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Laxakola Co.

Laxakola Co.

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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).

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LETTER ACCOMPANYING COVER

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.

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CHARLES AUSTIN BATES 1901c

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.

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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:

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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.

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PARENTS OF CHARLES AUSTIN BATES

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.

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LAXAKOLA BROCHURE WITH LETTER AND COVER – PART 1

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.

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LAXACOLA BROCHURE – PART 2

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.”

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LAXACOLA BROCHURE – PART 3

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).

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LAXAKOLA BROCHURE – END

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.

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 THE HARDWARE BOOK – SUBSCRIPTION RULES

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.

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THE HARDWARE BOOK – SAMPLE AD CUT AND TEXTS

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.

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CHARLES AUSTIN BATES 1916c

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.

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COLORADO-YULE MARBLE CO AD 1915c

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!

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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.

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

© Malcolm A. Goldstein 2015

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Ladd & Coffin

LADD & COFFIN,
JAN
26
1899
NEW YORK.
Ladd & Coffin cancel on a non-proprietary, R164 2 cent documentary stamp.

Ladd & Coffin Co’s battleship cancels are not only frequently seen (at least on proprietary stamps, unlike the documentary example), but come in at least four formats: small with a year date; small with a month, day and year; large with a year date; and large with a month, day and year date. The company had started much earlier in the era of the first revenues and had even issued its own private die proprietary stamps (RT26-33). Since Holcombe’s book dealt only with the medicine companies, and it was a manufacturer of perfume, it escaped Holcombe’s scrutiny. The RT stamps were ordered and used by L & C’s predecessor, Young, Ladd and Coffin. They came in four values, from 1c to 4c, and are known perforated and imperforate, as well in the b, c and d paper varieties, accounting for 24 varieties in all, most moderately uncommon, and RT32b genuinely rare. By 1898, these private die proprietary perfume stamps themselves were already being catalogued and offered to the public by stamp dealers.

Civil War era private die of Young, Ladd & Coffin

The company’s product was a line of Lundborg’s Perfumes, and its history predates the Civil War. Its founder was a Swede who emigrated to the United States, John Marlie Lundborg How he acquired his knowledge of perfume seems now lost in time. He is listed as a “perfumer” in the 1860 Trow’s Business Directory for New York City, but apparently lived in Hudson, NJ. By 1872, he had sold an interest in his business to Richard D. Young, and by 1873, the firm was reorganized as Young, Ladd & Coffin. Although an advertising brochure was issued in his name as late as 1876, he retired when the firm reorganized, and died of “softening of the brain” in Hudson in 1880 at age 57.

Richard D. Young took the premier spot in the new partnership because he was already an established businessman. Born in Pennsylvania in 1840, by 1876 he was influential enough to be a member of the New York City Board of Trade. He remained associated with Y, L & C from 1872 to 1887 when that company dissolved by “mutual consent.” He then established his own perfume manufacturing business, the R. D. Young Perfumery Co. It did not fare well, for reasons which will become readily apparent.

The bland explanation for the undoing of Y, L & C may have concealed more profound difficulties Young was experiencing. He had married Emma Bushnell, who came from an old New York City family, but after their five children had begun to mature, the marriage had gone stale. Emma had filed for a separation in 1885. Apparently, since the two were already pursuing their separate lives, she did not force him to litigate to divorce, perhaps because blatant evidence of adultery was the only acceptable proof to obtain a divorce. In 1888, Young later declared, his business difficulties caused him to go temporarily insane. He suffered from “melancholia” and was hospitalized in three different sanitariums. During this period, in the Spring of 1888, while she was exercising “undue influence” over him (according to his later account), he deeded to Emma their house together with several perfume formulas. However, by 1889, he had recovered his health. Now robust and reinvigorated, he not only sued Emma to recover the deed to the house, but also persuaded her to withdraw her separation action.

