F

Frank H. Fleer Co.

FRANK H. FLEER CO., MANUFACTURER

Because Frank H. Fleer’s company was the other remaining major independent chewing gum manufacturing firm drawn into the American Chicle Co. during the industry’s second consolidation in 1909, as set forth in the recent article about the T. B. Dunn Co., its story follows naturally after T.B. Dunn’s. From time to time, subsequent articles will relate the stories of the several other subsidiary firms melded into the industry trust that was the American Chicle Co.  Moreover, although the Fleer cancels do not appear as frequently as those of the T. B. Dunn Co., its two forms of hand stamped cancels account for many of those observed on RB30s.

FleerFHCo-2-RB30-1-1899-04-21     FleerFHCo-2-RB30-1-1899-06-06

FleerFHCo-2-RB30-1-1900-04-18

FLEER CIRCULAR HANDSTAMPED CANCELS

Frank H. Fleer is another of those unique American individuals remembered from his era – which seemed to regarded wealth as a mark of God’s favor – for developing a product which immediately became emblematic of American life. Fleer is credited with inventing Chiclets, and their success was immediate and long-lasting. Much more so than Dunn’s Sen-Sen, they still can be purchased at virtually all newspaper stands, drug stores, and retail food outlets. In fact, Fleer was a pioneer in the gum industry in two different ways in two different decades, being the first to market Chiclets in the late 1890s and later experimenting with bubble gum in the early 1900s, albeit his company did not perfect the product until 1928. Yet, ironically, his company is probably best remembered today for its later involvement with what began as an incidental give-away accompanying the gum, baseball cards.

FleerFHCo-2-RB30-2-1900-08-16

FLEER STRAIGHT LINE HANDSTAMPED CANCEL

As with most hundred year old tales, various versions of Fleer’s story recount the details of his life slightly differently. In addition, none of the websites presently discussing Fleer and his gum actually displays a picture of him, although some sites misidentify portraits of others as his. Various sources place Fleer’s birth between 1853 and 1860. U.S. census records show his birth date as 1858, presumably derived from information he provided. One internet source, however, displays a picture of a gravestone of a Frank H. Fleer showing his birth date as July 9, 1857. Since all sources agree that he was born in Westphalia, then a part of Prussia in Germany, the mystery is resolved by a German record of births and baptisms indicating that Franz Heinrich Fleer, indeed born on July 9, 1857 to Jobst and Wilhelmine Fleer, was baptized at St. Peter’s Evangelical Church in Herford, Westphalia on August 2, 1857. Fleer immigrated to the U.S. in 1875, settling in Philadelphia, and his younger brother Henry joined him there in 1881. Eventually, the stories say that Frank entered his father-in-law’s flavoring extract business that had been founded in 1849, but, here also, the record is somewhat blurred. A Pennsylvania marriage record indicates that he married Pauline Alice Shoestein in 1885, but virtually all versions of Fleer’s story indicate that his father-in-law’s name was Otto Holstein. Since, beginning in the mid-1860s, Otto Holstein is listed in various Philadelphia city directories as a merchant, it appears the 1885 record is simply garbled. Whatever the case, Fleer soon renamed the business the Frank H. Fleer Co. and began manufacturing chewing gum by adding Holstein’s flavoring extracts to chicle, the dried sap of the South and Central American sapodilla tree, already established as the principal ingredient of chewing gum.

Actually, although seemingly not presently preserved as part of the record of chewing gum history, Fleer’s face was known in his era. His portrait was featured on his gum wrappers, a phenomenon that sparked discussion at the time. Ad industry professionals commented that his face was “self-satisfied,” “opulent” and too “handsome” to support a public campaign to promote sales of his new product, Pepsin Guru-Kola Gum,” launched on July 1, 1896. In response, Fleer’s advertising manager, Mayer M. Swaab, Jr., replied, in a letter to that same professional advertising journal, that he had fought a difficult battle with Fleer to convince Fleer to allow him to use Fleer’s face on the gum wrapper, and the bottom line as to whether that was a correct decision was best judged by the $225,000 sales generated by the product in its first year.

