Advertising is associated with manipulation and outright deception, but advertisements for local businesses are obliged to offer sober fact as well. During the period of Philadelphia’s industrial glory, that obligation was accepted with enthusiasm. Businesses accumulated particulars like a Victorian furnishing a parlor: lists of products and services, testimonials, and sketches of products or properties, as in the wonderful specimen below. The information in these advertisements is a historical source like any other, though unusually tidy and concise. The material can usually be allowed to speak for itself.
To begin, here (see menu above or complete links below the figure) is a first set of galleries arranged by subject. Some have serious themes: the pervasiveness of mourning customs; the mushrooming of small businesses in the shade of a great invention; the unmistakable new look of the 1920s. Some are just for fun.
Click on an image to see the advertisements in a slide show. Galleries will be added as inspiration strikes. In addition to the pages here, there are less weighty posts; please have a look at them.
For inquiries, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. If you are looking for a particular advertisement, let me know. A large and somewhat shaggy database of Philadelphia locations is also available to anyone who might benefit from it.
In the 1895 advertisement above, Mathew Schmid offers to relieve customers of a feature common in cities like Philadelphia. He does not have to explain that the classic up-to-the sidewalk rowhouse blocks of the late nineteenth century typically featured canted or diagonal first-story entrances at each end. The businesses that usually occupied canted-corner buildings could be seen from either side of the corner, and more readily seen as one approached them on either side–good for business. Dozens of of intersections still feature canted entrances on all corners. Very often an elaborate cast-iron column stood in the place of the lost corner. Schmid says that such “objectionable” columns were used almost universally. To this I would respond, first, that his invention must have transformed the construction of canted corners, because, to make a guess, fewer than half of the old canted corners in Philadelphia feature columns. Second, I would respond that the columns are not objectionable (though perhaps inconvenient on moving or delivery day), but attractive and even informative.
Here are some photographs of columns that display the names of their manufacturers, getting them under the bar as advertisements, and some advertisements for companies that made columns. (Unfortunately, the two groups don’t mesh as well as one would like.)
As you can see, many of the columns have been freshly painted. They clearly formed, and form, part of the decorative scheme of their buildings. But many columns were lost to the revenge of the rectilinear, when owners decided to favor one street over another, or wanted the building to be a house without a canted living room. To judge from surviving buildings, many of the restored corners never featured columns at all. Many of them are so heavily paneled or resurfaced that only old photographs can tell us whether there might be a column imprisoned inside. But sometimes we see columns that have survived the change from a diagonal entrance. Sometimes the old doorway is blocked and the column remains, no longer objectionable because it has no activity to block. Then it becomes abstracted, like a piece of stage scenery. (See the photograph below.) Or the column may be imprisoned in the new corner, sometimes with a little breathing space, and sometimes mashed into the new construction like Ariel in the cloven pine. I like to find these “captive canted-corner columns.” You can find screen captures of both varieties in the albums of my Facebook page Philadelphia Particulars:
I urge you to look at the gallery, which has had several additions. If you cannot, here is a list of the intersections where imprisoned columns can be found (as of the 13th of February 2018): Addison and South 60th/Annin and South 8th/Brown and North Newkirk/Carpenter and South 5th/Carpenter and South 6th/Catharine and South 24th/Cayuga and North 19th/C. B. Moore and North Taney/Chester and South Alden/Chestnut and South 8th/Cumberland and North Bancroft/Fairmount and North 3rd/Fleming and Roxborough/Huntingdon and North 23rd/Kater and South 6th/Loudon and North Mascher/Luzerne and North 7th/Moore and South 21st/Moore and South Cleveland/Olney and North American/Pacific and North 19th/Pierce and South 21st/Poplar and North 30th/Price and Crittenden near 65th Avenue/Snyder and South Chadwick/St. Luke and North 5th/Tasker and South 24th/Tioga and North Water/Venango and North Percy/Waverly and South 24th/Wharton and South 22nd/Wilder and South 22nd/Wilt and North 19th/York and North 6th.
