T. B. Dunn Co., Manufacturer
T. B. DUNN CO. CANCELS
RARE TYPEWRITTEN FIRST DAY OF USE CANCELS – 7/1/1898
EXAMPLES OF FIRST COMMON FORM OF PRINTED CANCEL
EXAMPLES OF SECOND COMMON FORM OF PRINTED CANCELS – 1899 to 1901
DUNN REVENUE STAMPS USED ON SEN-SEN PACKAGES AND BOXES
This particular alphabetical meander through the great slew of companies using proprietary battleship revenues is principally devoted to documenting those whose names appear most often on these revenues, and, for that reason, next investigates the T. B. Dunn Co. of Rochester, NY. Virtually any lot of battleship cancels offered on eBay – whether a mixed offering or one strictly limited to proprietaries – includes at least one RB20 with the familiar “TBD Co” initials emblazoned upon it. The Dunn company attached the RB20s to small envelopes containing Sen-Sen, a breath freshening gum, and the empty packets with their RB20s still affixed are also sometimes offered for sale on eBay. The cancel commonly appears in one of two formats: either the earlier more elaborate form of “Aug 12, 98/T.B.D. Co.;” or the later more streamlined form “8-1-1899/ T.B.D.Co .” The cancels also appears on the RB27 and RB30 values which were used to denote proper payment of the tax on display or presentation boxes of Sen-Sen containing multiple envelopes. Sen-Sen’s enormous popularity is demonstrated not only by the sheer volume of the stamps still extant, but also by the fact that, save for the first day cancels, all of them were printed rather than hand stamped. The policy of printing cancels meant the company was immensely confident that its volume of business warranted large-scale formal preparation of cancelled stamps. Of course, the most convincing proof of Sen-Sen’s enduring charms is that it can be purchased even today on the Internet, advertised now more as a novelty candy rather than a breath mint.
SEN-SEN AVAILABLE TODAY ON THE INTERNET
The discourse on T. B. Dunn and Sen-Sen divides naturally into several different topics. First, the product itself merits discussion for the singular place it holds in our culture, and then both T. B. Dunn’s business and professional achievements separately warrant review for the values they represent. Concerning the product itself, Sen-Sen came (and apparently still comes) packaged as little squares of gum with a hard black surface that give off a heavy anise or licorice scent when chewed. Its enormous popularity and genuine appeal lay in its ability to mask other scents on the breath that might otherwise be detected. In an age when use of tobacco and alcohol were considered morally degenerate in many fashionable circles, Sen-Sen had enormous appeal to smokers and drinkers who wished to disguise their “character failings” from their more conventional family and friends. During Prohibition, when drinking was illegal in addition to being immoral, Sen-Sen provided cover for those who wished to hide their penchant for illegal elixirs by disguising the scent of alcohol. Sen-Sen was readily available at any drug or candy store, and, in this period, particularly, was a hallmark of sophistication among those of the younger set who wished to be identified as part of the knowledgeable demimonde.
OLDER SEN-SEN PACKAGING
Thomas Byrne Dunn was born in Providence, RI in 1857, but moved with his parents to Rochester, N.Y. in 1858. Eventually, he became engaged in the manufacture of perfumes, and seems to have become a conventional member of the Perfume Manufacturers Association. How Sen-Sen emerged is shrouded in mystery. The cant explanation repeated by present Internet retailers on every website, without any quoted source beyond a reference to the “company’s history,” is that Sen-Sen was invented by a Dunn company “plant supervisor” named Kershner, who chanced upon the method for infusing chewing gum with perfume in a stable manner. No explanation is ever offered as to exactly why a perfume maker would have been trying to infuse chewing gum with perfume, but perhaps the need to disguise use of tobacco and alcohol was always so glaringly obvious that a market niche was there just waiting to be filled by some enterprising inventor. The Dunn company first marketed Sen-Sen around 1894 or 1895 and trademarked its distinctive packaging in 1897. By the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in 1898, Sen-Sen had found its place as a pocket necessity for every smoker or drinker.
