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Trading wind

Everything changes, everything progresses…’

This Gem is a trade card, a business card for companies which would have been distributed to clients and potential customers to advertise their products, services and contact details.

This card was produced for the French wine company, Byrrh, probably during the 1930s. It was part of a series of trade cards called ‘Looking Ahead’, each of which showcased a different new or developing technology with a brief explanation of it on the reverse. The range of cards included farming, interplanetary planes and thermal energy.

This card displays a wind turbine, which was first invented in 1888 but was just starting to really develop and gain popularity by the 1930s, with the invention of the Darrieus wind turbine in 1931 which upgraded the conventional horizontal-axis wind turbine to a vertical axis, accepting wind from any direction with no need for adjustments, and allowing the heavy generator and gearbox equipment to rest on the ground instead of on top of a tower.

The gradual change from traditional windmills to modern wind turbines in generating power would have been at the forefront of the public psyche at this time, which is reflected in the concluding phrase on the reverse of the trade card:

“Everything changes, everything progresses…
Only Byrrh cannot improve because it is the perfection of cinchona tonic wines.”

Despite the same phrase being displayed on every trade card, and obviously being a way to humorously advertise the ‘perfection’ of Byrrh’s wine, this rather fatalistic yet also optimistic philosophy of everything changing and progressing is very reminiscent of the approach many people took to the industrialisation of milling, and the progression from traditional milling with wind and watermills to modern milling with roller mills and electronic machines.

The contrast between the poetic past in which windmills are often depicted, and this modern wind turbine is shown in the futuristic style of the painting, which may well have been influenced by the building popularity of sci-fi novels during the early 20th century, spurred on by new inventions in science and technology which were stoking people’s imaginations. Interestingly the turbine is given a similar design to the Eiffel Tower which had its own vertical wind turbines installed in 2015.

Byrrh was started in 1866 by the brothers Pallade and Simon Violet. The drink, a wine-based aperitif flavoured with cinchona, was originally marketed as a health tonic due to its inclusion of quinine, as well as to stop it competing with other established French Wines. Prohibition and changing French tax incentives almost killed off the brand, but in more recent times it has regained some of its former popularity, with exports to America restarting in 2012.

Gem from the Mildred Cookson Foundation Collection

Related links

  • Further Reading: Learn more about the technique that brought art to the masses and made making this trade card possible here.
  • Further Reading: Learn more about the history of trade cards here.
  • The Wing Major: Wind Turbines only really began to be taken seriously thirty years before this card. Find out more about how this happened here. 
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Tilting at windmills

“Those over there are not giants but windmills.”

You’ve probably heard the common phrase ’tilting at windmills’, which, as the well-read amongst you might know, originates in the misadventures of Don Quixote – the influential novel written by the Spanish writer Cervantes in the early 17th century. As an idiom it refers to wasting time, fighting imaginary enemies, or pursuing an imagined but impossible goal – as did the hero of the story, the Don himself.

During the First World War, this phrase was often visually represented by artists in order to make symbolic remarks about the futility of war. This postcard from 1915 is titled ‘The New Don Quixote: The Adventure of the Mills’. It depicts a countryside scene showing six windmills, each one labelled as a country that made up the Triple Entente and its allies – with the largest windmill in the scene symbolising France. The windmill is being charged at by a knight on horseback: the knight, with his Prussian moustache and helmet, on a saddle marked with the German Imperial flag representes Germany, whilst the horse he rides symbolising Austria. The postcard mocks Germany and Austria, showing them as wasting their efforts by pursuing an imagined impossible goal, that of defeating the French and their allies.

What is particularly fascinating is the universality of the symbol of tilting at windmills: it was also used by the Triple Entente’s rivals, the Triple Alliance (the secret agreement between Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy). The bottom picture shows a cartoon from the German satirical magazine Kladderadatsch, which was also published in 1915. In this version, the mill represents the monarchies of the Triple Alliance defeating England, France and Russia, which are symbolised by Asquith the British Prime Minister riding a lion, Marianne of the French Republic riding a rooster and Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolayevich Romanov riding a bear.

The fact that both sides sought to represent the other as delusional, wasting time and fighting an impossible battle, tells us a lot. It shows both sides’ determination to win and their belief that they were the stronger side – but more than that, it indicates the necessity of keeping the nation’s morale high by broadcasting these opinions through art. These postcards are fine examples of war propaganda decrying the opposition’s futile fight, whereas in retrospect we can now appreciate the futility of war in general.

