Ads From The 1800s

        "She was a better cook than the Laird: a better caterer than Little Billee, and a better saladist than Taffy" (when she used Durkee's Salad Dressing). -Trilby, Part II.

        Send for FREE booklet on "Salads: How to Make and Dress Them," giving many valuable and novel recipes for Salads, sandwiches, Sauces, Luncheon Dishes, etc.      Sample 10 cents.
                                            E.R. Durkee & Co., 135 Water Street, New York.

The Durkee of the 1800s looks quite different from the Durkee of today, but I am always amazed at how many companies have survived for over a century, despite many economic hardships and crises.  Now, it seems like everywhere you turn, another company is going bankrupt and disappearing, but many of these "forerunners" are still going strong.  Some of these products and companies bear familiar household names (Coca Cola, Vogue, etc.), while others may be a bit more obscure (Durkee, Mellin, etc.), but all in all, they have quite interesting histories. 

Take Durkee, for example - they were founded in 1850 by Eugene R. Durkee as a manufacturer of spices, extracts, sauces, condiments, and food preparations.  According to King's Handbook of New York City, their goods were "the acknowledged standards of excellence, and their trademark of the 'Gauntlet,' coupled with the signature of the firm, always constitute[d] a guarantee of purity."  The company was started in Buffalo, but soon based in New York and had offices, salesrooms, factories, and warehouses in New York City, as well as mills in Brooklyn that employed several hundred workers back in the 1890s.  They were a well-known household name throughout the 1800s and early 1900s. 

Besides having a booming business in the food industry, E.R. Durkee & Co. also sold various pieces of machinery, tools, and even steam-engines.  In fact, some of their equipment, including a steam-engine, became the subject of a Supreme Court Case in New York (Wells vs. Kelsey), according to Reports of Practice Cases, Determined in the Courts of the State of New York...  

In the year 1900, the State College of Kentucky conducted an inspection and analysis of foods to determine whether or not foods that were advertised as pure and unadulterated could actually hold up under scrutiny.  These findings were published in the Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station of the State College of Kentucky: Bulletin No. 86.  According to the bulletin and "An Act Regulating the Manufacture and Sale of Food" passed by the Legislature of Kentucky effective June 13, 1898, any foods found to be "adulterated" or "misbranded" were "subject to a fine not to exceed $500, or not more than one year imprisonment."  Different articles of food had differing standards, and according to the bulletin, "Spices, mustard, pepper, etc. must not contain any foreign substances or coloring matter introduced to dilute or cheapen the article, and any such admixture constitutes an adulteration and can not be sold unless its kind and amount are indicated on the label."  In the "Pepper, Spices, Coffee, Etc." section of the report, it says that, "Seventeen samples of these articles were examined by means of the microscope, twelve of them being found adulterated by admixture with foreign material."  That's over 70% of the samples!!  And how does E.R. Durkee & Co. fit into this equation?  Their ground black pepper stood the test, and was "not found adulterated."  You may be wondering (as I did), what these products were "adulterated" with - the number one culprit was starch.

In a culture where many companies "watered down" their products, E.R. Durkee & Co. was creating products that truly could be labeled "pure and unadulterated."  E.R. Durkee was one of the first people/businesses to take advantage of the ability to register trademarks.  E.R. Durkee & Co.'s salad-dressing and sauces (our featured ad) U.S. patent# 55,239 was filed May 2, 1905, and published on May 15, 1906.  Although the company has traded hands over their 150+ year existence, they are still an established business today and still purveyors of fine spices and seasonings.

To see more of E.R. Durkee & Co., check out these links:

Flickr Photostream of E.R. Durkee & Co. buildings, factories, etc.
E.R. Durkee Antiques for sale on eBay

Nancy Koder

I think Asha would appreciate this. She likes the old-fashioned stuff.


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