DUNN PERFUME TRADE CARD
T. B. Dunn was a good employer. A 1903 New York State Board of Mediation and Arbitration report commended Dunn’s company for its treatment of its employees, noting both that many of these employees were women, and quoting the plant forewoman as saying: “We employ the nicest girls in town, many of them coming from the high school. Very few are dismissed. That they are satisfied with their employment and surroundings is indicated by the fact that they remain with us until they get married.” The report further set forth that when the company learned that these woman had begun a “sick benefit association,” it voluntarily determined to match employee contributions. At a time when the average factory workforce accepted, and even approved, the normal length of the work day as being nine hours long, an employer’s contributing to an employee sick fund was an almost unknown perk. The historical Robert Campbell Kershner (1857-1944) was more than just a “plant supervisor;” he was Dunn’s brother-in-law and ultimately rose to the position of treasurer of the entire Dunn enterprise. He not only merited his own biographical entry among the notable businessmen and sportsmen of New York State, but his daughter’s engagement also made the society page of the New York Times in 1910. By then, the Dunn company had sales agencies in “London … Paris, Berlin, Moscow, Madrid, Mexico, Buenos Ayres and other world centers.”
DUNN CO. COVER
COVERS USED BY DISTRIBUTERS OF SEN-SEN
Dunn was an ambitious industrialist. As early as 1899, just after the chewing gum industry itself consolidated with the formation of the American Chicle Co in 1898 (a subject for a separate inquiry in due course), Dunn was approached to join in a similar consolidation of the perfume industry proposed by a fellow Rochesterian, Andrew S. Onderdonk, who also conducted a perfume business.1
[1 Take note: the only “ASO” cancels listed in Mustacich & Giacomelli are three attributed to Allen S. Olmstead of LeRoy, NY, although one is marked “questionable,” so there may be room for another seismic re-attribution, ala Frank Sente’s authoritative reattribution of the printed “S.C. & Co.” cancel from Strong, Cobb & Co. to Snyder, Chaffee & Co.]
While various significant perfume manufacturing companies, among them Colgate & Co., Lazell, Dalley & Co., Theodore Ricksecker, Alfred Wright (each and every one a battleship revenue user which ultimately will be profiled in this study) as well as Ladd & Coffin (already profiled), participated in this discussion, no perfume trust ever formed. Perhaps because of the particularly private and proprietary nature of perfume and cosmetics formulas, like medical formulas, the perfume manufacturers never consolidated into a trust as the chewing gum manufacturers did. Dunn prided himself on the independence of his spirit and the company remained on its own throughout the Spanish-American War and almost until the end of the next decade.
T. B. DUNN CO. ADVERTISING
SEN SEN CHICKLET CO ADVERTISING
BIRD TRADE CARDS WITH COMMON BACK
However, in 1909, for reasons set forth below, Dunn merged his company into, and became president of, the newly formed Sen-Sen Chicklet Company that was capitalized at $6,700,000. Not surprisingly, this time the principle owner of the new company was none other than the American Chicle Co. Aside from Dunn’s company, the American Chicle Co.’s other prominent acquisition was the Frank H. Fleer Co., which in 1906 had designed, marketed and named chicklets (The Fleer Co.’s own history will appear by and by in another column). The new Sen-Sen Chicklet Co. was headquartered in the Metropolitan Tower in New York City, but continued the manufacture of Sen-Sen at Dunn’s former factory in Rochester. In 1914, the American Chicle Company finally completed its purchase and consolidation of Dunn’s operations into its own by replacing the stock of the Sen-Sen Chicklet Co. with its own, now capitalized at $8,000,000, and by the 1920s, when the assets of the company were valued at over $20,000,000, had closed the plant in Rochester, N.Y. The machinery for the production of Sen-Sen was sent to another American Chicle plant location. At some point, both the formula for the manufacture of Sen-Sen and its production machinery passed into the hands of the Warner-Lambert pharmaceutical company, which, in turn, sold both, in 1977, to F. & F. Laboratories, Inc. F. & F. still operates the original machinery today at its plant in Chicago, IL. By contrast with the American Chicle Co. trust of 1920, F. & F., a privately held company, when it last publicly discussed its finances, only claimed sales in the range of $20,000,000 in 1995 dollars, a mere pittance when compared with American Chicle’s 1920s $20,000,000.
