Archive for the ‘ephemera’ category

[Blind Box] #8 Tempting Banana Recipes

October 12, 2007

Could this innocent recipe pamphlet actually be a piece of anti-Communist propaganda?…

…well, not entirely, but it was created within an American culture rife with anti-Communist sentiments. And bananas–those tasty Central American delights–were not without political import. Let’s peel back the layers…

According to the United Fruit Company Historical Society (that this exists hints the scope this company once had),

Between 1955 and 1962 United Fruit published around 15 million pieces of literature for [American] students in elementary grades through high school to promote the learning of bananas and the health benefits of their consumption…

While it is difficult to be certain that the pamphlet in question was created for schools, we will assume this to be so for the sake of the argument. Even if it wasn’t, the overarching principles still apply.

So what happens when a major corporation is allowed to “promote the learning” of their keystone product in schools? Naturally, their primary objective, however veiled, will be to condition young consumers. We need to go no further than the first two words of the “About Bananas” section to appreciate this point: Buy bananas. The shrewd minds behind this flyer also offer additional free banana recipes by post to any interested parties, knowing full well that implicit in the offer is the guarantee that its recipient will be buying more [Chiquita] bananas. Of course, there are some informative bits interspersed between these bookends.

So where, then, does Communism enter? We travel now to the Guatemala, arguably United Fruit’s most important banana republic, where just three years prior, then President Jacobo Arbenz instituted the Agrarian Reform Act (1953) that redistributed vast quantities of fruit plots to landless peasants. Back in the US, this came to be understood as Guatemala spreading its “Marxist tentacles” throughout Central America.

A year later, Guatemalan dissidents staged a coup, backed by the United State, overthrowing Arbenz. The story grows more complex from here, but in essence, United Fruit–ruthless Captialists at home, with alleged Communist bedfellows abroad–lost the favor of the American government, and shortly after began their decline. All this, over a piece of fruit.

One question remains: are these recipes really tempting? Banana scallops, banana and shrimp curry, banana flank steak?!

Stay tuned to find out.


[Blind Box] #7 Washington D.C. Stereo Card

October 4, 2007

Please excuse the brief hiccup…the bubble hasn’t burst.

  • Creator: Keystone View Company, Colorado
  • Object Type: stereo card
  • Creation Date: 1909
  • Origin: Washington, DC
  • Dimensions: 4 x 8 inches
  • Note: Series no. error; “#234” appears on front, “#224” on back

Stereoscopy is positively miraculous, if only for its singular ability to make people and places from the 19th Century feel actual. There are several easy DIY stereo viewer plans online (link). Sadly, an apparatus for effective computer viewing is harder to come by without un-stowing some folding money.

One alternative is the alleged “cross viewing method“, which, in at least one opinion, is both futile and painful. To simply get the gist however, the “wiggle method” suffices, produced here in an animated .gif (the boughs of the leftmost tree work seem to work the best…won’t work in all browsers):


Either Teddy Roosevelt or William Howard Taft held the Presidency when this image was captured. Finding out who filled the Senate proved difficult, while stats abound for the impressively atrocious 1909 Washington Senators baseball team. (Sidenote: the next year, Taft was the first President ever to throw out a first pitch.)

The back (click to enlarge):

“We have no need for apologies for our national capitol”…which is more than can be said for North Dakota (image).

[Blind Box] #6: Pikes Peak Oversize Postcard Ad

September 7, 2007

Sigh…not another postcard.

Wait! That’s not a postcard! That’s an oversize advertisement made to resemble a postcard to heighten its recipient’s association between gas heating and the American ideals of the adventure and abundance. Well, why didn’t you say so?

  • Creator: Curteichcolor, published for the Conlon-Moore Corp.
  • Object Type: Oversize Postcard Advertisement
  • Creation Date: 1956 (series no. D-11410)
  • Origin: Joliet, Illinois
  • Dimensions: 6 1/2 x 9 inches
  • Function: Advertisement for Missouri Hydro Gas Co. Inc.