Surprisingly, we know when things started to be mammoth, and that the popularity of the word was sanctioned at the highest and most principled level, with thoughts of publicity, perhaps, but not as part of an advertisement. The occasion was the presentation to President Jefferson of a mammoth cheese made to thank him for his support of religious liberty. Here is one of many accounts: https://constitutioncenter.org/blog/a-tale-of-a-giant-cheese-and-the-first-amendment. The use of the word was clearly inspired by the discovery of mammoth (or supposed mammoth) bones, one of Jefferson’s many passionate interests.
The political associations of the term made it controversial and even derogatory. It did not supplant modest descriptions like “big” and “large.”
But advertisers clearly wanted to wow customers with the prospect of seeing or obtaining something that was more than merely large.
Of these advertisements, the only one that has the scale of the mammoth cheese is the mammoth soap displayed at the Centennial. The mammoth shirt collar is delightful, especially as it looks in the picture like a streamlined street lamp. And the owner clearly can’t resist playing with the idea of the mammoth shirt. There is a point in an oversized sign, but would be the point of mammoth products like lamps or (fake) mantels, and would anyone really want a mammoth fashion plate? And children might have nightmares about mammoth asparagus (maybe not about the less aggressive-looking Boston Mammoth White Plume Celery). Maybe the expression succumbed to incongruity.
Thomas MacKellar (1812‒1899), the man above at left, principal partner in the well-known Philadelphia type foundry MacKellar, Smiths & Jordan, looks like a sober fellow. He resembles one of the Smith Brothers of cough drop fame (not the Smith brothers who supplied the “Smiths” in the firm’s name), was praised bythe Philadelphia Typothetae in 1894 for his “high scientific attainments” and philanthropy, and wrote hymns and serious poetry. His firm declared that “mere quaintness without utility” had no place in its products.
But start exploring the firm’s catalogues and you may feel that you have stepped through a portal—or a looking glass that fills your head with ideas as “Jabberwocky” filled the head of Alice. The specimen texts may remind you of the uncanny advertisements in a Harry Potter film, or the sign in front of a musty herb shop in Bell, Book and Candle. The specimens speak of “Nature’s Crochet Granary,” the “Perpetual Fiddlestick Assurance Company,” the “Annual Ball of the Web-Footed,” and “Telephonic Nursery Explosives.” To put it another way, the books read as though Poe, Dickens, Lewis Carroll, and Jules Verne had dropped in to help with the catalogues. There are satirical names like those in Dickens; at least two (Gradgrind and Skimpole) come from Dickens. (There is also a nod to Mrs. Caudle’s Curtain Lectures, Douglas Jerrold’s burlesque on married life.) It is not surprising that Alastair Johnston, the author of Alphabets to Order: The Literature of Nineteenth-Century Typefounders’ Specimens (British Library, 2000), explored type specimens as forerunners of Dadaism. (See his post on the book.) He says that MacKellar “gave the other typefounders permission to write stream-of-consciousness texts.” (He also notes that MacKellar had been apprenticed at a satirical paper in New York.) In a Project Muse review of Doug Clouse’s book MacKellar, Smiths & Jordan: Typographic Tastemakers of the Late Nineteenth Century (Oak Knoll Press, 2008), James Mosley refers to the “anarchic poetry of the incidental texts” with their “sometimes disconcerting facetiousness.”
Quite a few specimens lean toward science fiction. The 1876 Centennial had showcased the current state of the sciences and arts, rather than the distant (in time and space) future imagined at later international expositions. The new telephone was a sensation, but how might it be used? Perhaps for a telephone concert. It is not that there was no taste for new horizons, or for stretching the imagination. As the Centennial display began, Kiralfy’s Alhambra Palace opened with a ballet based on The Tour of the World in Eighty Days―admittedly, a contemporary, not a futuristic, story. (By the way, the Alhambra was on Broad Street, which was described by Verne as “the finest boulevard in the world” in All Around the Moon, chapter 24.) A few years before the Centennial, the Philadelphia Evening Telegraph had offered English translations of several works of Verne. Some of them were made by the man above on the right, Stephen William White (1840‒1914), an independent “phonographer and translator.” White eventually held several important offices in the Pennsylvania Railroad organization. He had been a commercial rather than a literary translator, unlike his fellow Evening Telegraph translator of Verne, William Struthers (b. 1854), who was related to members of a well-known (note the reference to the new public buildings, i. e., City Hall) family of marble dealers, but was himself a poet, admirer of Walt Whitman, and music critic.
