale. It turns out that this record-setting ocean crossing was an internationally celebrated event at the time. Whether this card was issued to attract folks to the restaurant in order to meet and greet the celebrated Captain William Andrews in person, or whether this dining room was operated by Andrews himself to capitalize on his fame, I have as yet been unable to establish. So far no account of his later activities mentions a restaurant.

In any event, therein hangs a tale. It begins the year before this Andrews brothers crossing of the Atlantic. A salty whaling hand named Thomas Crapo (age 35) of New Bedford, Massachusetts, on land after nearly two decades of whaling, was looking for something to do, ideally, something which would reverse his recent fortunes, after having unsuccessfully tried his hand as a fish mongerer. He found himself working as a laborer, but wanting much more out of life. He was well-aware of the 1876 crossing of the Atlantic in a small boat by a man named Alfred Johnson. A deeply experienced mariner, Crapo ordered built a 20-foot long, 13-foot wide two-masted boat made of cedar, purposely a bit smaller than Johnson’s, which he named the New Bedford. With tapered ends fore and aft, it looked much like a dory, but was built more like a whaling boat. With his wife Johanna (age 23, who insisted on going with him) he set sail to cross the Atlantic in the smallest boat known to have attempted it. Crapo had previously crossed the Atlantic some 21 times. He apparently would have much preferred to sail alone for fear that critics might say that he did it with help rather than alone, and so he forbid his wife from helping for much of the trip. In front of 3,000 well-wishers, the couple departed New Bedford on May 28, 1877. The boat promptly leaked and developed other problems, and he was forced to come ashore for repairs and improvements before setting out once again. They completed the crossing in 51 days. During their passage, Johanna (who had been to sea with him previously) did help out a bit a bit here and there. As their bed was to short for either of them, neither ever got much sleep. 

Captain & Mrs. Crapo

The Crapos enroute. A painting by Charles Raleigh, based on a sketch “done by the mate of the Cunard steamer Batavia, which passed the New Bedford. (Mystic Seaport Museum)

The New Bedford in Cornwall (The Graphic, London, August 4, 1877)

The Crapos were celebrated and feted across Europe for months and returned to receptions in Gilmore’s (later Madison Square) Garden and other places. They published an account of their passage, Captain & Mrs. Crapo’s Feat of Crossing the Atlantic in the tiny boat the “New Bedford” from New Bedford, Massachusetts to Penzance. They toured with a circus. Crapo had succeeded in acquiring the fame, excitement and increased income he had sought. He bought a coastal trade schooner, later trading up to a brig which used the New Bedford as its skiff. In 1898 that ship was lost, taking the New Bedford with it. Almost 60, Crapo again found himself down and out. He died in 1899 attempting to sail to Cuba from New Bedford in a 9-foot dinghy. Left penniless, his wife re-issued the story of their trip, with an introduction entitled Strange, But True, mentioning that sales of the booklet were her sole means of support.

Enter the brothers Andrews, William (age 35, married with 3 children, pianoforte-maker for Chickering, wounded Civil War veteran) and Walter (age 23, single). In the Fall of 1877, at the height of the Crapo’s fame, they were idling one afternoon on the cliffs overlooking Beverly harbor, which was filled with ships and dories. On the spur of the moment, they decided themselves to cross the Atlantic “in one of these dories” (from their subsequent book, A Daring Voyage Across the Atlantic Ocean, E.P. Dutton, NY 1880), shook hands on it, and had built their own custom lapstreaked cedar dory, one that was shorter than Crapo’s. Their 19-foot craft, the Nautilus, made by Higgins and Gifford of Gloucester, actually measured only fifteen feet along its keel. It was much narrower (only 6’ 7” wide), less deep ( 2’ 3”) and much lighter than Crapo’s. Nautilus, carrying one triangular sail, was fully decked with two hatches, one at the rear for the helmsman and one forward for entry into the tiny, cramped space below. The wood on the deck and sides of the boat was thin, a mere 1/2 inch thick. A French report later dubbed the craft “a cockle-shell”. 