Pikes Peak Front

The frontal view of Pikes Peak is deliberately unexciting, intimating the sublime without actually delivering (though, the pinholes at the top would suggest that someone was moved enough to post it for display). The electric lines that punctuate the foreground betray a hurried photographer or, perhaps more likely, suggest the impossibility already by the 1950s of effectively photographing the peak without a visible human footprint.

Pikes Peak Back

The text on the back, simulating a conventional postcard’s didactic caption and handwritten inscription, serves as an advertisement for gas heaters from the Joliet-based Conlon-Moore Corporation. Deceptively, the caption begins with background on Pikes Peak, and Zebulon Montgomery Pike Jr. for whom it is named, but quickly shifts focus to the Radiant Hearth Gas Heaters that grace the Summit House atop the mountain. The cold, rugged conditions at 14,000 ft. are too much for likes of the average heater, or at least that is the suggestion.

Upon encountering the towering mountain, Lt. Peak pronounced it unscaleable. Now, thousands of visitors, mostly in automobiles, prove him wrong each year, celebrating their accomplishment within the balmy Summit House. As a final reward for the contemporary frontiersman, weary from his journey, the Summit House now offers Free Donuts to accompany the view. Eat that, Zebulon.

[Blind Box] #5: Photograph with Dachshund

August 21, 2007

Item #05. Photograph of Man and Dachshund

  • Creator: Unknown
  • Object Type: Black and White Photograph
  • Creation Date: Unknown
  • Origin: Unknown
  • Dimensions: 2 1/2 x 3 3/4 inches (120 full-frame film format)

Ah, the black and white snapshot…the copper penny of paper ephemera. Of course, as any avid penny collector will tell you, a coin’s true worth–like an old photo–lies in the story it has to tell. In this case, the story takes place near the margins.

The first striking detail about this gem is an indented border that resembles a printmaker’s plate mark. Here is the first tip-off that it is likely a contact print. A measurement confirms this hunch, as the image dimensions match that of standard 120 full-frame film (roughly 6 x 9 cm). Unfortunately, knowing this does little to help date the print, since 120 roll film is one of the few formats actually still in production.

Even more interesting perhaps is the photo’s ragged, faux deckled border. It calls to mind the fancy scissors of youth, brought out once a year to cut lacy red and pink hearts for homemade Valentines. Sure enough! deckled edging scissors do exist, along with an extensive list of more predictable undulations. Scrapbookers rejoice.

Finally, please visit the Dachshund Club of America’s mesmerizing, slightly unsettling animated tutorial of proper Dachshund walking motions.

[Blind Box] #4: “Fish Ladder” Postcard

August 19, 2007

Item #04. “Fish Ladder” Postcard (Unused)

  • Creator: Mike Roberts Color Productions, Inc.
  • Object Type: Postcard
  • Creation Date: ca. 1950s
  • Origin: Bradford Island, OR (published in Berkeley, CA)
  • Dimensions: 3.5 x 5.5 inches (“standard” postcard size)

Let us return to the topic of postcards, delving deeper into the vast stream that is Deltiology. Fish provide a thematic link between the first postcard and this one, here in the form of a “fish ladder” in on a section of Oregon’s Bonneville Dam.

Fish Ladder FrontFish Ladder Back

As the postcard’s caption tells us, “Fish ‘climb’ this ladder to reach their spawning grounds upstream.” This specific ladder helps (though, they probably needed little before) tens of thousands salmon and steelhead (also called rainbow trout) ascend the dam, but sequesters the less agile white sturgeon below. While this may seem mundane even for a postcard, apparently this annual event draws crowds still today, of humans and–that’s right–sea lions.

The ladder depicted here, a “pool and weir” variety, is one of the oldest styles, consisting of a series of stepped locks that the fish must leap over.

As opposed the generic fly fishing theme, this card depicts a specific scene, and yet, its publisher’s home still lay over 600 miles South. This business model appealed more directly to the tourist-consumer, who would have enjoyed marking time with a specific experience rather than, say, fly fishing in general. It seems to have been successful. Mike Roberts Color Products, Inc., founded in 1939 as “Wesco,” produced more postcards than any company in the world during this period.