Fleer-PortraitRV

FRANK H. FLEER PORTRAIT

PUBLISHED WITH SWAAB’S REBUTTAL IN 1897

Fleer tried to stay at the forefront of the chewing gum business, not only by being among the first to add cola flavoring to his gum, but also by being among the earliest to utilize vending machines as a new way to sell his gum. A story is told that an intrepid vending machine salesman approached Fleer. The salesman claimed that people would find the gimmickry of the new machines so fascinating that they would feed money into them even if the machines returned nothing for the penny deposited. Fleer agreed to sponsor a test and set one up in the Flatiron Building in New York City labeled with the instruction for people to “drop a penny in the slot and listen to the wind blow.” So many people complied that the police seized the machine. Fleer placed his vending machine order immediately.

Fleer’s brother Henry provided the blockbuster development which took the Fleer Co. to the next level. Trying to design a gum to match candy-coated almonds then much in vogue, Henry hit upon the idea of wrapping a hard candy coating around a chicle center. He described the resulting hard gum-candy squares as “little chiclets.” Frank seized upon that name for this new product and touched off a new chewing gum craze. Fleer brought his prosperous and thriving Chiclet business into the American Chicle Co. consolidation in 1909, and, apparently, emerged from the arrangement with the title of Chairman of the Board of the re-organized company.

FleerFHCo-3-1907-1a     FleerFHCo-3-1907-1b

1907 FLEER COVER

It is interesting to note that the Dunn and Fleer companies approached the payment of the Spanish-American War tax differently. The special tax rate imposed on chewing gum was 4¢ per dollar of retail value, as opposed to 2½¢ per dollar of retail value for proprietary medicines. The Treasury Department intended to place the burden of the tax payment on the gum manufacturers and apparently accepted the presence of the 4¢ stamp on the retailer’s gum display box as proof of the manufacturers’ payment. Fleer complied with this regulatory scheme, hence, its use of 4¢ stamps. Dunn and some other gum manufacturers apparently voluntarily chose to stamp most of their individual gum packages with the 1/8¢ battleship revenue stamp, RB20, which was actually designed to indicate payment of tax on medicinal items retailing for 5¢ or less at the 2 ½% per dollar rate of the proprietary medicine tax. The government apparently accepted either kind of accounting, and the total remitted to the government by such companies must have accorded with the 4% gum tax rate, since there is no record of litigation brought by the government alleging short tax payment by any of the gum manufacturers.

FleerFHCo-6a-1906-2     FleerFHCo-6a-1907-2

FleerFHCo-6a-1909-1

1906, 1907 & 1909 FLEER ADS

The history of the Frank H. Fleer Co. that utilized battleship revenues ends at this point, and theoretically, so should this article. However, there are still too many good stories to tell about Fleer’s subsequent adventures and history.

The Second Frank H. Fleer Co.

Fleer apparently was too restless a soul to remain in a purely executive capacity in the American Chicle Co., and by 1913 had organized a second Frank H. Fleer Co. Since the contract under which he had merged the original Flank H. Fleer Co. company into the American Chicle Co. forbade him from competing against it in the chicle gum manufacturing business, this second Frank H. Fleer Co. began as a confectionary company manufacturing candy called Fleer’s Bobs and Fruit Hearts. Fleer himself died suddenly of apoplexy at his country estate in Thomasville, North Carolina in 1921, but not before he had passed effective control of the company to his son-in-law Gilbert Mustin.

Fleer-Headstone

FLEER’S HEADSTONE

Two aspects of the second Frank H. Fleer Co.’s business impressed themselves into American culture as firmly as had Chiclets. First, the company began experimenting with trade cards to accompany their candies, issuing a set of 120 cards, featuring notable entertainers and athletes, including Mary Pickford, Gloria Swanson and Babe Ruth. Eventually, the trade cards, particularly the sports cards, would come to play a more important part in its business than gum. A recently discovered uncut page of these Fleer cards created a mild stir because it contained the Babe Ruth card. However, the movie stars and presidents appearing on the other cards occasioned no similar flurry.

Fleer-CelebrityCards(1923-EddieCollins)RV

SAMPLE FLEER NOTABLES TRADE CARD SERIES 1923

Fleer-CelebrityCards(1923-BabeRuth)RV

THE BABE RUTH CARD

Fleer-CelebrityCards(1923-sheet)RV

RECENTLY DISCOVERED ENTIRE SHEET

OF FLEER NOTABLE CARDS

The other innovation made by the second Frank H. Fleer Co. was that it successfully produced the first bubble gum. Chicle based products would not form bubbles, so Frank H. Fleer had experimented with other substances and, as early as 1906, developed a gum called “Blibber-Blubber.” One could blow bubbles with it, but its texture resembled brittle Sticky Putty, making it hard to chew. Moreover, once the blown bubble burst, it was almost impossible to re-collect to blow into another bubble. Faced with these drawbacks, Fleer shelved the product, and there it remained until Gilbert Mustin pressed the research forward.

