November 14, 2007

Newton, Robertson & Co.

Sometimes when an advertising cookbook has several interesting aspects it's difficult to address all of them at once lest my post here become too lengthy.

I think A Short History of the Banana and a Few Recipes for its Use (1904, 32 pages) falls into this category. There are several things about it that grab my attention.

What to think about first?

The interesting gilt embossed cover? The well-known Janet McKenzie Hill? The history of the food company (United Fruit Company)? The delicious color artwork used for the illustrations? Banana recipes? The banana industry? The food value of bananas?

A small thing found without even opening the book inspires me today.

Quite noticeable on the lower right portion of the front cover, below the title, are the words "Compliments of Newton, Robertson & Co.".

Who were they?

It wasn't uncommon for promotional cookbooks to have the name of a local business printed somewhere on the outside cover or interior pages. There are many examples of this; sometimes the same booklet will show up, identical to another except for the different business names. I think organizations promoting dairy products like milk and butter did this a lot. They were marketing a generic product with brand names that changed quite a bit locally and regionally, so they used a business name that the consumer could more easily associate with their product.

In this case it's bananas. The United Fruit Company wasn't marketing a brand name like Chiquita, but the food itself. Probably nobody even cared who the United Fruit Company was, really, except for maybe the citizens of the Caribbean, Central and Latin American countries whose lives were being turned upside down by the banana importers and exporters.

Just as Ellen over at Chronicles of a Curious Cook finds a better way to search for recipes, I sometimes find Google Books to be another useful tool. (This is because it is neither physically nor financially feasible for me to own a copy of every book that interests me. I am a book addict.)

This morning my search there yielded Geer's Harford City Directory, No. 62--July, 1899 to July, 1900. There's an entry for what I believe is this company in there:

Newton, Robertson & Co.--grocers, fruit, creamery butter, teas, 338 and 342 Asylum. see page 502. J. P. Newton. W. P. Roberston, H. H. Dickerson.
There's also a 1/3 page advertisement on page 502 of the same volume that further confirms my belief.

They used a good portion of this advertisement towards the quantity and quality of fruits offered at their establishment. You don't have to stretch your imagination very far to think that they might also allot a part of their advertising budget towards the cost of a recipe booklet for their customers. Or maybe N&R was such a good customer, such a large customer, that they also got the booklets free, compliments of UFCO.

Hopefully, this other Google Books link will take you to an old photo shown in Hartford (Images of America). The photo at the bottom of page 102 shows the Newton Robertson grocery on the ground floor of the building located at Asylum and Ann streets. According to the caption, this building also housed the home office of Hartford Life Insurance and the Hartford Dispatch.

A link at Connecticut History Online takes you to an earlier exterior view of the store when it was known as the J. P. Newton Market. The description notes that "Joel P. Newton was a wholesale meat, poultry and fish dealer at 341 Asylum Street from 1875 to 1885, when the business became Newton and Robertson, grocers."

I like these pictures and the advertisement from the old directory. They assist us in visualizing the time period when the cookbook was published.

Although those in the Hartford area might have been able to get a complimentary copy of this cookbook from the proprietors of Newton & Robertson, anyone could get the booklet by sending 10 cents in stamps to A. W. Preston, President [United Fruit], 131 State Street, Boston.

More about this cookbook tomorrow or the next day.

To read about another United Fruit Company recipe book, you can go here.


At 8:03 AM CST, Blogger T.W. Barritt said...

Very intriguing. You should probably rename yourself the "Food Company Cookbook Detective!" I've never used the Google books search, but will now add it to the arsenal.

At 9:21 AM CST, Blogger Kathy said...

T.W. - Well somebody has to document all these pesky little details! Hope I'm not boring y'all to death.

At 3:17 AM CST, Blogger Rochelle R. said...

Thanks for mentioning Google book search. I didn't know about it. I just spent quite awhile on it. What a great resource.


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