[Blind Box] #3: Fly Fishing Postcard

August 15, 2007

Item #03. Fly Fishing Postcard (Unused)

  • Creator: Rembrandt-Noble Publishers
  • Object Type: Postcard
  • Creation Date: ca. 1960s
  • Origin: Colorado Springs, CO
  • Dimensions: 6 x 4 inches (standard “Continental” postcard size)

Fear not! Item #02 was not omitted. Rather, it’s been momentarily leapfrogged since it was discovered to be a component piece(s) for Item #11. Whether this separation is intentional remains to be seen.

As for the item in question…

Fly Fishing FrontFly Fishing Back

Noble, the postcard’s Colorado Springs-based publisher, created a number of out-of-doors themed compositions, each with a unique series number on the front caption plate (A187, in this case). The green caption field was originally blank, and filled with a custom “Greetings from [Name of Town or Resort]” during a second printing. This allowed Noble to market the image to distributors in other fly-fishing hot spots (As it happens, Thousand Springs is actually in Hagerman, Idaho, over 800 miles NW of Colorado Springs). For this reason, it would have been in Noble’s best commercial interest to produce an image with little topographic specificity, hence our fly fisher’s incredibly generic backdrop. This happens to be a topic I’ve touched on before, in a companion essay to an online gallery of tall-tale postcards.

That this postcard was printed sometime during the 1960s is predicated on two features: printing method and size. The Photochrome (or simply “chrome”) halftone color printing method for postcards began around 1939. American postcards that predate the 60s, however, were generally smaller than the 4 x 6 inch “Continental” standard we maintain today. To discover other clever ways to date postcards, take a gander at this site.

Based on the estimated circa date, mailing this postcard would have cost $.03, .04, or .05, depending on the actual year of purchase.

Finally, the Wikipedia entry for fly fishing is both exhaustive and fascinating. “…a growing population of anglers aim is to catch as many different species as possible with the fly…” …Fascinating.

[Blind Box] #1. Cigar Box

August 12, 2007

Item #01. Cigar Box

  • Creator: Puros Nirvana
  • Function: Case for 25 “Churchill” type cigars
  • Creation Date: Unknown
  • Origin: Nicaragua
  • Dimensions: 4 1/4 x 8 1/4 x 4 1/2 inches

First up, the cigar box. It proved more of a challenge than first expected, shrouding much of its history in…well…a cloud of smoke.

Cigar Box OpenStamp DetailBottom

Its most prominant identifying feature is the inscription “Churchill 7 1/2″ x .50” branded onto three of the four of its outer walls. As you may have guessed, these cigars get their namesake from everybody’s favorite stogie-totin’ British statesman, Winston Churchill. The title “Churchill” refers to a specific size and shape of cigar, rather than a brand, first given that name by the Cuban company, Romeo y Julieta, who renamed their “Julieta” line out of appreciation for their biggest customer. Reportedly, Curchill bought 4000 of them annually.

The measurements refer to the size of the cigar, the length and the diameter (or “ring guage”) respectively. The original Churchill actually measures 7″ x 47, making these a bit larger. Apparently, it takes about two hours to smoke an entire Churchill, meaning a good two days of nonstop smoking could have taken place to rid this box of its original contents. If, perchance, you have time and the inclination to smoke a whole one, you may pass the time with this lengthy account of a supposed Nazi plot to assassinate Churchill by poisoning his cigars.

The bottom of the box bears a stamp that reads “Totally hand made in Nicaragua by Puros Nirvana.” This means that not only were certain parts of the cigars assembled by hand, but the whole cigar was handcrafted (“Totalmente a mano”), a mark of superiority in the tobacco world. I couldn’t track down many references to Puros Nirvana, but two linked them to the Dominican Republic, so they may have migrated at some point.

Unfortunately, the red stamp turned out to be more of a red herring; I found another impression of it on a note enclosed with the box, suggesting it was added by the artist. As far as rubber stamps go though, it is an interesting image, with two crossed rifles in front of a branch, and something I can’t quite make out at the base (a gunpowder horn? a carrot?).