Norman Wolcott and Kieran O’Driscoll, who have described the careers of the two translators, made the reasonable assumption that the two men knew each other. Did either one know MacKellar? It seems unlikely that he was unaware of their translations.
Below are sets of speculative specimens from three catalogues. Please click to open them for legibility. To avoid treating the forty or so advertising/headline specimens as separate files, pages have been created, using elements from the three books. The texts are all authentic; a few sample numbers have been removed. The pages are fake and flimsy, but why not have a little fun? In the post mentioned above, Alastair Johnston lined up several MacKellar specimens to produce a “visual poem.”
Please note the Venus Magnetic Express Company in the 1885 section, because the “pneumatic gutta-percha projecting cylinders” used to blow packages “safely and accurately” “to distant Planets” seems to take us into the realm of steampunk, and because Jules and Michel Verne also liked pneumatic tubes, using them to transport people across the ocean, or to deliver meals.
Eleventh Book of Specimens of Printing Types. . . (1885)
2. Shniedewend & Lee Co.’s Specimen Book and Price List of Type Manufactured by MacKellar, Smiths & Jordan Co. (1888). This was published in Chicago―but one specimen mentions Swampoodle (not a made-up name, but the area where Shibe Park once stood).
The romance of Kitty Foyle and Wyn Strafford intensified as they worked together on Wyn’s Philly magazine project. (Please see my page on the novel: https://philadelphiaasadvertised.com/kitty-foyle-and-philadelphia-the-grand-homey-old-town/) Philly was to be “something like” the New Yorker, full of “wisecracking stuff about football, and hunting, and cricket, and the Orchestra, and famous food and drink, and little articles about picturesque history.” It seemed sure to be a hit with students at the many colleges in the area. But Kitty had her doubts, and so did her friend Molly, who did not believe that Philadelphia shared New York’s passion for “being In the Know.” The upper classes were serenely indifferent to innovation, and the lower classes knew that an appearance of sophistication would not lead to acceptance. Kitty knew that “Sankatown” wanted above all to be comfortable, not to be bothered, and saw in the magazine’s few issues a demonstration that the Main Line could not make fun of itself; that required an outsider. Even Wyn’s mother was aware that Philadelphia did not enjoy “that sort of persiflage” and was happy when her son gave up “that dreadful magazine.” To be fair, we should note that the first issue of the magazine was published just as the stock market crashed, causing his father to cut off his support of the project.
What might Philly have looked like? There is a ready answer in Town Crier of Philadelphia, “Philadelphia’s smart, new, humorous weekly,” as it was called in the issue of May 19, 1930. Here are some pages from that issue. Is the style familiar?
The magazine, appealing to “the cream of the Philadelphia market,” was to present “outstanding work . . . in a fresh and telling manner,” providing “smart Philadelphians” with “an amusing reflection of their tastes.” That sounds a bit like the build-up for Philly. And Morley must have been familiar with Town Crier. It was familiar with him, predicting that he would write a book “containing a whimsical loveliness and a description of the smell of doughnuts.” (This prediction itself may be nothing but whimsy, but, for what it is worth, in both Travels in Philadelphia and Kitty Foyle Morley seems to be drawn to doughnuts.)
Town Crier must have folded very quickly. It scarcely appears in online searches, though we learn that a similar magazine, The Chicagoan, lasted from 1926 to 1935. (Kitty says that another such magazine, intended for the “Detroit smart set,” might be willing to buy and adapt material no longer needed by the defunct Philly.) If Town Crier seems to have left few traces, why not find out what happened to the magazine’s writers and artists? Please see also The TOWN CRIER and the Talkies: Jay Emanuel and Other Reel Fellows.