Gem from the Mildred Cookson Foundation Collection

Related links

  • Further Reading: Tilting at windmills is a very common idiom, but how much do you know about its origins? Did you know it comes from a jousting match with giants, but not the kind you were expecting? Click here to read more. 
  • Germans Reborn: Windmills appeared on other First World War postcards as well. Click here to see the mill that turned recruits into soldiers.
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Letting the cat out of the bag

Meet Biddy who worked for Bemis Bags for 79 years.

Introduced as a company trademark in the 1880s for Bemis Bags, images of similar cats in bags were used in company products and advertising up until the 1960s.  This is the original cat: her name is Biddy and she was a common sight at the St Louis Bemis Bag company factory as the champion mouser.

The story goes that she was bought into the factory by her owner, Miss Annie Fyfe, who was the forelady of the cotton department in 1882. One day Biddy was exploring an empty bag on the shop floor, and when she emerged she struck her famous pose. She just so happened to be observed by noneother than the company’s founder, Judson Moss Bemis, who was hit by a flash of inspiration: and thus the trademark was born. Biddy first appeared on an advertisement for the company in the May 30th, 1884 issue of the Northwestern Miller, and would continue to grace its pages for years to come. The design changed over the years with Biddy getting older and the bags changing with new designs – and when Biddy died, another cat took over her modelling role, and another one after that. If you look through the copies of Northwestern Miller that we have at the Archive, you can see the progression of Bemis Bag cats through the ages.

Bemis Bags was founded in 1858 and produced machine sewn cotton and burlap bags. To begin with millers were rather suspicious of this new method of machine stitching, expecting it to be weaker than traditional hand sewing. In response, Judson Bemis guaranteed every bag against rips – an action which paid off as the company became very successful. Bemis Company, Inc still exists in its modern form today, producing flexible packaging for food and pharmaceuticals. Unfortunately they no longer use cats in bags in their advertising, but the recognisable trademark – which for 79 years stood as a symbol of quality workmanship – will go down in history in the pages of the Northwestern Miller. Not bad going for a mouser from 1882!

Gem from the Northwestern Miller

Related links

  • Further Reading: Biddy appeared in advertisements in the Northwestern Miller for over almost 80 years. You can find out more about our unique collection of this publication here.
  • Mill Cats: See more cats from our collection here. 

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Mill of old age

Some mills have miraculous powers.

This postcard was produced by the Belgium publisher Marco Marchovici in the early 20th century. The illustration is of elderly women entering the ‘Mill of Old Age’ on the right. On leaving the mill they have been transformed into glamorous young ladies. In the middle of the mill there is a chute for some poor women who have been rejected in the process!

The postcard plays on a common theme of the transformative power of mills – another example being the German reservist mill, another one of our Gems. However unlike other examples, this portcard is less serious and far more charming: the more you explore the image, the more you are treated to humorous episodes. For instance, the rather despondent donkey, the elderly lady falling into the mill in a rather alarming position, or the young lady admiring herself upon emerging.

Marco Marcovici was a Belgium publisher specialising in the tourism industry, which produced a large number of postcards from 1901 to the 1930s. This postcard is unlike the company’s standard works, which were more likely to be collotype views or guidebooks than miraculous mills.

Gem from the Mildred Cookson Foundation Collection

Related links

  • Further Reading: Throughout history mills have been used as a symbol of rebirth, due to their destructive and constructive nature. Learn more about the origins of this symbolism here.
  • Germans Reborn: Not only can a mill grant you youth, they can turn you into a soldier, as this gem shows.

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Unfolding a new era

You never know what may lie inside an advertisement.

This Gem is a trade card for Washburn Crosby Company Flour Mills, produced in around 1890 to advertise their Gold Standard Flour. What makes this trade card a Gem is the fascinating folding design: the picture of a traditional windmill on the front of the card folds out like a folding children’s book to show a modern roller milling complex inside. This shows the progression from traditional flour milling to modern, industrialised flour milling. However, conversely to the wistful, sentimental portrayal of traditional windmills and their contrast to a more negative view of the industrialisation of milling that we often see, this trade card views modern milling in a very positive light, stating that

“There’s as much difference in the Flour of some mills, as there is between an old wind-mill and the most modern milling plant in the world.”

