Pam’s Pictorama Post: You can imagine my happiness at finding this little gem, while searching for tax documents, tucked away in our flat files a few weeks ago, Doin’s and Styles In Black Cat Town. Have to love that! I remember buying it (I believe I paid up for this one), but a long time ago. While it isn’t terribly fragile, it is hard to display and so I tucked it away until now. I have given you select highlights above, not the entire booklet. While the ribald and wonderful early Black Cat Hosiery advertising items are extant and sought after today, much to my surprise it was not so easy to find a history or timeline of the company online.
What follows is what I have pieced together. However we here at Pictorama are prepared to stand corrected by the more knowledgable of you out there in Readership Land. It appears that the Black Cat Hosiery Company of Chicago-Kenosha, Wisconsin was founded in the 1897 by Samuel T. Cooper. (He’s interesting enough in appearance that I have snatched up and included his photo below as well.) Its black cat icon became an immediate favorite. (See my version of the stand alone cat advertising at bottom – this item was previously featured in the post found here – Time Out for Our Sponsor.) It was beloved and exploited to maximum effect, such as this 1906 booklet. I believe the use of it, to a greater or lesser degree, continued at least into the 1920’s, although I could not find any confirmation of that. In addition, if I understand correctly, this company started manufacturing underwear (union suits) in 1901 under the name White Cat. Their white kitty mascot never caught on or became as fleshed out as the toothy and wonderful black kitty fellow. I show White Kitty and Mr. Cooper below. Ultimately, the company eventually evolves into Jockey underwear of today.
Our amazing little booklet has credits for both author, E. Brate Rogers, and artist, Frank Swick. A search on Mr. Rogers turns up a fairly entertaining letter he wrote to a trade journal called The Inland Printer in 1902, where he complains about copywriting correspondence courses – how these rogues cannot even put together a sentence and want to charge $30 to teach people how to copy write. As per this letter, Mr. Rogers outlines how he was well experienced writing about socks, hose and other mercantile endeavors, and therefore was already vastly experienced when he penned the verses for this booklet in 1906. Meanwhile, Swick seems to have been a popular illustrator of the day churning out work for magazines like Collier’s, posters, prints and advertising work such as this. I don’t know if he is responsible for the iconic smiling Black Cat or/and the more straightforward White Cat, but he does not stint on his illustrations and goes to town here, as does Mr. Rogers. This booklet was designed to go straight to the consumer and the back pages assure, If your dealer does not handle ‘Black Cat’ Hosiery, note the styles and following prices, and send to us with price, stating style and sizes desired, and we will forward them free of charge. (An early free shipping campaign.)
The entire booklet is written in verse and closes with, Mothers dear, just lend an ear – Stockings, none to mend! Black Cat Brand the games withstand, When children tear and rend. Peep! Peep! Fast asleep: Stockings right in sight: ‘Bless my soul! Not a hole!’ Ho-o, um!…good folks…Good night! I especially love the back cover, shown at top, with a photo of the factory (too small to see if it is decorated with black cats – I assume it must be!) and best of all, this photo of one of Blackie’s ancestors, curled up in front!