Kitty did not seem impressed by the staff of Philly magazine, the Main Line youngsters who treated the project as a lark and the legions of “broke cartoonists” (to the magazine’s lawyer, “bohemians sitting on the stairs”) and “newspaper paragraphers” with material to sell. As for Town Crier, the names of the writers and artists might not leap off the page, and some appear only as initials (E.H.S., S.N.F., T.R.B.), brief names (Meg), or likely pseudonyms (Criton, Mary Scrapple, Philadelphia West). Some names have not been found, or were too generic to be pinned down: Francine von Schneeberg, Inigo Owen, William A. Armstrong. But the Alphonse B. Miller who wrote a biography of Thaddeus Stevens, as well as many book reviews on U.S. history, is probably the man who contributed an article about Hoover. We find a Harry M. Klingsberg who published fiction on legal subjects, a George H. Eckhardt who wrote about television and clocks, and a Harold W. Brecht who wrote novels. Rae Norden Sauder produced nonfiction for magazines and newspapers. Many continued in journalism: at the Evening Ledger, Sidney Lear, Henry T. Murdock (who became the Inquirer drama critic in 1950 and worked long enough to praise Barbra Streisand), and Eric M. Knight (who was also at the Public Ledger). While Knight was at the Town Crier, as we see in the ad below, his beat was “The Talkies.” Later, he wrote Lassie Come-Home.
TOWN CRIER OF PHILADELPHIA, 19 May 1930
Ivan H. “Cy” Peterman continued his sports reporting, at the Evening Bulletin and the Inquirer, and became a respected war correspondent for the Inquirer during World War II. Samuel Lipshutz is likely the writer of the same name, working around that time at the Record, who went to the New York Post, after being induced by his boss to change his last name to the more Anglo-Saxon Grafton, and became a widely syndicated columnist.
As for the artists, Bainton has not been identified, and two others should be identifiable as locally known artists, were it not for differences in styles and signatures: Angelo (perhaps Emidio Angelo) and Russell Henderson Esq. (perhaps Russell S. Henderson). NOTE: In the small print at the bottom of the second page above, we see that Emidio Angelo was the art director of Town Crier–that would seem to settle the matter!) Styles and signatures can change; E. K. Bergey, the cover artist, could well be the man who (using more than one version of his name and signature) went on to specialize in less stylized, more representational (“realistic” is not quite the word) covers for magazines with names like Spicy and Thrilling Wonder Stories. And two of the Town Crier artists, Richard Decker and George Shellhase (see “This Week” above, and the clown on the next featured page), went on to draw for the New Yorker itself.
The International Exhibition of 1876 can be seen as a Philadelphia story. It went up in West Philadelphia, honored the secular shrines in Old City, and showcased the culture, institutions, and burgeoning industrial might of the city.
But it could be said that Philadelphia was one thing, and the Centennial another. The Exhibition was set apart in a park, though linked by transit to the grid. It was bordered by temporary facilities for housing and amusement, though many visitors stayed in Center City and bought guidebooks that described the city as well as the Centennial. The Exhibition was itself designed to be, for the most part, temporary.
One could also say that Philadelphia was one thing, the Centennial another, and a burlesque like One Hundred Years a Republic or Our Show; AHumorous Account of the International Exposition (Philadelphia, 1876), by Daisy Shortcut, Arry O’Pagus, and A. B. Frost (that is, David Solis Cohen and his illustrator, H. B. Sommer), yet another. Cohen, writing in 1875, had fun with the past, from Columbus to the earnest women who had raised money for the celebration and the officials who had been planning it. But when he moved on to what might happen in 1876, he was free to invent tall tales, the more startling and unlikely the better. In one, the Colosseum is brought over and made the scene of a gladiatorial combat between Bismarck and the pope. And then there is the sad story of the Sphinx.
The fantasies in Our Show can be bizarre, the text and illustrations full of stereotypes we find offensive. It might seem better to stick to the official record, until we think what it must have been like to get dressed up and swelter through a Main Building with eleven miles of aisles and walkways and twelve thousand exhibits (Richard R. Nicolai, Centennial Philadelphia [Bryn Mawr, 1976], 58), and then confront Memorial Hall and its annex, with their thousands of works of art. No wonder C. D. Richardson offered the Centennial Cane and Chair Combined, “Especially Valuable for LADIES, who cannot possibly endure the fatigue without one.”
The solemn Centennial visitors shown in wood engravings look as though they could use a laugh, and the book is often funny—just look at the “reviews” and the running heads.
