Office Party: Diversion from Dennison and Others

Office Party: Diversion from Dennison and Others

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:

https://archive.org/stream/cu31924003593344#page/n0/mode/2up

Needle and Brush: Useful and Decorative, 1889, p. 62

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:

https://archive.org/details/seventyfiveyears00denn

A view of the Philadelphia art department:

https://archive.org/stream/seventyfiveyears00denn#page/46/mode/2up

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.

Walden’s Stationer and Printer, 1921

(“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:

Dennison Bogie Book, 1920

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.

Geyer’s Stationer, 1922

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.

https://archive.org/stream/recordofclass1923have#page/52/mode/2up

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.

Geyer’s Stationer, 1920. This display was in the Philadelphia store.

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?

Dennison’s Christmas Book, 1922

Featured image: Dennison’s Bogie Book, 1920

Further links:

A history of the Dennison Manufacturing Company:       http://patch.com/massachusetts/framingham/history-center-volunteer-pens-books-dennison-manufacturing-company-0

A striking convergence between mourning crepe and crepe paper:  https://vimeo.com/116964519

3 thoughts on “Office Party: Diversion from Dennison and Others

  1. I am always struck by how older advertising was dependent on text as opposed to today when our advertising is all visual. Illustration was certainly available (if not photography) but it seems people in those days were not adverse to actually reading content. I love to see well-set type.

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  2. The Dennison ads certainly relied on lively graphics, but, yes, early advertising was about describing products, not creating a mood. That means that we can learn a lot from old advertisements, and enjoy the clever use of typefaces. When illustrations are added, you get to see long-vanished businesses in their prime, or admire new machinery lovingly shown in all its details. Thank you for reminding me of the qualities that led me to take up this project!

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