This periodical wood engraving of the Nautilus is clearly the source for my trade card image, in which a huge whale and some porpoises near the boat were added. (The Graphic, London, Vol. XVIII, August 24, 1878)

At the outset, William knew neither how to sail nor navigate, having been to sea only once, as a passenger. Younger brother Walter had spent a lot of time on boats. William (William Albert) and Walter (Asa Walter) left Boston harbor on June 7, 1878, from Coyne’s Wharf on City Point, on their 3,000-mile journey. Like the New Bedford before it, the Nautilus was forced immediately to return ashore for repairs before setting out again. They made it to Cornwall, England on July 31, and following another stop sailed into the harbor at Le Havre, Paris. Their crossing took but 45 days, thus achieving their goal of bettering the Crapo crossing. In his 1880 book, William reports that “the smallest vessel ever in Havre from America before the Nautilus was a schooner of 213 tons. The weight of the Nautilus is 600 lbs.”

The Nautilus on European shores. (The Illustrated Sporting & Dramatic News, London, October 26, 1878)

Later analysis revealed that their amateur navigation had taken them along an amazingly straight course, overall.

Their crossing was miserable, though their daily log nearly always sounded optimistic. They and all their belongings—including beds —were soaked with water throughout the entire trip. At times they did not sleep for a week. They suffered fourteen gales. More than once they were put in serious danger by pods of whales which at times they could reach out and touch. Some of the whales used the Nautilus to scratch their backs. Any of those whales could have sunk them in a split-second either on purpose, playfully or accidentally. When threatened by whale activity, William said he went below and closed his eyes, putting them out of his mind. His ostrich-head-in-the-sand approach worked out in the end.

A carte de visite celebrating the Andrews brothers’ accomplishment.

Their arrival in Paris occasioned a two-day celebration through streets festooned with bunting, and brightly lit public spaces at night. The brothers slept in feather beds. The Nautilus was put on display at the 1878 Paris Exposition until it ended on November 10th, then put on display in London and other English cities. The dory was put on a Cunard liner along with Captain Andrews (the ill Walter having returned to the USA earlier). William worked on the liner to pay for his return passage.

During their crossing, Walter had hemorrhaged blood a number of times. Shortly after his return to the United States, he died. Captain William in 1892 sailed an even smaller 14’ 6” cedar and canvas boat from Atlantic City to Palos, Spain. He then wrote a second book, about that second voyage.

Fantastic Monumental World Fair Globes

Within the period between 1891 and 1903, plans were made to construct two different monstrously huge iron buildings in the shape of the globe, for two different World Fairs.

Neither came to pass.

The World’s Columbian Exposition (WCE) — also called The Chicago World’s Fair — was held to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s arrival in the “New World”. Covering some 600 acres in Chicago, the fair opened on May 1, 1893, and ran through October 30th of that year. More than 27 million people attended.

In 1891, it was announced that an utterly fantastic structure would be built for the fair, to be called the Columbus Monument. The British Printer magazine described it thus:

“The Americans, with their natural love of ‘big things’ have decided to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the discovery of their continent by Columbus by the erection of a monument, for which size, expense, and novelty shall ‘lick all creation.’

Grand as was the Eiffel Tower, it cannot for a moment be compared with the massive yet graceful structure to be erected at the World’s Fair at Chicago. The circumference of the globe . . . will be two-thirds of a mile, its diameter being equal to the height of the Eiffel Tower. The globe will rest on a graceful pedestal nearly 300-ft. high, and will be capped by a fully-rigged ship, the total height being about 1,400 feet. A gallery will run around the globe at the Equator, and an inclined railway, nearly four miles long, will wind its way along the outside, from the Equator to the North Pole.

The cost of this stupendous monument, which is designed by a fellow countryman of Columbus, Albert de Palladio, is estimated to reach about £1,000,000, and about £160,000 will be required in addition for lifts and other machinery.

An observatory will be placed at the summit; a base statue of Columbus will stand in the center of the base and under the globe, and restaurants will be dotted here and there at more or less exalted positions.” (The British Printer, Vol. 4, o. 21, May, June 1891, p.100)

The ship at the top was meant to represent Columbus’s ship.

I have so far been unable to track down additional information about this planned monument which never was built, or about its proponents. The only globe I’ve come across which was actually on display at the WCE was this small globe circled by agricultural implements, captured in a stereo view by B. W. Kilburn.

The Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904, also known as The St. Louis World’s Fair, ran from April 30, 1904, through December 1. It was the largest such fair ever held to date, with more than 1,500 buildings.