Another reason to enjoy Our Show is that its fantasies are tethered to the streets of Philadelphia by local references, references that are set off at a slight angle from reality by altered names and strange contexts: the Alms House, Bedford Street Mission (unlikely scene of an “opium banquet”), Broad and Prime [Washington] Station, Cape May Diamonds, Darby, Richard J. Dobbins (a contractor who worked on Centennial buildings; he is given tongue-in-cheek credit for inventing Dobbins’ Electric Soap), lawyer Daniel Dougherty, Doylestown, Cherry Hill (N.J.), the City Troop, Egg Harbor (N.J.), Mrs. [John W.] Forney (the Forneys were a Centennial power couple), the German Hospital, Girard Avenue Bridge, Horticultural Hall on Broad Street, the House of Corrections, Jefferson Medical College, Manayunk, the Market Street Passenger Railway and other lines, former mayor Morton McMichael, rough and tough alderman William McMullin, Media, the Navy Yard, the Pennsylvania Railroad Bridge, Point Breeze Park (a horse-racing site used in Our Show to shelter the family of Brigham Young), Poplar Street Wharf, the Sawyer Observatory at the Exhibition, Schuylkill Falls Park, the Schuylkill Navy, Seybert’s Bell in Independence Hall, the Spring Garden Soup Society, the State Fencibles, Mayor William S. Stokley, the U.S. Mint, Walnut Street Dock, and West Chester.
He also mentioned well-known products and firms. Some, like Herring’s Hay-Making Machine, the Slawson fare box, Spalding’s Glue, and the Phoenix Iron Works, were not from Philadelphia. But many were. These references were not product placements. There are advertisements at the end of the book, but they are not for the firms mentioned in the book. No surprise there—respectable business owners might not have enjoyed being featured in a satire. The skeletal closing image of Alfred Timothy (i.e., Alfred Traber) Goshorn, the director-general of the Exhibition—
—was credited to F. Gutekunst, a prominent, award-winning photographer. The most extravagant fantasy involving a Philadelphia firm was the tale of the modern “Sphynx.” The original monument, placed on display on Belmont Avenue, was destroyed by “relic fiends.” A diplomatic crisis was averted when the firm of Robert Wood & Company created a modern version in bronze.
We can well believe that Cohen, a young proofreader and writer for local newspapers, including the Public Ledger, was known for “his successful and brilliant efforts as an interpreter of the main role in comedies and farces produced at the Amateur Drawing Room” and “[h]is rare gifts as a comedian . . . the means of delight to numerous auditors.” By the way, the efforts in the Amateur Drawing Room were made “to assist work in connection with the Centennial Exhibition” (Henry S. Morais, The Jews of Philadelphia , 315).
Our Show has been made available online by the invaluable Internet Archive. The illustration of the Sphynx was improvised to join picture and text.
As Halloween approaches, here is a brief look at the marketing of practical products for ephemeral entertainment. This is not about the marketing of materials for artists or serious amateurs, as seen below.
It is not about the useful (if strange) and durable knick-knacks made by middle-class women with servants, or the appeal of ready-made novelties. It has to do with the allure and adaptability of inexpensive mass-produced products like paper. Stationery shops offer neat displays of products that promote efficiency and order, but a paper fancier would find in these advertisements plenty of opportunities for fun.
This post began with a napkin. Here are ads from 1887, 1890, and 1892.
Why is a stationer offering (paper, it would seem) Japanese napkins? You can find one explanation in several places, one of the most entertaining being John Q. Reed and Eliza M. Lavin, Needle and Brush: Useful and Decorative (Butterick Publishing Company, 1889). The book is a cornucopia for those who want to get up to speed on their lava work, or would like to produce a few hair-receivers or decorated thermometers for friends and relatives:
Apparently the napkins were done up with beautiful and colorful flower designs, inspiring “bachelor maidens” and other women to make them into sachets in all their favorite colors and scents. If you sew, the figure is self-explanatory. Fold a napkin in half with the right side inside, and stitch the outer edges together, leaving an opening of a few inches in the middle. Turn the napkin right side out, smooth it, and insert cotton sprinkled with a favorite scent into the “saddlebags” on either end. Tie a ribbon bow in the center, perhaps after closing the opening with exterior stitching. This must be one of the easiest projects in the book, and it is inexpensive and useful, if not durable.
