Sunday, January 11, 2015

Taking Coffee with Mrs. Cleveland

Taking Coffee with Mrs. Cleveland                                                   by Alan Borer

Presidential trivia buffs will probably not hesitate over the question of who was the first, and so far only, president married in the White House.  The answer is the lady shown on the trade card above, On June 2, 1886, Frances Folsom, age 21, married the rotund, bachelor president Grover Cleveland, who was 49 at the time.  Despite the differences in their age, the Clevelands had a happy marriage.  Frances Cleveland enjoyed her role as First Lady during the second half of her husband’s first term and the entirety of his (nonconsecutive) second term.  Mrs. Cleveland had six children.

The marriage of the president causer a media frenzy in the days when such a thing was just becoming possible.  Color printing, telegraph used to spread news (and gossip), and newspaper photography made of the attractive young first lady an international media celebrity.  Pipes, candy, sheet music,, and pamphlets were printed bearing her image.  Her hairstyle was imitated and young girls copied her daring, uncovered shoulders.

What was a “trade card?” 

Long before commercials and pop-up Internet annoyances, advertisers spread the word on their products via small cardboard  pictures packed with their product.  Now as then, a pretty face sells:
“More commercial but not entirely exploitive were the “trade cards” of the era; these were small cards that all ranges of business and stores used to advertise their goods, and which usually carried some pleasant scenic image and the name and address of the store below it. In this form, Frances Cleveland’s face appeared on calendars, ashtrays, and greeting cards for small businesses. These items were given away for free to customers as a form of advertising.”

The card illustrated here was distributed by Toledo’s Woolson Spice Company to advertise one of their principal brands, Lion Coffee.   The Woolson Spice Company was created by one Alvin Woolson (1841-1925).  Woolson, a Civil War veteran who served as an artillery sergeant, arrived in Toledo in 1875.  A hard worker, he set out to stake his claim in the wholesale grocery business.  He founded the spice company in 1882, taking over  the assets (and recipes) of the older Warren and Bidwell Co. on Huron Street.

Lion Coffee became a success partly because of its advertising.    “The Woolson Spice Co. was credited, during this period, with spending unheard of sums in the promotion of Lion brand coffee in new market areas in the East. The eastern newspaper display ads alone exceeded anything ever attempted in the way of advertising. It was the first mass campaign to persuade the public to a particular product brand. And those sums unheard went to  “ [t]rading cards accompanied packages and toys could be sent for. There was something for everyone in the way of a Lion brand premium from bicycles and jackknifes to lace curtains.”

Woolson Spice survived into the twentieth century, but by 1905, a hostile takeover effort brought the company to the brink of bankruptcy.  Alvin Woolson himself lived on as a Toledo benefactor, with interest in several banks, the Toledo Country Club, the Art Museum, and the Newsboys.  Lion Coffee also survived, or perhaps reincarnated.   The Hawaii Coffee Company in Honolulu now owns the trademark and recipes of Lion Coffee, and still sells and markets Lion Coffee worldwide  [].

We started at a wedding in the White House, moved to a Toledo advertising genius, and ended in a Hawaii coffee factory.  Some trips are stranger than others!

[In addition to the trade card itself, these websites were consulted:]

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