Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Furniture Catalogue 2

                                   Grandmother's Furniture Catalogue

Since my last post, I've spent more time looking at the "Furniture Catalogue," my grandmother's scrapbook. I Googled the name on the catalogue, John V. Farwell and Co., and found out that the Farwell company was once one of the largest corporations in America. It was a wholesale distributer of "dry goods:" furniture, textiles and clothing, based in Chicago. Between 1880 and 1910 they grossed $20 mil. per year and employed over 1000 people. John Farwell himself started as a clerk in 1845 for the original company, which was called Wadsworth and Cooley.  By 1857 he had worked his way up to partner in the firm, and in 1863 the company became known as Farwell, Fields and Co. Farwell's partner, Marshall Fields, another up and coming young man, left soon afterwards to start his own company, and for the next 40 years the two companies were the most profitable names in dry goods. During the early 1900's however, the dry goods business changed. Manufacturers started selling directly to stores, eliminating the need for large wholesalers. Marshall Fields and Co. adapted by opening stores of their own, but Farwell and Co. did not. It closed its doors in 1925.  

From this, I figure that Grandmother probably started using the Farwell catalogue for a scrapbook around 1920, possibly earlier. The earliest date I can find among the pictures and articles is 1917, the latest 1932. Unfortunately, Grandmother made no effort to date her selections so any dates she included were purely by accident. Here's the cover of a magazine entitled Hunter Trader Trapper, from 1917.  

                                       Hunter, Trader and Trapper 

My other problem is that Grandmother didn't label the pictures. I didn't find the catalogue until the last few days of my mother Wenonah's life so I didn't get to go through it with her. She did tell me that one of the photos was of the actress Mary Pickford, one of the stars of the silent picture era. There are several other pictures in the catalogue which seem to be from movie ads, but only one includes a title, "Hawthorne of the U.S.A." starring Wallace Reid. Reed was another star of silent movies. He played romantic roles whereas Pickford played little girls or vivacious young women. Some of her famous roles were Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm and Pollyanna. From 1900 to 1930 Mary Pickford alleged to be the most famous woman in the world. She and her husband, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., fought the advent of talking pictures. In her opinion, "adding sound to movies would be like putting lipstick on the Venus de Milo".

                                                  Mary Pickford

As you can see Miss Pickford's picture is pasted on a page of the catalogue which advertizes wicker or "reed" furniture.  

My mother told me about going to silent movies when she was a child. There was an organ player who sat down in front providing background music for the film: fast music for action scenes, romantic music for love scenes, suspenseful music for mysteries, etc. I guess the organ player could play as loud as she (or he) wanted. There was no dialogue to drown out. My mother might not have seen many movies starring Pickford or Reid though. She told me that she and her brother Bob preferred westerns. 

Most of the pictures pasted in the catalogue are from ads. Most of the time Grandmother cut off the name of the company, but when she left it on, it's surprising how many of the names are familiar: Del Monte, Kellogg's, Coca Cola, Wrigley's gum, Chevrolet, Purina dog food, Burgess Seed and Plant Co. Here's an old Norman Rockwell painting advertizing Orange Crush:

                                               Norman Rockwell

Notice that the caption has been cut off. Grandmother was obviously just interested in the picture.  

Here's a picture advertizing Uncle Ben's Cream of Wheat. Isn't it amazing that the company is still using the same picture of Uncle Ben.

Uncle Ben 

It looks like I'll need to do another post or two from the Furniture Catalogue. There's just too much to condense into one or two articles. I'll finish this one off with a newspaper photo of the Oklahoma Chapter of the Grand Army of the Republic. I hope the quality of my copy is good enough for you to see the features of some of the men. Several could pass for Col. Sanders of fried chicken fame. There's a reason for that. The Grand Army was made up of Union Civil War veterans. As usual, Grandmother didn't include a date, but it's a pretty big group so I would guess the article dates from the early 20's. According to Wikipedia the Grand Army was active in lobbying for voting rights for black veterans, and for pensions for all veterans.

                                       Grand Army of the Republic

As you can see, the picture is pasted on a sheet of wallpaper. Grandmother often did that, I suppose to reinforce the thin pages of the catalogue.

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Furniture Catalogue

One of my most precious possessions is a furniture catalogue which belonged to my grandmother, Victoria May Rosser Paul, my mother's mother. I need say here, if I haven't mentioned it before, that I apologize for not writing more about my father's family. They were and are wonderful people, but I don't know as much about their history. Also I've been concentrating for the last couple of years on putting together information about my mother's family. Sooner or later I'll start putting together the stories about my dad and what I know about his family. 

Anyway, let me tell you about the furniture catalogue. As you can see from the picture above, it's pretty plain. It has a brown cover and is simply entitled "Furniture." The only date I can find inside is 1852, the date of the founding of the company, under a picture of a big building which it says is at the corner of Market and Monroe Streets, for anyone who is familiar with Chicago. As for the date the catalogue was published, I have to guess that it was the first half of the 1920's because under "talking machines" there are no radios displayed, and the phonographs listed are all spring operated, with a crank on the side. They boast that the machine "will play four 10 inch records without rewinding." According to Google, it was the mid 20's before radios became widely available and phonographs came with an electric motor.  

The catalogue also advertizes coal and wood burning heating or cooking stoves, although some come equipped for gas as well. You can also order an icebox. They call it a refrigerator, but it's an ice box.