And keep in mind these 1885 and 1887 advertisements for sealing wax.
The Dennison Company, based in Framingham, Massachusetts, from 1898, set up branches in other cities, including a Philadelphia shop that moved from 33 South Third (1862), to 630 Chestnut, and then (1898) to 1007 Chestnut Street. (The third site has survived, with alterations.) You can learn about the company in a recent history (see the link for an article about it at the end of this post) and in Seventy-Five Years: 1844‒1919, available from the invaluable Internet Archive:
The sachets were a sign of things to come. In the 1890s crepe paper became widely available. As you can read in Seventy-Five Years, the four “Heath Sisters” of Buffalo realized what crepe paper could mean for “mak[ing] all manner of beautiful things.” In this case the customers made a pitch to the manufacturer. The manufacturer caught the fever, and passed it along to the public. The sisters’ demonstrations and display in Boston attracted such crowds that what become known as “Dennisoncraft” was soon being taught in branch stores, which came to include art departments. Advertisements show the growing prominence of the art department, even before its official establishment, and the development of new products and “dainty creations” that could be made with them.
The company’s window displays, full of color and novelty and often devoted to holidays, were admired in trade journals.
(“How to Put the Win in Windows” was the title of a Dennison brochure marketed to other marketers.)
At the height of this remarkable diversion, from the 1910s to the 1930s, the company sold booklets (many of them, like the one featured below, available on the Internet Archive) full of designs for party decorations, costumes (to be worn over muslin or clothing), “halls, booths and automobiles,” weddings, and patriotic displays. Designs were given for Twelfth Night and April Fool’s Day as well as the more usual holidays. The creativity of the company’s artists was clearly stimulated by Halloween, as can be seen in this 1920 Bogie (as in bogeyman) Book:
The 1920s seem to be well under way here. If you had been a “business girl” with bobbed hair, like the one shown in the booklet, you might have followed the directions (complete with menu) for an after-work Halloween party with sashes and headbands instead of costumes, but otherwise complete and thorough in design, with spiffy window and chandelier covers, a centerpiece, favors, and doughnuts, apples, and oranges in pumpkin, cat, clown, and goblin designs.
If you doubt that people actually wore the costumes, you can find photographs with live models and a surviving costume or two on Pinterest. In 1922 crepe paper went to the shore in the especially ephemeral form of bathing suits, modeled by women from the George B. Evans drug stores of Philadelphia. Before the amazed (or disappointed) spectators the paper suits gave way to woolen ones after they disintegrated in the waves.
In the same year, live models in Dennison costumes appeared in the windows of the Venetian Art Shop in Wilmington (Walden’s Stationer and Printer, vol. 46).
In 1925, the Haddington Art Shop at 6050 Market Street offered instruction in Dennison handicraft, just in time for Easter.
If you doubt that the elaborate party decorations ever materialized, you can read an account of a ca. 1922 Haverford College junior prom that featured a crepe paper “Sheekstent” for the Valentinos of the Main Line.
Paper can be treated like cloth, and had been used for disposable clothing for some time. (Dennison paper doll costumes added three-dimensional effects and custom patterning.) Textile methods were used to make relatively durable projects. Crepe paper rope could be woven into a pretty sandwich basket. Braided and crocheted crepe paper could be made into hats, and cellophane into accessories. (You may recall the advertisement for cellophane hats on the page for the 1920s here.) Other malleable products were adapted for crafts. Dennison sealing wax was promoted for painting, and for making beads and party favors with the look of cloisonné.
Crepe paper and tissue paper were not entirely lightweight, except in the literal sense. Young students and wounded soldiers were said to benefit from crafting work, and the uses of crepe paper that were proposed during World War I included substitution for medical gauze.
Dennison was not the only company that offered inexpensive and temporary thrills. The George B. Evans company has been mentioned. You might also want to look at the holiday products offered in the 1911 Christmas catalogue of MacCalla & Company of Philadelphia, a company better known for scholarly and religious printing: https://archive.org/details/christmastagssea00macc
But no one seems to have shifted its marketing and its product line the way the Dennison Company did. Lace paper, waxed paper, and tin foil have inspired generations of hobbyists and decorators, but how much of the inspiration came from the manufacturers or marketers? Maybe you can recall, as I do, the Glass Wax Christmas window stencils promoted in the 1950s. They represented a comparatively modest spin-off; in fact, the window wonderland of wax reverted to its workaday purpose when it was rubbed away.