Fleer-BlibberBlubberBoxWrapper

EXPERIMENTAL BLIBBER-BLUBBER BOX LOGO CIRCA 1906

The correct formula for bubble gum emerged in a most unlikely way from a most unlikely source, according to the tale repeated often enough after the discovery to be accepted now as gospel. Experimental batches of gum were mixed on the third floor of the Fleer factory, but the company’s telephone was on the ground floor. When Mustin, who was overseeing the trials, went off to take phone calls, he left the simmering mixtures in the care of Walter Diemer, a twenty-three year old employed by the Fleer company as an accountant who possessed no background in chemistry. Because Mustin hurried away so often, it fell to Diemer, literally, to keep the pot boiling. After months of trial and error, Diemer hit upon the proper blend of natural ingredients, including a pinch of latex, that both could be blown into a bubble and then easily and quickly re-collected to blow into another bubble. Once he had found the correct formula, he quickly made another batch. While preparing the second mixture, he realized that he had forgotten to add coloring. Scrambling to find some dye, he found he had only pink at hand, so into the cauldron it went. Named “Dubble Bubble,” this pink trial bubble gum debuted as a thousand pieces wrapped like taffy and sold for a penny in a candy shop in Philadelphia on December 26, 1928. They disappeared within a day. Since that first batch of bubble gum was pink, pink became its traditional color forevermore. Dubble Bubble was an instant success, but Diemer never patented the formula, since he did not want to disclose the exact formulation of its ingredients. Others quickly entered the bubble gum market, although Dubble Bubble dominated bubble gum sales at least through the end of World War II. On the strength of his discovery, Diemer ultimately rose to become Senior Vice President of the Fleer company, although he always retained among his responsibilities the job of teaching all Fleer salesmen how to blow bubbles so they could demonstrate the product.

Fleer-DiemerWalterPicture(c1980)

WALTER DIEMER CIRCA 1980

Fleer-DubbleBubble

FLEER DUBBLE BUBBLE GUM

When Gilbert Mustin’s oldest son, Gilbert Jr., became president of the company, Fleer’s emphasis began to shift from gum to trading cards.  That trading cards became more important than gum is demonstrated by the fact that the remaining illustrations for this article are all sports trading cards.  No one collects the gum; only the cards remain significant and have websites carefully attributing value to minor variations in quality, just like stamps.  Through its executive Harry Ellsworth (who because of his lifetime of work in candy advertising now is remembered as the “Candy Man”), Fleer was able to negotiate a contract in 1959 with Ted Williams that allowed it to issue a special set of 80 baseball cards devoted entirely to commemorating the life and career of Williams. Although this set demonstrated to Fleer the extent of the untapped potential of the baseball trading card market, another bubble gum company, Topps held individual contracts with virtually all major and minor league baseball players to use their likenesses on baseball cards sold with gum.  Fleer made it a practice to approach players when they began their careers on their minor league teams and signed them to a standard form which covered a period of five consecutive years.  The contract offered a token payment for signing with additional payments to follow when they reached the majors.   The existence of these contracts made competition in the area of baseball trading cards extremely difficult for Fleer.

Fleer-WilliamsCard

SAMPLE WILLIAMS COMMEMORATIVE SERIES CARD

Football, however, was another matter. The American Football Conference (AFC) was just organizing to compete with the National Football League (NFL). Although Topps had an exclusive arrangement with the NFL, just as it had with Major League Baseball, Fleer was able to negotiate a group arrangement with the fledgling AFC that permitted it to issue AFC player cards, giving it a toe-hold in the football card market.

Fleer-1960AFCcCard

SAMPLE 1960 FLEER AFC CARD

Fleer still wanted to enter the baseball card market. It began to sign minor league baseball players to its own trading card contracts in order to put pressure on Topps, but never could land contracts with more than 27 of the more than 400 major league players. For two more years, it issued baseball cards memorializing past baseball legends, but after issuing a first series of 66 cards of current major leaguers in 1963 (packaged with a cookie instead of gum to try to circumvent the terms of the Topps contract), it stopped, whether simply from the exhaustion of competing with Topps or under threat of lawsuit is not quite clear. Some websites allege that Fleer was enjoined, but there is no court report of that injunction proceedings.