Peace did not ensue. In 1890, Emma decamped to her mother’s house in Montclair, NJ. A strange event then transpired. One of Young’s clerks, Melano Reichardt, who, coincidently, was boarding with Emma’s mother, accompanied Emma to the Hamilton Hotel in Patterson, NJ. She said Reichardt was “attentive to” her and they stopped during a normal Sunday drive merely to have dinner. Out of the same circumstances, Young shaped a different narrative. He charged that he and another of his clerks had discovered Emma at the hotel in a “compromising position” with Reichardt. She renewed her suit for separation and he cross-sued for divorce. By November, 1889, Emma was being shadowed by Young’s “private Hawkshaws,” as she called them (“Hawkshaw” was then a popular detective cartoon strip). She averred they had tried to break into her quarters and so harassed her that, in the supercharged words of the New York Times reporter, “she began to feel that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness were but a hollow mockery.” After one detective so menaced her as she made her way to the Astor House hotel (where, she stated she was merely picking up a left umbrella), she had him arrested. The same New York Times reporter cynically concluded his article on the incident with the aside that the detective posted $300 bail “and left apparently delighted at the leniency of the court.”

When the marital cross-suits of the Youngs came to trial, Emma testified that the deed to the house was Young’s birthday present to her that year, and, further, she had abandoned the family home only after Young tried to shoot her. Young testified his “melancholia”prevented his even remembering his conveyance of the house to Emma. But the tale of Young’s degradation grew even juicier. During the divorce trial, a Grand Jury in New Jersey indicted Young and his two clerks for the crime of “conspiracy” in connection with the Hamilton Hotel incident. The indictment charged they had tried to trump up against Emma false evidence of the “in flagrante delicto” act necessary to demonstrate adultery. By then, Young’s company was a shambles. In December, 1890, Young made an assignment of his business, and in early 1891, a trade journal stated that the “stock, plant and fixtures … of Richard D. Young, the well known manufacturer of perfumes … had lately been sold at auction by an assignee.” Young was bankrupt. That journal sympathized that “his recent troubles are a matter of profound regret to his many friends in this part of the world.”

As Young’s criminal conspiracy trial approached, the other clerk died and Young fell out with Reichardt. In May, 1891, both went on trial in New Jersey. The prosecutor introduced a love poem which Young had written to some “Loved One.” Young claimed it predated his marriage, although the document bore the date of March 4, 1890, and refused to identify the “Loved One.” The Times reported that Young and Reichardt each tried to proclaim that he had been duped by the other and that only the other should be blamed for the conspiracy. The Times, summarized the cross-purposed defenses: “This novel spectacle has excited great interest.” Naturally, both were found guilty. Young was sentenced to pay a fine of $100, plus half the court costs, which amounted to an additional $37.50. Reichardt drew a $50 fine and the other half of the costs. After that humiliation, an initial ruling setting aside Young’s conveyance of the house to Emma was reversed on appeal, with the appellate court noting that it could only conclude from the trial evidence that Young knew perfectly well what he was doing when he deeded the house to Emma. A final court decision granted Young a “partial” divorce, while recounting the circumstances of his conviction. With Young finally divorced, convicted of criminal behavior and bankrupt, the newspapers tired of both the Youngs and they disappeared from the news. A trade journal offered one last grace note: in 1894 it related that Young had brought his 36 years of experience in the perfume business to the Crown Perfumery Co as its “American agent.” In the 1900 Census, Young’s wife listed herself as a widow and the head of her household. Apparently, neither the Times nor the industry trade journals reported Young’s death or eulogized him.

By contrast with Young, the intertwined lives of John B. Ladd and Sturgis Coffin were much more “prosaic,” although the wealth that they both amassed through their perfume partnership meant that their comings and goings were chronicled in the social columns of the New York Times. Ladd was born in New York City in August 1839. When he joined with Young and Coffin, he had been a salesman for Colgate & Co (yet another company to be explored in this series). Ladd’s wealth enabled him to amass his own collection of old masters, nineteen of which he lent to an exhibition in 1897 celebrating the opening of the Brooklyn Art Institute’s new building, now the Brooklyn Museum. In 1908, he exhibited at the Union League his collection of Dutch Masters and other more modern works by such artists as the 19th Century French artists as Corot and Boudin.

The closest tie between Ladd and Coffin was that they were in-laws. Ladd married Coffin’s sister Emily, and before his own marriage, Coffin lived with the Ladds in Brooklyn. His sister, Mrs. John B. Ladd, was the one whose name appeared most frequently in the social columns through her involvement with her many charities benefitting institutions serving the then separate city of Brooklyn and their various balls, galas and “tableaus,”(live portrayals of famous old masters). One of her other significant activities was her association with a group of prominent Brooklyn women who issued a manifesto to the New York State legislature denouncing the women’s suffrage movement, They wrote: “from a studious contemplation of the governmental principles involved, came a firm conviction that woman suffrage would be against the best interests of the State, its women and the home.” Since the broadside dates from 1894, the ladies must have had their way. Despite his wife’s now seemingly retrograde views suffrage, Ladd as well as Coffin both considered themselves reformers enough in 1902 to sign a petition in support a Citizen’s Union plan for a reform mayor and refreshed government of the now united New York City.