Washburn Crosby Company Flour Mills was an American company based in Minneapolis, set up by Cadwaller C. Washburn in 1856. The original mill was called Washburn’s Folly as it was criticised for being far too large for the demand of flour. Nonetheless the company was successful, leading to the building of a larger mill called ‘A’ Mill in 1874. In 1874, soon after the expansion, an explosion destroyed ‘A’ Mill, killing eighteen people. In response, the company invested in more modern and safe technology, making it the first mill to use automated roller technology, increasing their capacity to 5,500 barrels a day.

In 1928 the company merged with twenty-six others to create General Mills, a global food company which continues to operate today and produces well-known products including Cheerio’s and Nature Valley. They have expanded from just milling and food production, and were responsible for the invention of Black Boxes for planes and the submarine that explored the wreck of the Titanic when it was first found. 

Interestingly, the reverse of the card describes the flour in a way that may not be quite so popular today:

‘This flour contains a large percentage of the gluten of wheat, and a very small proportion of starch, and for this reason bread made from it, does not become dry and tasteless, but retains the sweet flavour of the flour, and will keep moist for several days.’

Practical as this sounds, modern tastes have changed. In 2015, over 850 products sold by General Mills were gluten-free, whilst in 2005 it was the first major food company to make all of its cereals with whole grain. Indeed, modern advertisements make much of this for the health-conscious consumer – bringing it all back to the beginning, but with a contemporary twist.

Companies have constantly sought new and novel ways to appeal to consumers through advertising. This trade card does just that, whilst also demonstrating the development of milling technology.

Gem from the Mildred Cookson Foundation Collection

Related links

  • Further Reading: Learn more about the technique that brought art to the masses and made making this trade card possible here. 
  • Further Reading: Click here to find our how Trade Cards developed into a popular method of advertisement. 
  • Calendar Trade Card: This isn’t the only way companies tried to set their cards apart. This one, for William Perrin, a corn, flour and seed merchant, is a calendar.
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Germans reborn

Mills are often used as a symbol of rebirth.

This intriguing Gem is a pre-First World War postcard entitled ‘The Reservist Mill’. It depicts German recruits going into the mill and coming out as reservists – the image explained by a poem underneath the mill:

‘Just as the finely-milled corn
Comes out as flour
The Recruit goes into the barracks
And goes home as a reservist.’

The postcard was produced at a high point of German, particularly Prussian, militaristic nationalism, following their victory in the Franco-Prussion War of 1870-1871. This victory had lead to the creation of Germany as a more unified state, combining provinces such as Saxony and Prussia. By 1914 Germany had the most efficient army in Europe, and implemented universal mass conscription. Men were recruited into compulsory military service which lasted for three years, followed by four years as a reservist.

‘Mailing cards’ such as this were introduced in Germany in 1865 by Heinrich von Stephan, the Postmaster General of the German Empire. The first legally printed postcard carried a similar Prussian militaristic theme, with a picture of a German Artillery man loading a cannon. From these origins, Germany would become the leader of the postcard printing industry, with a particular boom of ‘postcard mania’ in 1903. 

Uniquely interactive postcards such as this one were used by military service recruits to send home to their families: there is a little space over the mill’s doorway which allowed the sender to fill in the number of days they had left to go – in this case, 190. Unfortunately, the writing on the reverse is illegible, but we can only imagine that it could have been an update on military training life by an enthusiastic young recruit, or a promise that a homesick reservist would soon be coming home to his loved ones.

This postcard demonstrates the extent mills are part of the communal psyche as they have become a popular motif beyond the milling world.

Gem from the Mildred Cookson Foundation Collection

Related links

  • Further Reading: Throughout history mills have been used as a symbol of rebirth, due to their destructive and constructive nature. Learn more about the origins of this symbolism here.
  • Mill of Old Age: Mills weren’t just able to turn men into soldiers but made old women young again. Learn more about this miraculous power of mills here.
  • Hidden Messages: Postcards sometimes contained secret signals as in a 1910 item found by a volunteer, click here to learn the secret language behind postcards.
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Flour power

“Some of the work in a flour mill requires a good deal of muscular strength, and in peace days such work was considered unsuitable for women.”