Fleer-1960Card     Fleer-1961Card

SAMPLE FLEER BASEBALL LEGENDS SERIES CARDS

Fleer-1963Card

SAMPLE 1963 FLEER BASEBALL CARD

Fleer had already filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in 1962 alleging that Topps was committing an unfair trade practice in violation of the FTC’s statutory authority by unfairly monopolizing the baseball trading card market. After amassing a factual record, the FTC’s hearing examiner found that sales of baseball trading cards marketed with gum was sufficiently enough defined as a separate sales market to make a determination as to whether it was being monopolized in violation of the FTC’s governing statutes, and that Topps was indeed monopolizing it. However, upon review, the FTC itself reversed that decision and ruled in favor of Topps in 1965, holding that since trading cards could be marketed in combination with anything other than gum, the restrictions that Topps imposed through its individual contracts with players were limited enough in scope as to not constitute a monopoly on baseball card sales within the boundaries of the FTC’s statutory authority. Fleer then sold its player contracts to Topps and ceased trying to enter the baseball card market for several years.

At the end of the 1960s, the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), the newly formed union representing baseball players in their contract negotiations with the team owners, acquired group player marketing rights. It also tried to pressure Topps to improve payments under the individual contracts. Topps demurred and, in retaliation, MLBPA asked players not to renew their individual contracts with Topps. In an attempt to pressure Topps further, MLBPA offered Fleer an opportunity to buy the rights through it to produce baseball cards with gum beginning in 1973 after all the current individual contracts with Topps ended, provided that MLBPA delivered 80% of the players for Fleer to sign. Fleer, finding MLBPA’s terms too speculative and thinking that it would continue to be sustained by bubble gum sales, declined the proffer.

However, as other products arose to compete with bubble gum, Fleer found it needed baseball cards sales to keep pace in the growing market. In 1973, it sued Topps and MLBPA in its home federal courts of Philadelphia again arguing that Topps’s individual player contracts were creating a monopoly.  This time it asserted that Topps and MLBPA were violating the federal Sherman Act which prohibits improper monopolies. While not referring to the FTC proceedings, which had been conducted within the ambit of the FTC’s statutory framework which paralleled the Sherman Act, the federal courts reached exactly the same results. The trial court, which heard the witnesses and collected the exhibits, found a discrete sales market for baseball trading cards sold with gum, and held that Topps and MLBPA violated both Sections 1 and Section 2 of the Sherman Act prohibiting monopolies. Upon review, the Third Circuit Court, just like the FTC, found that the relevant sales market was not simply limited just baseball cards marketed with gum and, therefore, that contracts held by Topps were reasonable in scope and duration. It reversed the trial court and dismissed Fleer’s claims.

Using the protection of the original Philadelphia federal district court decision, in 1981, Fleer re-entered the baseball card business, marketing the cards in packages containing a sticker of a major league baseball team’s logo instead of gum. After the Third Circuit’s reversal of the district court, Topps sued Fleer in 1983 in its own home federal court in Brooklyn, alleging that the stickers were a mere sham and violated the restriction in its contracts. This time, before the matter came to trial, Topps and Fleer decided to negotiate their differences. The settlement permitted Fleer to continue marketing baseball card as long as it did not sell them with gum. With the settlement of litigation, there were no longer legal threats or restrictions upon Fleer’s freedom to package and sell baseball cards themselves, which it did successfully in abundance thereafter, with each year’s productions growing more elaborate as the market seemed to grow endlessly.

Fleer-1981Card

SAMPLE 1981 FLEER BASEBALL  CARD

By 1988, the Mustins were growing old. They accepted a buyout offer from a group led by executives from other gum firms, who, in turn took the Fleer Co. public in 1990. In 1992 Fleer was acquired by Marvel Entertainment Group of comic book fame. By 1995, when Fleer finally abandoned its old factory in Philadelphia, it had acquired interests overseas and also the Skybox International trade card manufacturing company.

