From Steeples to Cesspools:
Some Unusual Advertising Postcards
In order for a business to survive, it must advertise and advertising is expensive. For ads to be cost-effective, you want to be sure that potential customers see your ads, but at the same time, you cannot justify spending large amounts of money if your business is small. Direct mail advertising is a particularly attractive way to reach potential customers and what better form of direct mail than the postcard—after all, even the mail carrier will read your message!
Among the thousands of different advertising postcards, what has always attracted my attention are cards produced by individuals to advertise unusual services – the smaller the business, the more unusual the service, the more imaginative the design, the better.
Here are ten such postcards, let’s begin with a Cesspool ad.
“For Ses Pool and Silo Work.
See Wm. Vanpatten.”
“For Ses Pool and Silo Work. See Wm. Vanpatten.” Although the lettering might be amateurish, the concept is brilliant. The photographer, standing at the bottom of a silo or cesspool, shot straight up. Spaced around the top are eight heads peering down. Although the card was not postally used, the back of this real photocard carries a penciled date of September 10,1914. Wm. Vanpatten
An early example is this pioneer advertisement for Herbert C. Chivers, a St. Louis, Missouri, architect. Printed in purple on a government postal (UPSS 17) and postally used on May 20, 1898, this unusual ad features a floor plan sketch for a two-story cottage. This four-bedroom “cottage” features a billiard room on the second floor and lacks, naturally enough in 1898, an indoor bathroom. The advertising copy reads:
My 50¢ book of 32 new cottages will be sent out June 1st, 1898. All designs show floor plans, perspective views, costs, etc. Parties ordering this book before this date can secure it for 25¢. Cottage designs range from $400 to $1000. My 25¢ book of $1,200 to $1,500 houses is just out and will be sent with cottage book for 40¢ if ordered now.
W. H. Crippen’s advertisement for his “First-Class Janitor Service” located in Trenton, New Jersey, probably dates from about 1903. This black and white view with some lettering in red, pictures Crippen’s handcart. His services include window washing and office cleaning, with heaters carefully attended to and carpets and rugs a specialty.
“What’s unusual about an advertisement for an electrician?” Maybe nothing today, but what about an advertisement dated 1907? This black and white commercially printed card shows the handiwork of Gale, the Electrician: the electrical decoration “designed and executed” by Gale on the City Green in New Haven, Connecticut.
The most striking in design and execution is this advertisement for the services of C. E. Durland of Billings, Montana. Durland, a civil engineer, offered “electric process blue printing,” and his card, a cyanotype (a blueprint), is a testimony to his printing expertise.
This vertical advertisement carried Easter greetings to a customer from Howard G. Cook, Tree Surgeon and Orchardist in Leicester, Massachusetts. The apple is printed in an appropriately bright shade of red.
Many vaudeville performers used the postcard as an advertising tool. Just think how convenient it would have been for sending to theater managers across the country. My favorite is this real photocard used by Bessye Clifford who was touring on the Orpheum Circuit during the 1918-1919 season. What’s particularly spectacular about this card is its design done by Kyle of Winnipeg, Canada, and its description of Ms. Clifford’s act: “In a series of artistic poses representing famous paintings, statuary, & latest dress creations.” It’s hard to imagine sitting in a theater watching a performer strike still-life poses!
This very unusual real photocard advertises the firm of Lacey & Lacey, Barrister Building, Washington, D.C. The firm specialized in U.S. and foreign patent work and the advertisement features a drawing of a patent apparently secured for its inventor through the services of Lacey & Lacey.
Advertisements for funeral directors are hard to find, but Ross Piddock of Adams, New York, used this real photocard to advertise his establishment in 1931. The card features four views: one of Ross himself, an interior and exterior view of his business, and a picture of his hearse.
I’ve always wondered how long George Ferguson* lasted: “Steeple Climbing Without Scaffolding,” as if somehow that made it even more distinctive. This black and white commercially printed card contains this special notice: “Repairing, Strengthening Rebuilding Church Steeples. Will Remove Old Steeples, Chimneys, Erect Flag Staffs, Iron Stacks, Etc. Ropes and Wire Cables Spliced. All Personal Risk and Responsibility Assumed. All Work Guaranteed.”
* An ANSWER to the question. For the era in which George Ferguson lived, he was around for a good-long time. His parents, Peter and Caroline immigrated to America from Ireland but at different times. Peter first appeared in the Census of 1860; he served as a Private in the Civil War with the 36th New York Infantry. (The New York Civil War Draft Register lists Peter as a native of New York). Peter and Caroline appear in the 1870s census as married with two sons: William and Jeremiah.
George was born in 1870, his sister Nettie was born in 1873, his younger brother Daniel was born in 1874, and the youngest brother Levi came along in 1876.
George married Mary E. Partington in 1895. George and Mary had two daughters, Norma and Vivian.
George listed his occupation in several ways throughout the decades, but most frequently as a laborer and stone crusher at the New York Trap Rock Company.
He died on the tenth of February 1932 at age 62. There is no evidence that his passing was anything other than peaceful.
Sources: Federal Census records and the February 12, 1932, issue of The Kingston (NY) Daily Freeman.