“Some of the work in a flour mill requires a good deal of muscular strength, and in peace days such work was considered unsuitable for women. However, when the need came the women proved themselves quite equal to the strenuous tasks required of them.”

So declares the 1916 cigarette card issued by Carreras Limited, producer of “Black Cat Cigarettes”, along with an illustration showing two women working in a flour mill. The women are depicted moving heavy flour sacks – heavy manual work that was typically reserved for men. These cards were used to promote a particular brand, while also keeping to the shape of the cigarette box.

During both First and Second World Wars, the majority of men of working age were away fighting, and it was left to women to keep the country running. This meant that they had to take on what had been traditionally seen as male roles, such as heavy manual labour. Despite initial doubt as to whether women would be capable of such tasks, they excelled: proving themselves fully competent and efficient, and helping to break down the perception of what was women’s work, along with preconceptions of their capabilities.

The work of women in the First World War proved to be instrumental in the case for women’s rights. Their patriotic contribution to the war prompted the inclusion of women’s enfranchisement in the 1918 amendment of the Representation of the People Act, finally allowing women over the age of 30 who met certain qualifications the right to vote. While this move did not give women immediate equality, it was an important step on the path towards full political rights.

Gem from the Mildred Cookson Foundation Collection

Related links

  • Further Reading: Discover more about the crucial role women have played in milling.
  • Further Reading: Without a reliable supply of food Britain would have lost the Second World War, however getting your daily bread was far more difficult during wartime. Learn all about the demands of war on the milling industry here.

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Napoleon’s folly

A supposed French invasion craft designed to cross the channel during the Napoleonic Wars.

In the late 1790s, Britain was gripped by the scare of an invasion by the infamous French warlord Napoleon Bonaparte. Over the channel he was amassing his forces; rumours of his conquests were rife and everyone knew he had set his sights on England as his next planned invasion. Indeed, a small French force even landed in Wales in 1797 (as part of a very brief and unsuccessful attempt at a diversion).

As it is wont to do (and was, even in the 18th century), the press took hold of the nation’s anxieties and began publishing satire about the supposed rafts full of military troops which would land on British soil. A variety of cartoons and reports were produced: the depicted rafts were all were impractically large and capable of carrying a very large number of soldiers, had some form of fortification in the middle and used wind-powered paddles as propulsion. These reports were all said to be supposedly from either ‘a prisoner of war’ or ‘a visitor recently from France’ to give them some form of credibility. The rafts quickly entered the public imagination and became a way of depicting the invasion threat in a comical manner, fuelled by Britain’s love of poking fun at the French (and perhaps also as a defiant stand against what must have been a very real and imposing threat). In the end, however, this invasion never came – Napoleon’s hopes dashed by Nelson at Trafalgar.

The Gem, an etching by Robert Dighton, was produced around 1798. Dighton was born in 1751 and entered the Royal Academy Schools in 1772, after which he set up as a drawing designer and miniature painter. He specialised in “dross”, caricatures of a more gentle nature than those by the likes of his main contemporaries, Gillray and Cruickshank.  Dighton was a particularly colourful character: as well as working as a caricaturist and performing on the West End stage, in 1806 he was caught for stealing prints from the British Museum and selling them on. It was quite a scandal, but luckily for him he avoided prosecution by fully cooperating with the investigation. Robert Dighton died in 1814, leaving behind his children who also became caricaturists.

Remarkably, whilst these depictions of rafts are clearly absurd, there have been some attempts at creating boats powered by windmills. Some are less direct and have used them to produce electricity which is then used to drive the underwater propeller; but others have been directly linked through a drive shaft to the propeller. Indeed, with growing concerns over the environmental impact of international shipping and with new designs such as the use of windmills, large kites and solid sails, we may yet see a ship that resembles Napoleon’s folly.

Gem from Wheeler, HFB and Broadley, AM, Napoleon and the Invasion of England: The Story of the Great Terror, John Lane, The Bodley Head, London, Volumes 1 & 2 (1907)

Related links

  • Further Reading: This cartoon is a piece of satire. You can learn more about this centuries old art form that stretches all the way back to the Ancient Greeks here.
  • Anglo-French Trade during the Napoleonic War: The archive has a folder of research papers showing that despite the invasion fleet trade did continue to cross the English Channel.