Fleer-AbandonedFactory2RV     Fleer-AbandonedFactory1RV

ABANDONED FLEER FACTORY IN PHILADELPHIA

In 1998, Fleer sold the Dubble Bubble brand to a Canadian company, Concord Confections, which, in turn, was purchased by Tootsie Roll Industries in 2004. In 1999, the Fleer-Marvel operations were purchased by a partnership which included the founders of Rite Aid Drug Co. In 2005, that partnership entered into an Assignment for the Benefit of Creditors, a state law liquidation process similar to bankruptcy. As a part of the Assignment the Fleer name and brands were auctioned and purchased by the Upper Deck Co., yet another sports memorabilia manufacturer. It is a mark of the Fleer’s falling fortunes that the price Upper Deck paid in the Assignment process was just over $6 million, when the year before Fleer had rejected its offer to buy the company for $25 million. Upper Deck remains in business, but is not presently utilizing the Fleer name and brands. The mad scramble to create baseball collectibles continues, although in that musical-chair-like market Fleer’s seat appears to be gone.

© Malcolm A. Goldstein 2014

 

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F

Fairchild Bros. & Foster

Fairchild Brothers and Foster was another of a group of specialty drug manufacturing and supply companies that flourished in New York City around the turn of the Twentieth Century. It took its name in 1881, when the Fairchild Brothers, Benjamin and Samuel, brought Malcomb Foster into their partnership. The Fairchild brothers were born in Stratford, CT, Benjamin in 1850 and Samuel in 1852. They both studied at the famed Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, and trained as pharmacists at the older New York City pharmacy firm, Caswell, Hazard & Co. Samuel, the younger brother, also served a stint as a pharmacist with McKesson & Robbins. (These two long-lived and well-known companies also applied cancels to battleship revenues and will appear again in due course in this extended study).

Benjamin Fairchild, Samuel Fairchild, and Macomb Foster

In 1878, the two brothers launched their own partnership as Fairchild Bros. Foster, born in 1860 and another alumnus of McKesson & Robbins, although quite young, apparently made a significant contribution of capital to the firm when he joined it. The firm concentrated early in products to aid digestion, specializing in the production of the digestive enzyme, pepsin, and the entire peptonizing process. In the pre-analytic chemistry era of medicine, such pepsin fortified products were then considered by established medical authority to be particularly helpful to infants in developing proper digestive systems, to ill people in maintaining proper digestion against the ravages of disease and to old people in keeping their digestive systems strong into their dotage. Similar claims – probably based upon the same kind of “correct-hunch” (i.e. sounds right) but ultimately dubious science – are advanced today for iron-fortified or omega 3-fortified products. In support of its peptinized products, F B & F published several editions of its pamphlet “Handbook of Digestive Ferments.”

The company was often praised within the trade as a well organized and supervised, and it too escaped the scrutiny of the genuine quack medicine chasing reformers. For that reason, rather than concentrating on the specifics of its business, it might be more instructive to examine the sumptuous style of life a fairly small but specialized business like F B & F produced for its principals. In 1908, the Pharmaceutical Era, an industry publication, portrayed and described the offices of F B & F in the following manner:

Because of their wealth, the Fairchilds traveled in fashionable circles and mixed with others who had attained the rarified sphere of high society. In a 1914 compendium of lives of prominent Americans, Samuel Fairchild’s achievements and connections were listed as follows:

Samuel passed away at the age of 75 in 1927, and his older brother, Benjamin at the venerable age of 88 in 1939. Forbes, the youngest member of partnership died a year before Benjamin at age 78. The company itself, as often the case, did not survive the last of its founders for very long. It continued as an independent company only until 1946, when it was acquired by Sterling Drug Company, itself the survivor from among an amalgam of companies also launched in this period. By that time, the most well-known of F B & F’s products was Phisoderm, an acne fighting product still available today, although ownership of the product has changed a number of times since 1946, and the make-up of the product itself was altered in the 1970s after the Federal Drug Administration banned products which contained more than 1% hexachloraphene, then its principal active chemical agent.

© Malcolm A. Goldstein 2012
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F

H. G. G. Fink

 

Henry George Greatrake Fink is name with which to conjure, and H. G. G. conjured his Fink’s Magic Oil into a fortune. His sketch in profile for a 1910 ad resembles either Abraham Lincoln’s image on the then newly redesigned penny or the stern majesty of an Old Testament Lord of the kind a Methodist preacher’s sermon might invoke. In fact, before he dis¬covered the patent medicine business, Fink was a Methodist minister. However, a portrait of him taken in the early 1900s shows a tall, gaunt figure, with a high forehead, deep-set eyes, a great white beard and an unruly head of hair, who seems most closely to resemble the renegade John Brown.