That is a far cry from the kaleidoscopic pageantry of the Dennison art department. But maybe even more could have been done. Was there ever a booklet for the Día de los Muertos? Or the Hinamatsuri, or Japanese Doll Festival/Girls’ Day? To get closer to home, consider this 1922 Christmas design. Hoops, wires, suitability for swirling and strutting. Was there really no Mummers connection?
You see above an advertisement from the American Luxfer Prism Company that offers a way to bring daylight into buildings. Prisms can be installed horizontally with vault (or pavement or sidewalk) lights, floorlights, and skylights; vertically with bands of prisms in shop fronts; and at an angle, with prism canopies.
These devices, similar to the older deck prisms on ships, were popular during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The prisms provided a solution to the problems of shops and workplaces (and houses with gloomy dining rooms) in the long, narrow spaces typical of desirable city blocks, at a time when gas and electricity were competing as lighting sources. Business owners objected to the cost of artificial lighting, to its effects on merchandise (soot, difficulty of judging colors) and employees (eyestrain that caused clerical errors, lack of healthful sunlight and consequent low spirits). Daylighting offered an economical and seemingly permanent solution to these problems.
Below is the cover of a fascinating Daylight Prism Company brochure, which is full of photographs of installations in Philadelphia. You can enjoy it on the Internet Archive. To the right is one of the testimonials in the brochure.
That testimonial was not illustrated. But here is an advertisement for another firm that occupied the building. An enlarged detail has been added.
The window treatment is hard to interpret. But here is a more detailed 1960 photograph of the building, slightly lightened to show the prism installation above the main window.
The good news about 924 Arch is that, though the prisms are gone, the handsome building remains, at the southwest corner of Arch and Hutchinson. In addition, it may be that one of the illustrated installations, at the Dobson Mills in Falls of Schuylkill, survived as a feature of the Dobson Mills Apartments complex (see figures 6 and 7 in the gallery of the apartments’ Web site).
These images of lost buildings seem to show prism installations.
This post is a bit of a sideshow, designed to lead you to a page with a longer treatment of the subject (link below), one that includes vault lights (and their bit part in Bell, Book and Candle) and another, more sensational, use of glass, the blue glass cure or blue glass mania, which began with General A. J. Pleasonton of Philadelphia. That is the delusion of the title.
A long page grew out of this much shorter post. The Web page on this site is called “Navigation.” This post could have a fancier title; for example, “How Transportation Transforms Our View of Geography.” We know that the way we travel shapes our ideas of location and distance. One example is this joke: “You’re from New Jersey? Which exit?” A second would be the tie between Sugar Hill and the “A” train; we evade the landscape by zipping along under or above it, so that a destination is the place on the route where we return to the landscape. A third comes from an imaginary but typical conversation with a friend who lives in the Greater Northeast. The friend has found a fabulous new diner or thrift store. “But how far away is it?” “Two buses.”
In the middle of the nineteenth century, the spread of urban public transportation with fixed routes and schedules provided a new, if supplementary, way of giving locations. In 1867, when a new version of Edwin T. Freedley’s Philadelphia and Its Manufactures (with advertisements!) appeared, the hundreds of omnibus cars of the late 1850s had been replaced with street cars―still drawn by horses, but drawn more smoothly and quickly along a rail. Some of Freedley’s advertisements give, in addition to street addresses, directions that are also standardized, because they are based on passenger car routes. Customers are advised to take a public street car to a factory that makes elegant private carriages. That seems ironic, like using a computer to buy a manual typewriter, though it probably reflects enduring class distinctions as well as the difference between pleasure and display, and the need to get from one place to another.
Some companies advertised their street-car connections visually rather than in words. They show, not a generic bustling street scene, but the very line that passed the company.
The Trolley Soap advertisement (from The Reporter’s Nosegay, 1896) jumps ahead into the last years of the century, but I could not resist it.