St. Louis businessman C. F. Blanke of the Blanke Coffee Company proposed to build a different huge globe structure, even issuing a postcard in color known used in 1902:

In addition, there was at least one trade card issued which depicted the Blanke Aerial Globe:

“Beside (the Aerial Globe), the promoters say, the Eiffel Tower and the Ferris Wheel are crude engineering feats. The Aerial Globe will be an immense steel structure, 700 feet high from the stone base to the roof of the observation tower on the top. At a height of 110 feet will be a roof garden about 1,000 feet in circumference. On that floor will be two restaurants, one German and the other American, and two theatres. At a height of 295 feet, a coliseum will be located, with iron-bridges walks around the globe, giving a complete view of the grounds. Below will be two regular circus rings and a race track surrounding them, and underneath the tiers of seats will be a menagerie viewed from the circular walk. At an elevation of 420 feet will be a great music hall and at 450 feet a palm garden.”

“Mr. Blanke and Samuel M. Friede have organized a company with $1,500,000 capital, named the Friede-Blanke Aerial Globe Company, and have begun active work to have this feature constructed.” (New York Times, August 29, 1901) Samuel Friede was an architect and inventor. The structural engineer for the project was to have been Albert Borden.

For comparison, the Eiffel Tower cost $1,300,000 to construct in 1889, and the Ferris Wheel constructed for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition cost $500,000.

In the September 1901 World’s Fair Bulletin, which reported on all the current details of the planning for the 1904 exposition, the discussion about the proposed globe announced that a display about the huge project would be shown beginning on September 9, 1901. A blueprint “showing the actual steel construction” was said to be the largest blueprint in the world, at 5 feet x 10 feet. “Small photographs of the Friede Aerial Globe will be given away to the public.”

I am aware of a bottle in the shape of the proposed Friede-Blanke Aerial Globe, put out by the Blanke Coffee Company.

Following the St. Louis fair, Samuel M. Friede announced a plan to build a similarly fantastic 700 feet tall tower on Coney Island in New York. He issued stock in the Friede Globe Tower Company (in the State of Arizona, for some legal reason), promising investors a ground-floor opportunity to get in on an investment that would pay 100% interest per year! He issued promotional postcards.

The Globe Tower would have been the largest building in the world. The proposed structure had a long list of amazing planned features, including the largest ballroom in the world and a hotel around the Equator with soundproofed rooms. Underground, the complex would house a subway station, a railroad station, parking garages, and a railroad branch line connected to a boat pier. After a cornerstone laying ceremony on May 26, 1906, Friede leased a piece of property on Coney Island and poured some footings. When investors grumbled about a lack of progress, he held another ceremony on February 17, 1907.

By 1908, it had become clear that the entire enterprise was an elaborate scam. Company treasurer Henry Clay Wade was convicted for embezzling proceeds from the stock sales. He testified during a subsequent investigation that other amounts of money had been split up between Friede, architect Burdette, head bookkeeper Price, and Coney Island’s Chief Inspector of Elevators, a man named Langan.

Arabesques and Circle Eights

Roller skating is a subject which offers 200+ years of ephemera to collect and/or study. The first appearance of skates with wheels is said to have occurred on stage in London in 1743. Over the next 50 years or so, many different sorts of skates were devised, with the activity’s popularity really beginning to catch on in the mid-1800s. The first public rink was opened in London in 1857. The card below put out by a skate maker, announces on its back a performance program by skating professionals Girard & Vokes at the Quincy Coliseum on October 20, 1885 . . . along with Mlle. Zetta (“The Bewitching Parisian Artiste”), Prof. Chivers (“Champion Trick, Fast and Fancy Skater”), Prof. Hinds (“America’s Bicycle Wizard”), and General Skating by Patrons of the Rink.

Skate design of all sorts has continued apace right up to the present day.

(above) U.S. circa 1905 (below) Sweden circa 1910

The Chestnut Street Skating Rink at 23rd and Chestnut Streets in Philadelphia (below) was one of the many popular rinks in the city (Image: Library Company of Philadelphia)

The back of the trade card below for the Brockton (Mass) Roller Skating Rink extolls at great length the advantages of indoor roller skating over outdoor ice skating.

These tickets (below) raise the question: just when did it become universal that pink=female and blue=male?

Roller skating was a very popular activity throughout the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, and remains so today in quite a few places.