H. G. G. Fink was born on May 26, 1826 in Ross County, Ohio, south of Columbus. His father, Henry Fink, appears to have been a paper maker, and Henry’s family cut a swatch through the following three generations. The singular “Greatrake” of H. G. G.’s name derives from Henry’s apparent marriage to one Elizabeth (Eliza) Greatrake, whose family itself sired of a number of notable Baptist ministers, but the connection remains speculative. Fink became a Methodist minister on September 7, 1853 at Lancaster, Ohio, also near Columbus. In 1856, he married Almeda Wagy of Licking County, Ohio, whom he called Medie. A business directory from 1857 locates him as a pastor of Deavertown, Ohio, a town 54 miles southeast of Columbus. Methodist minsters of that era were circuit riders, and Fink’s circuit included numerous hamlets in southeastern Ohio: Nelsonville, Etna, Irville, Elizabethtown, Hebron, Roseville, Beavertown, Pickerington, Maxville and Baltimore. In 1861, Fink is listed as living in Elizabethtown. Sometime during the 1860s, while still participating in the annual gatherings of Ohio Methodist ministers, he began to manufacture Fink’s Magic Oil at Springdale, PA, a hundred miles further east, just outside of Pittsburgh, and in 1868 he moved his family to Springdale.

Once in Springdale, Fink apparently left the active ministry, although he did continue to pledge financial support for Methodist causes. The patent medicine business prospered enough for Fink to build a substantial two story farmhouse with well tended grounds, as a local contemporary print shows. He and his wife raised their six children (five to maturity) and made sure that their daughters as well as their sons were college educated. As a capitalist business owner, he naturally gravitated to staunch Republicanism, and, as the local Pittsburgh paper reported in 1889, signed a statement defending a local Republican candidate against an alleged slander. While not much is documented about Fink himself, a long poem, written and read by his local clergyman, Rev. W. H. Phipps, on the occasion of Fink’s wedding anniversary sheds some light on the Fink family in these years. Phipps published it in a book of poems printed in Pittsburgh in 1891. Although ostensibly celebratory, it sounds almost like a lugubrious dirge to the modern ear. It begins:

We come to celebrate, with family of Fink,

Anniversary – time quick, like skater in the rink,
That glides around the room, and meets us soon again,
Freighted with messages of pleasure and pain.
This couple, glancing back o’er many years they’ve pass’d,
Remember bright skies with few clouds overcast.

The poem continues in a similar vein through multiple stanzas devoted to youth, parenthood and grand-parenthood before posing, and answering, these concluding questions:

O have these friends broken from the gospel traces?
‘Tis true we now find them in magic places.
Was ministerial life so full of sadness?
Can they no longer praise Gospel oil of gladness?
Yes; never mind the calumny of pious cranks;
Not lucre, but ill health led them from the ranks,
To-night we’ll use each mirthful joyous leverage,
And pledge their weal and health in Chinese beverage,
As king and queen anoint with pleasure’s magic oil,
Rejoicing in their happiness from well earned toil,
Hoping we all may witness many glad returns,
While brightest friendship’s fire upon our alter burns.

It is notable, along with “magic” and “oil” appearing so prominently in this tribute, that the poem challenges the “calumny of pious cranks,” and casts in the most favorable light Fink’s change of career from the ministry to patent medicine as motivated by “ill health” and not the lure of “lucre” that the penurious lifestyle of the circuit preacher might have engendered.

Magic Oil’s growth and popularity appears to have been both immediate and astronomical. In the 1872 minutes of the Santa Clara Valley Agricultural Society – all the way across the country in California – report that a local merchant featured a display of Fink’s Magic Oil prominently in its noteworthy exhibit at the local agricultural fair. From the 1870s to the 1900s, Fink touted his Magic Oil as a cure for rheumatism, headache, toothache, sprains, burns, earache, sore throat, pains and aches, cramps, cholera morbus, colic, lameness or pain in back, limbs or joints, coughs and colds, poisons, frozen parts, deafness, corns or warts, chilblains, bunions and frozen feet, tired, aching sore feet, mumps catarrh in the head, asthma, eczema, water tetter, acne, etc., boils, pimples, ring-worm, cuts, open sores, bronchitis and griping pains. Fink’s pitch consistently hit a nerve. Indicative of his entrepreneurial skills, in 1902, while in his seventies, he was still energetic enough to prepare a short treatise on how to “work groceries and general stores,” and, in 1905, not only incorporated as a Pennsylvania corporation capitalized at a value of $100,000, but also enrolled in the National Wholesale Drug Association’s price maintenance plan (which, as noted in an earlier installment of this series, was attacked by the federal government the following year and set aside by consent decree in 1907).