As interesting as this is, it's not why I value the furniture catalogue so much. It's important to me because Grandmother used it as a scrapbook. Almost every page is covered by pictures, newspaper articles, and poems cut out of magazines and newspapers. It's not a family album though. Grandmother had those too. The clippings in the furniture catalogue are just things she liked, for one reason or another. Some of the newspaper articles are about current events, and some are stories that have illustrate some religious or moral lesson. There are poems, and cartoons. There are several "Ripley's Believe It or Not" illustrations. There are several pictures of historic figures with stories about them: George Washington, William Shakespeare, the philosopher Cato. There are too many to list. Grandmother pasted a lot of pictures onto the pages of the catalogue, pictures of famous places, Mount Vernon, the Mosque of Omar, Jerusalem, pictures of people that caught her interest, and pictures that she just thought were pretty.  

I'll eventually spend more time talking about the catalogue. I've actually just started to look at it in greater detail, and to index it, but looking at the pictures and reading the articles and poems tells me so much about my grandmother, what she liked, what interested her, what she valued. When I first noticed it, my daughter and son, Cheryl and Donald were with me, and we thumbed through it together. The main thing we noticed that the was the number of stories and pictures that Grandmother saved for her children.  

Grandmother loved children. She had ten of her own and also lots of grandchildren. After she died my mother donated a baptismal font to the Paul's Valley Episcopal Church in her memory. The reason she gave to me for her choice was: "whenever I think of Mamma, I think of babies."  

My mother, Wenonah, told me that one time Grandmother rode the train to Oklahoma City alone. It was an emergency, so she had to leave the younger children under the care of the older ones. Anyway when she got back she told them about her trip. She said: "All the time I was gone I kept thinking that I had forgotten something, that something was missing. Finally I realized it was because I wasn't holding a baby."  

Anyway, there are a lot of newspaper clippings that Grandmother cut out and pasted in the Furniture Catalogue from a series entitled, "A Bedtime Story." Here's one of them: 

Uncle Wiggly and the Persian Cat

copyrighted by Edward R. Garis

          Once upon a time, when Uncle Wiggly and nurse Jane were going out to the moving pictures in the evening, they heard, as they passed an old stump, a sad sort of voice saying:

          "Nobody wants me! Oh, nobody wants me. How sad it is not to have a home where somebody wants you!"

          "Did you hear that, nurse Jane?" asked Uncle Wiggly as they stopped near the stump.

          "Yes, I heard it," answered the muskrat lady, hurrying along. "And you'd better not stop, Wiggly. Let's go on to the pictures. Maybe that's the bad fox or wolf trying to get you close enough so they can grab you."

          "Oh, indeed I'm not a fox or wolf," the voice behind the stump went on. "I am a poor Persian cat, and because I look so queer no one around here wants me," and with that there stepped out into the moonlight a large cat with long silky fur.

          "Oh, my goodness! What a queer cat!" cried Nurse Jane.

          "That's what everyone says about me," complained the poor creature.

          "But what makes your hair stick out that funny way all over you as Kitty Kat's used to do when she saw a dog?" asked Nurse Jane.

          "It's because I'm a Persian cat," answered the pussy,who was now sitting on the stump. "Persian cats always have long fur, like the Angora cats, only it sticks out more. But my fur is as soft as silk! Just feel!"

          Nurse Jane put her paw on the Persian cat's back, and the muskrat lady was not afraid of the cat, nor did the cat try to chase the muskrat lady.

          "Oh, Uncle Wiggly! What lovely, long thick silky fur this cat has!" Exclaimed Nurse Jane. "I can hardly see my own paw when I put it on the cat's back. The fur hides it, and it hides my diamond rings too."

          "Hush! Better not speak of you diamond rings!" Whispered Uncle Wiggly.

          "Why not?" Nurse Jane wanted to know.

          "Because the Burglar Fox might be around, and when we come home from the movies he might jump out from behind a tree and take your jewelry," said the bunny gentleman.

          "Oh, I wouldn't like that!" said Nurse Jane, as she raised her paw and her rings up from the midst of the thick fur on the Persian cat's back. "But if you want a home, she said to the pussy, "Why not come and like with us? I like you, even if you are different from short-hair cats."

          "So do I," said Uncle Wiggly. "Come to the movies with us, and then come to my hollow stump bungalow."

          "Oh thank you, I will," mewed the Persian cat. So she went to the movies with Uncle Wiggly and Nurse Jane, and on their way home, all of a sudden, as the muskrat lady passed a big tree a voice shouted:

          "I want those diamond rings!"

          "Whose diamond rings?" cried Uncle Wiggly.

          "Nurse Jane's," was the answer. "I'm a burglar fox, and I know she has diamond rings. Take 'em off. I want 'em." and with that out popped the bad fox.

          "Oh, what shall I do to save my lovely diamond rings?" whispered Nurse Jane.

          "Hush!" answered the Persian cat. "Just drop the rings off your paws in the thick fur of my back. They will be safe there and the Fox can't find them."

So Nurse Jane held her paw over the back of the Persian cat and shook off her diamond rings. They fell in the thick, soft fur and stayed there, and the cat walked around in the moonlight careless like, as if she had no jewelry at all.

          "Give me the diamond rings!" Barked the fox. Nurse Jane held out her empty paws. "Ho! Ho! Fooled again! Barked the Fox. I sure thought I'd get some diamond rings tonight, but you have none, though I thought you had. "I'll try it again some other night."

Then he ran away because he heard a policeman dog coming, never thinking to look on the back of the Persian cat for the hidden diamond jewelry. Then Nurse Jane took her rings out of the long haired cat's fur and put them back on her paws, and soon she and Uncle Wiggly and the Persian cat were safe in the bungalow, where the pussy lived for some time.

          So you see, it is a good thing sometimes to have long fur, and if the automobile doesn't bump into the street lamp and make it look all twisted like a corkscrew, I'll tell you next about Uncle Wiggly and the snow fox.