Laxakola Co.

Laxakola Co.


1901 COVER

As Monte Python used to say “and now for something completely different”…

Laxakola Co. went bankrupt and disbanded in 1905.  Chartered as a New Jersey company in 1895, it certainly existed during the period of 1898 to 1901 when proprietary battleship revenue use on its products was required by law. Yet, its story falls outside the very broadly drawn ambit of this blog, for, to date, no battleship revenue stamp has been identified with Laxakola, this company’s principal product, and the Battleship Desk Reference book of Mustacich and Giacomelli, which sets out both letter combination of observed proprietary revenue cancels as well as the names of proprietary medicine companies, does not even list “L. Co.” among such observed combinations. (By comparison, the only four (4) varieties of “L. & C.” cancels listed are identified as belonging to Ladd & Coffin, and 10 companies whose initials are “L. & Co” are listed, although not directly matched, with fifteen (15) varieties of “L. & Co.” cancels).



However, Laxakola’s story is so intriguing and is voiced so well that it merits retelling. It is the story of unmitigated failure and a cautionary tale that not every patent medicine became a million dollar seller.



The tale’s narrator was an ad man and entrepreneur named Charles Austin Bates (1866-1936). One of the lesser lauded and remembered Don Drapers of U.S. advertising’s birth, he published his account of Laxakola’s demise in 1906 in “Printers’ Ink,” the first advertising trade journal. It comes down to us today because a drug trade journal reprinted it contemporaneously, and that journal has been reproduced on line1.









Charles Austin Bates was born in Indianapolis, IN.  Perhaps he was inclined to a life of words because his mother, Margaret Ernsperger Bates (1844-1927), who came from an educated family and began life as a teacher, grew bored with married life as a housewife and became a writer herself.  Publishing under the name of Margaret Holmes, she wrote novels and poetry, and earned a place in several Who’s Who kinds of compilations of her era.  Her last book on the works of Robert Browning was issued only weeks before her death.  A sample poem, while somewhat flowery for today’s taste, displays heartfelt sentiment:


While Bates’s mother was a prominent personality, his father, by comparison, toiled in the shadows. Little can be said about him other than that he was born in Medina, NY, which lies halfway between Rochester and Buffalo, in 1837, and that by 1865, he had moved to Indianapolis, where he married Bates’s mother. City directories identify him as a principal in Bates & Co., which dealt in flour, feed, coal and wood, and he must have flourished as a merchant for his wife and son to act as independently as they did. He remained in Indianapolis where he died in 1914.

LaxakolaCo-3(MHBPic(1897))     LaxakolaCo-6REV(CAB(father)grave)


Bates himself began working as a printer after graduating from high school in Indianapolis, bought a local weekly newspaper at age eighteen and opened his own printing shop at age twenty.  That newspaper subscribed to Printers’ Ink, and when Bates read in its pages that John Wanamaker, the department store merchant, had paid a man named John Emory Powers $10,000 a year to write his ads, he decided that he wanted that life for himself: “My God! Ten Thousand Dollars a year! Why, our postmaster received $3,500 a year and drove to his job every morning in a two-horse surrey!”  Bates soon began to write ads for local businesses and then advertised himself as a copywriter in Printers’ Ink.  The responses he received were favorable enough for him to move to New York City in 1893 to establish his own advertising business.  His mother moved to New York City at the same time as her son and remained there until her own death more than thirty years later.

LaxakolaCo-3-1CREV     LaxakolaCo-3-1DREVB


Bates picked the perfect moment, at the opening of the “Gilded Era,” to enter the advertising occupation.  Industrialization had produced wealth in America, and innovations in communications and transportation had made it practical to consider the entire United States as a single market.  Advertising had to grow and change to keep pace with the continuing expansion of this market.  Essentially, Bates was no more or less qualified than anyone else to become a driving force in this burgeoning industry. He approached the opportunity with boundless self-confidence, optimism and enthusiasm.  While building his advertising business, he secured himself a job as a columnist at Printers’ Ink, began to critique others’ advertising campaigns, and through his frequent commentaries began to be accrue influence as an expert in the world of advertising.

LaxakolaCo-3-1EREV     LaxakolaCo-3-1FREV


In advertising, Bates favored a simple, straightforward style of writing that emphasized price and described the product in basic English. He once stated: “Advertisers should never forget that they are addressing stupid people. It is really astonishing how little a man may know, and yet stay out of the way of the trolley cars.”

LaxakolaCo-3-1GREV     LaxakolaCo-3-1HREV


Within two years after moving to New York City, Bates claimed he was earning $20,000 from his copy writing and spending $10,000 to advertise himself further to other potential advertisers. In the first years of the 20th Century, it is hard to overstate his ubiquity as an advertising voice. In addition to writing for Printers’ Ink, he also published his own house organ, Current Advertising, which contained his trenchant comments on the advertising campaigns of others. He wrote book after book. A partial list of the books he published includes:

Good Advertising (1896);

American Journalism From The Practical Side (1897);

Short Talks On Advertising (1898);

The Art And Literature of Business (6 vols.) (1903);

Cheer Up and Ten Other Things (1909).