1907 PICTURE 1908 CARTOON
The reason Dunn turned away from manufacturing was that his attention was gradually drawn to politics. After a two-year stint as President of the Rochester Chamber of Commerce, he successfully ran as a Republican for the position of State Senator for Rochester’s district in 1906. By that time, he was also a prominent citizen of the community as well as a member of the Board of Trustees for the Rochester Orphan Asylum, a director of the Genesee Valley Trust Co., a local bank, and a member of the Rochester Athletic Association, the Rochester Yacht Club, the Genesee Valley and the Rochester Country Clubs. In 1907, New York State Governor Charles Evans Hughes named him as the Chief Commissioner and President of the New York State Commission to the Jamestown Exposition (commemorated by U.S. postage stamps Scott 328-330), where he officiated at New York’s pavilion, entertaining such notables as then President Theodore Roosevelt, and future President Woodrow Wilson.
1907 U.S. COMMEMORATIVES ISSUED FOR JAMESTOWN EXPOSITION
NEW YORK STATE BUILDING AT JAMESTOWN EXPOSITION
In 1908, pictures of him and all his family members ran on the front page of the New York City Tribune, when he was introduced to the entire state as the Republican candidate for State Treasurer. The Republicans won, and he served the two-year term. After Governor Hughes was appointed by President Taft to be an Associate Supreme Court Justice in 1910, Dunn attempted unsuccessfully to secure the Republican gubernatorial nomination. While not a significant enough politician to become a lasting statewide figure, thereafter, he successfully ran in 1912 as the Republican candidate to the United States House of Representatives for the Rochester, N.Y. district, and served in Congress for five terms, always a solid supporter of Republican causes, including, as the drug trade publications were quick to note, retail price maintenance legislation. Yet, even as a politician, he still found time to contribute to the Rochester Automobile Club in support of the annual orphan’s outing that it arranged for the children housed in asylums around Rochester.
DUNN FAMILY ON THE COVER OF THE N. Y. TRIBUNE – 10/18/1908
In 1922, Dunn elected not to run and retired from office. He died on July 2, 1924, and was laid to rest in a mausoleum which he had ordered and had constructed for himself in 1898. If you, dear reader, find this article obsessive concerning such a local phenomenon as Thomas B. Dunn (who happens, by chance, to hail from the author’s hometown of Rochester, N.Y., although hardly a household identity or personality like another Rochesterian, George Eastman ), consider that the compete records concerning the specifications for the mausoleum, including the names of the stone cutters who actually participated in quarrying the stone Dunn had ordered from George W. Sanborn of the Smith Granite Co., are available on-line at the website of the Babcock-Smith House Museum maintained in the city of Westerly, Rhode Island.
There are notable oddities and curiosities about Sen-Sen. Originally its ingredients were imported to Rochester, N.Y. from such exotic places around the world as Bulgaria, Turkey, Greece, France, Italy and parts of Asia. The name Sen-Sen is thought to derive from the Japanese word for glistening, shiny or bright, but may simply be fanciful. In 1900, as part of a promotion for Sen-Sen, T. B. Dunn persuaded John Philip Sousa to reprint one of his marches, the “Yorktown Centennial March” composed in 1881, under the title of the “Sen-Sen March,” and in 1918, the Treasurer’s Report for the American Philatelic Society noted that among A.P.S.’s financial assets was “Sen-Sen Chicklet Co. Sinking Fund Gold Bond No. A1081” bearing a face value of $1000.
JOHN PHILIP SOUSA’S SEN-SEN MARCH
No less an obsessive source than Wikipedia celebrates the numerous references to Sen-Sen in American folklore. It is mentioned in the musical “The Music Man” in the song “(Ya Got) Trouble” when Professor Harold Hill cites boys bragging about chewing Sen-Sen to “cover up tell-tale breath” as sign of impending hooliganism, and Billy Joel cites it in his song “Keeping The Faith.” It is also referenced in the plays “Street Car Named Desire” by Tennessee Williams and “Talley’s Folly” by Lanford Wilson. Robert Penn Warren called one of the characters in “All the King’s Men” Sen-Sen Puckett because of his habit of chewing Sen-Sen. Other writers from Somerset Maugham through John Steinbeck to Philip Roth, Thomas Harris, Stephen King, Ray Bradbury and Philip K. Dick have referred to Sen-Sen in their novels and stories. On television, it has been mentioned on shows such as M*A*S*H*, Northern Exposure and King of Queens. The mention of Sen-Sen seems to impart a lasting, slightly dated sense of raffish, risqué, naughty, and yet ploddingly plebian, daring to any enterprise with which its name is associated.
© Malcolm A. Goldstein 2014