Monday, November 4, 2013

Turkeys, Cigars, Burgoon, and China

            I’m not sure what attracted me to this envelope when I first saw it.  I’ve always liked turkeys, the quintessentially Native American poultry, images of which have graced many a Thanksgiving card and second grade report on the Pilgrims.  But the image of a turkey in a truly comical setting, walking down an avenue of cigars and carrying a flag is so contrary to the sober, devout images seen in November that I smiled at an advertisement 100+ years old.

            There are three elements to my cigar-selling turkey:  the sender, the receiver, and the product advertised.  Let’s look at each item.

The Sender

            Church and McConnell was a wholesale grocery in Toledo.  Two men, William Church and John McConnell had established the company around 1900.  Church had been a traveling salesman for the older and larger Berdan & Company wholesalers in 1896, and he and McConnell may have gone into business for themselves based on that experience.

The Receiver

            A wholesale grocer supplies merchandise to smaller, retail grocers.  In the days before automobiles and long-haul truckers, every crossroads village and urban neighborhood had one or more retail grocers.  In Burgoon, Ohio, that was Henry F. Bischoff.

            Bischoff was born in 1848 in New York City, but moved to Sandusky County, Ohio, as a child.  He grew up in Fremont, and served in the 72nd Ohio in the Civil War.  During the war, he was captured by Confederate forces in Mississippi and was a prisoner at the notorious Andersonville Prison in Georgia for almost a year.  After the war he moved to Burgoon in southern Sandusky County, where he opened a general store.

            Henry Bischoff was a grocer in Burgoon for the rest of his life.  He was a “solid citizen,” a member of the Odd Fellows, the GAR, and the school board.  He served as postmaster of Burgoon from 1885 to 1913. And, apparently, stocked a line of cigars in his store named after a fellow Union veteran named Charles Denby.

The Merchandise

            Charles Denby (1830-1906) was a native of Evansville, Indiana.  During the war he served in the 42nd Indiana, was promoted to Colonel, and injured at the battle of Perryville, Kentucky.  After the war he practiced law and in 1885 was appointed United States Ambassador to China.  He served in China through three presidential administrations, retiring in 1897.  Denby also served in the Philippines and did diplomatic work in Japan.  The Emperors of China and of Japan gave him medals.  In retirement he was an active public speaker and member of the GAR.

            In 1898, the president of the Fendrich Cigar Company approached Denby about naming a line of cigars after him.  Denby and John Fendrich were friends, but the ambassador did not believe “Denby Cigars” would sell well or last very long.  He was wrong; Charles Denby Invincibles” can still be purchased in well-stocked cigar stores.

          Three parts – do they add up to a whole?  Why a line of cigars, illustrated by a strutting turkey, was named for a former ambassador to China and sold by a Toledo wholesaler to a tiny village storekeeper in a town with the unlikely name of Burgoon?  That I can’t answer. But it is an odd, and oddly funny, situation, odd as the turkey which is still walking his cigar-lined street after one hundred years.
[Sources include James R. Miller, “Philatelic Genealogy: Ohio at Work,” Ohio Genealogical Society Quarterly, Vol. 52, Summer 2012: 93-97, and]