LaxakolaCo-3-1IREV     LaxakolaCo-3-1JREV


Through his ad agency, in a series of books published in and around 1899, he even offered pre-packaged advertising campaigns for various kinds of retail sales to which small businesses could subscribe by paying a fee in small installments. One industry for which Bates prepared and printed such an advertising campaign was the hardware business. After a twenty page introductory chapter on how to go about advertising a hardware store, the great bulk of the text was devoted to roughly three hundred pages of hardware illustrations, followed by twenty packed pages of short catch phrases. For example, one of the catch phrases proposed was: “Sometime Mr. Burgler will drop in on you, unexpectedly, and informally, and you’ll wish you had purchased one of those high-grade revolvers we called to your attention the other day.”  The book ended with a register for recording advertising contracts, and a twelve month ledger for recording daily sales and advertising costs.  The book was sent along with a separate booklet of coupons which the advertiser could return to Bates’s agency to request such services as a critique of advertising copy, or to order the Bates Agency monthly house circular on advertising, or to order, for an additional charge, cuts of the ad illustrations and copy texts which they could place in their own local papers.  Bates was no fool.  The book was not sent to the advertiser until the whole subscription fee (at the time $25) was remitted to the Bates Agency, and all return mailings answering coupon requests or enclosing cuts were either pre-paid before mailing or sent Collect On Delivery by the U.S. Postal Department.  No credit.  No exceptions.

LaxakolaCo-5a(HardwareBkAdPlanPgs-1899)     LaxakolaCo-5b(HardwareBkAdPlanPgs-1899)


Other books in the same series were:

The Bakers and Confectioners Book;

The Clothing Book;

The Coal Book;

The Drug Book;

The Dry Goods Book;

The Furniture Book;

The Grocery Book;

The Jewelry Book;

The Laundry Book;

The Liquor Book;

The Men’s Furnishing Book;

The Real Estate and Insurance Book;

The Shoe Book;

The Tailoring Book;

The Wall Paper Book;

plus 18 volumes issued under the general title “Retail Advertising”, which includes:

The Piano Book;

The Optical Book;

and the Carriage and Harness Book.

LaxakolaCo-5c(HardwareBkAdPlanPgs(SampleAd&Woodcut)-1899)     LaxakolaCo-5d(HardwareBkAdPlanPgs(SampleCatchPhrases)-1899)


By 1899, Bates was rich enough to take his flyer on Laxakola.  He lost big, and moved out of the copywriting phase of advertising from that time on, but, as a successful businessman and a perpetual optimist, it hardly fazed him.  He had already sold his advertising holdings and become, in effect, an early venture capitalist. He organized the Keystone Syndicate, which, in turn, launched the Fidelity Bond and Mortgage Co in 1909, an organization of which Bates became President. This investment brokerage firm continued to prosper and advertise up to, and into, the Depression.



Bates also played a major role in financing the Colorado-Yule Marble Co., which was capitalized at $10,000,000 in 1905 and employed seven hundred workers to quarry and market the largest marble deposit in North America, located in a newly formed town called Marble City, CO that by 1911 boasted a population of 1700 inhabitants.  The Company’s marble graced the facades of many important public buildings built in that era, and was ultimately utilized in both the Lincoln Memorial and, ultimately, in (what is now known as) the Tomb of the Unknowns in Washington, D.C.  Bates served as the chairman of the company’s Executive Committee.  He also garnered a separate income as Vice-President of the Crystal River & San Juan Railway Co. which traversed the twelve-mile route that connected the quarry to the main trunk railroad lines.  The Marble Company prospered until 1916, when demand for marble to build monuments slackened as U.S. entry into World War I began to appear inevitable.  The company’s extremely large developmental capitalization maintenance cost then outran market demand for its product, and it went into receivership.  Whether by this time Bates was still an investor is unclear, but he was not present at huge three-day party excursion trip the company staged and hosted in Marble City in 1915 for the 525 delegates to the National Convention of the Retail Monument Dealers Association then taking place in Denver.  Even if it never threw another party that showy, the town of Marble, CO still stands in the Crystal River valley on the slope of the Elk Mountains, some two hundred miles southwest of Denver, and reported a population of 131 in the 2010 census.  Since 2004, Bates’s former mine has been owned by the Polycor, Inc., a Canadian corporation.

LaxakolaCo-7REV(Colorado-YuleMiningCoAd-1914)-1     LaxakolaCo-7REV(Colorado-YuleMiningCoAd-1914)-2


By 1908, Bates also had formed the Rutherford Rubber Co., of which he was also President. That company ultimately morphed into the Sterling Tire Co. of Rutherford, NJ. Bates remained involved in directing its affairs until he sold his interest in 1921. For the last fifteen years of his life, he acted as an independent advertising and promotional consultant to various companies. Married twice, with two children from his first marriage, he was an active member of many significant social organizations of the times, including the New York Athletic Club, the Columbia Yacht Club, and the Longshore and Yountakah Country Clubs. One quotes of his is found today on every positive motivation website: “it is the trouble that never comes that causes the loss of sleep.”  Bates may have harbored such anxieties from time to time, but he never let them show!


1.        This author thought that he was the first in a hundred years

to excavate this gem, but diligent research shows that it has

been reproduced once before in a blog devoted to design of

product packaging a few years ago.


[Double click on illustrations to expand them for better viewing]

© Malcolm A. Goldstein 2015


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