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Money problems

A token used when the country was short of money.

In the 18th century, a shortage of coins consistently caused widespread problems: workers could not be sufficiently paid and simple transactions could not be carried out. It wasn’t that everyone was poor – there just weren’t enough coins to go around. To compensate for the shortage, unofficial stamped tokens were created to be used in place of money.

Such tokens were called Provincial Tokens, or Conder Tokens (named after James Conder, an early collector who catalogued the coins). The Mills Archive has in its collection its very own token: this silver reproduction was struck by the Mills Section of the SPAB in 1994 on their 65th anniversary, but the original on which this was based dates to 1794 and was engraved by William Wyon, who would later become the chief engraver for the Royal Mint. The token shows a large smock mill, with a man carrying a sack standing next to it. On the reverse of the token, there is a lion and a lamb with the motto ‘Peace, Innocence and Plenty’ – drawing on biblical imagery. It is printed around the edge with the text ‘Payable at W. Peckham’s Appledore’.

Because the tokens were minted independently of the government, their creators had the freedom to make political statements, social commentary, honour great men, ideals, great events, or just advertise their businesses. Many tokens have survived today, partly because the hobby of collecting them was popular even when they were in production, resulting in numerous well preserved examples. The tokens were issued with four different edges: Peckham’s (like this one); plain; W. Friggles Goudhurst; and Lancaster, London or Bristol. The plain-edged token and the Lancaster, London and Bristol token are scarce these days.

The mill on the token is the Union Mill in Appledore, Kent, a smock mill built in 1791. The Appledore Union to which it refers was a group of farmers who joined together to build a mill, which they each used, as did others for a fee. This mill was often broken into, so they devised an ingenious plan to catch the thieves called the ‘Sack Trap’. A watch was set with each member armed with empty grain sacks. They would lie in wait for intruders, and if any came they would throw their sack over the unsuspecting thief, entangling them so they were easier to catch. This unlikely-sounding system did in fact work at least once, allowing them to catch a member of a local smuggling gang. The mill no longer stands, but its base has been converted into a house.

Not much is known about W. Peckham, apart from that he was a shop owner in Appledore and is described as a Freeholder in the Kentish Poll for Knights of the Shire to represent the County of Kent 1802. His inclusion in this list suggests he was relatively wealthy and of some social standing within the community. Interestingly, whilst these tokens were usually only payable to one shop or locality, copies of this coin exist which state that they are payable to W. Friggles of Goudhurst.

The use of a mill on this token demonstrates, once again, how influential milling has been as part of our wider heritage and culture.

Thank you to Bob Bonnett for providing us with information for this article.

More information about the tokens can be found here.

Related links

  • Further Reading: Trade tokens have a varied and fascinating history, you can learn more about it here.
  • Mills as Currency: This isn’t the last time mills would be depicted on unofficial currency. Learn more about pre-war Notgeld here.
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Mills as currency

A pre-war note which became worthless is now an expensive collector’s item.

This paper note is an old form of German currency called ‘Notgeld’, which was printed in 1922 and was worth 75 German marks. The image printed on the note depicts the development in timber milling from the old wind-driven mill on the right, to the new modern timber mill on the left.

The term Notgeld means emergency money, which is exactly what this currency was designed as. After the end of the First World War, Germany suffered from a lack of money; to combat this, the Reichsbank gave localities the authority to print their own paper currency as well as some small change. The resulting notes were intricately and attractively designed, depicting local landscapes, people of significance and industries such as this note depicting a timber mill.

This specific note came from Memel, a region on the Baltic coast that was once part of Prussian Germany, but is now officially in Lithuania. At the end of the Great War, the newly created Lithuania had designs on Memel as it was a major port in the area. However, Memel was placed under the administration of France under a mandate from the League of Nations, until an uprising when the region was finally made a part of Lithuania. This currency was circulated by the French Administration in the early 1920s, when the region was still officially French.

The freedom with which these notes were printed meant a wide range of attractive designs were created, and were soon the object of attention for collectors. Whilst at the time they were printed they were worth little due to the post-war inflation from which the region suffered, they are now worth a lot of money.

Gem from the Mildred Cookson Foundation Collection

Related links

  • Further Reading: This isn’t the first time that countries short of money have turned to unofficial tokens. Click here to learn about 18th-century Provincial Tokens.