Whatever its intrinsic merits, the secret of Magic Oil’s success probably lay in its principal component, which – as set forth in the September 28, 1908 circular made by the Dairy Commissioner of Connecticut mandating proper disclosure of ingredients – was 87% alcohol, among the highest amounts enumerated in the Dairy Commissioner’s very long list of “medicines intended for internal use.” H. G. G. Fink died October 15, 1910, at the venerable age of 84, but the manufacture of the Magic Oil continued, even as the labeling laws gradually became more stringent. By the 1930s, the Food and Drug Administration seized and destroyed a shipment of Fink’s Magic Oil, now manufactured by the H. G. G. Fink Laboratories of Cincinnati, Ohio, as misbranded on the grounds that the Magic Oil was not an “oil”and consisted essentially of water, alcohol (now a mere 48.1 percent) with minuscule amounts of cassia and sassafras.
The true inheritor of H. G. G. Fink’s talent for salesmanship was his grandson, George E. Merrick (1886-1942), who, making his mark in real estate, a very different field of endeavor, ultimately conjured “castles in Spain.” H. G. G.’s daughter Althea, a college educated artist in her own right, married Solomon G Merrick, a clergyman with a degree from Yale divinity school. When one of their twin four-year old daughters died of diphtheria in Duxbury, MA in 1899, where Merrick was then serving as a minister, H. G. G. suggested that the Merricks might find the climate more agreeable in south Florida, a new frontier then opening for development. Acting upon H. G. G.’s insight, the Merricks moved, sight unseen, to a swampy area of Miami known as Coconut Grove. George Merrick, then barely a teenager, interrupted his schooling to help his father turn the family farm into a successful plantation growing guava, vegetables and grapefruits by 1907, and assumed full control of his family’s fortunes when his father died unexpectedly in June, 1911. Immediately investing in more Florida land, Merrick spent the rest of his life developing, grooming, and promoting this swamp into the planned community of Coral Gables, Fl. Drawing upon the talents of his uncle, (George D) Denman Fink (1882-1956), a recognized artist, illustrator and teacher, Merrick sought to shape Coral Gables, envisioning fourteen neighborhoods of different style homes, among them Spanish haciendas, to appeal to different tastes. While only six of the fourteen neighborhoods were ever built in Coral Gables, Merrick’s foresight marked him as a notable early city planner. In 1925, by donating land for a campus as well as funding a substantial endowment, he helped bring the University of Miami to Coral Gables, thus insuring its viability as a permanent settlement. Merrick’s endeavors, some quite harrowing in their own right, have been fully chronicled in an illustrated biography by Arva Moore Parks. His cousin, Denman’s son Robert (1905-89), also became an artist and teacher, like his father, whose work is in the permanent collection of the Neuberger Museum in Purchase, NY, and the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers, NY.

Personal note underlying this article: in the 1970s, this author possessed a battleship revenue stamp canceled “H. G. G. F. – Springdale PA.” It was acquired at minimal cost at some philatelic show from the proverbial bowl of mixed colorful stamps which dealers used to leave out on their tables, like M & Ms, to attract attention. The H. G. G. F. was an odd enough letter combination to imprint itself in memory and cause endless speculation as to the meaning of the initials. In an era before the Internet and eBay, while prowling for different kinds of collectibles at antique shows – then a completely separate and different venue from stamp shows – this author discovered that trade cards, bill heads, and medicine containers, sold by so-called “ephemera” dealers, matched the Scott RS and RB issues. A bill head from “H G G Fink’s Magic Oil Co.” of Springdale, PA, quite serendipitously and fortuitously unearthed at one such antiques show, resolved the battleship revenue riddle with a single lightening bolt. When the paired stamp and bill head passed back into the greater philatelic universe in the 1980s, this author cherished the hope that they remained together and somehow led, directly or indirectly, to the Fink listing in the Mustacich compilation. The accompanying stamp images are courtesy of Robert Mustacich.

© Malcolm A. Goldstein 2011
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