Coffin and his wife were also linked with many charities. Coffin was born in Poughkeepsie, NY in 1845. His father, Henry, was a well-known and prominent wholesale druggist, first in Poughkeepsie, and after 1867 in Brooklyn, who served as a trustee of the Long Island Trust Company, a director of a plate glass company and an major investor in the Atlantic Avenue Railway Company. By the time Sturgis became part of Y, L & C, his mother was already a part of the Brooklyn social scene, and the younger Coffins associated with the same charities as had his parents and his sister. In 1892, he also served on the perfumers’ committee of the drug trade industry’s effort to raise money for the construction of Grant’s Tomb, and, in 1894, he and his brother-in-law Ladd were both members of the Board of the Brooklyn Homeopathic Hospital that was called upon to fire and replace the hospital’s entire professional staff to settle a festering internal quarrel. In 1894, he was listed as among the attendees at a New York City Board of Trade meeting where the principal address concerned tariff reform, and, a month later, as both and attendee and sponsor of a $25 prize awarded at the Brooklyn Horse Show. The Times described that affair as being Brooklyn’s social equivalent of the National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden.

Over the next several years, Coffin’s name continued to be mentioned in connection with the Brooklyn Horse Show and many other society affairs. In 1903, the Times noted his daughter Natalie’s engagement to Johnston de Forest, the only son of an old Washington Square family, whose grandfather had been the first president of the New York Stock Exchange. Natalie married de Forest in October, 1904, but her health apparently was poor from the outset. After attempting to recuperate in Colorado Springs, CO, then her family’s summer home in New Canaan, and finally in Asheville, NC, she died in April, 1906. Shortly thereafter, Sturgis Coffin’s life ended tragically. In August, 1907, he died suddenly of a ‘cerebral hemorrhage” at age 62 in New Canaan. Several days later, when the coroner’s report was released, the papers revealed that the hemorrhage had been induced by a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The speculation was that he had been distraught, never having recovered from Natalie’s death. Mrs. Coffin’s name continued to grace the social columns until her own death in 1924.

Ladd & Coffin disappeared on January 1, 1910. With Coffin dead, Ladd, who was in ill-health, retired on December 31, 1909. The company was restyled as Coffin & Price. The Coffin was T. J., a nephew of Sturgis Coffin and Mrs. Ladd. Price was a W. C. Price. Both had been long-term employees of the company, and a trade journal reporting on the re-alignment speculated: “it is safe to say they will continue the business along progressive lines.” Ladd died in November, 1910, much honored by the industry and trade associations. By 1914, the company had changed its name to the Lundborg Co. By 1917, it had become strictly a manufacturer and wholesaler and had abandoned its downtown New York City address for Fifth Avenue. Circa 1930, it was still introducing new fragrances and in 1954 the company remained on Fifth Avenue. Currently, its products do not appear to be in production, although vintage bottles and advertising abound.

While in operation, the company drew singular praise from one visitor to its establishment. During the Nineteenth Century, European travelers from de Tocqueville to Dickens delighted in exploring the brave new, raw United States, and publishing their observations to enlighten their more sophisticated brethren about their strange country cousins. In 1884, an English woman, Emily Faithfull, who was investigating the position of women in American society observed:

“Another scene of female industry interested me greatly in New York. Mr. Rimmel [Eugene, 1820-1887, born French, but operated a world famous and still extant business in London after 1834] claims to have been the first have employed women in England on a large scale in the manufacture of perfumes, and Messrs. Young, Ladd & Coffin, the makers of Lundborg’s exquisite perfumes and Rhenish Colognes, are entitled to the same honour [sic] in America. ‘The rich man’s luxury is the poor man’s bread;” if scent must rank as a luxury, it certainly is one which affords work for thousands. But it is more than that, it is a sanitary agent as well, and an adjunct to the refinements of life with which high civilisation [sic] cannot dispense.”

Let us close with one further glimpse of L & C’s business as it hummed along in 1888:

© Malcolm A. Goldstein 2012
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