Flea Market Find: The Story of Cane Sugar

…which sounds like it could be a porno, but it isn’t.  Instead, it’s a pamphlet that is–best as I can figure–printed before 1941, when the Pennsylvania Sugar Company was taken over by the National Sugar Refining Company. I’m only guessing that because there’s nary a hint of anything about National Sugar on the pamphlet, and why wouldn’t a parent company promote itself?

It's like a map. Did they give these out at gas stations?

It’s like a map. Did they give these out at gas stations? And what are those guys sitting on the boxes of sugar supposed to be?  Elves? Railway workers? I honestly can’t tell. Front and back covers.

As a side note, I *love* all the doodles on the cover. I used to do much the same thing when I was a kid; I’d write on anything and everything. I even remember writing on a bottle of baby powder, though I don’t remember why I needed to claim that as my own. Please note that in the bottom left corner, in the space surrounding the teacher in the blue dress, some imp wrote: Miss Wangor, The Old Crab. (At least, I think it says crab. Any and all other guesses welcome.) And I digress.

I came across this bizarrely charming little pamphlet while crawling among the racks at the much-beloved Street of Shops. The pamphlet is an anomaly of sorts, a throwback to an earlier time, when…

…ummm…

I actually don’t understand what this is. Not that I don’t understand what a pamphlet is, I just don’t understand why/where/how/the reasoning behind the Pennsylvania Sugar Co. printing up pamphlets to be distributed…where?

See what I mean?

But the fact is, I don’t really care why they made it, I just care that they did. These sorts of “modern miracles” economic history printings really speak to the idea of some kind of grandiose dreams of expansionism and empire. Anyway. Getting to it…

Why don't they finish the instructions for chocolate cake???

Why don’t they finish the instructions for chocolate cake??? HOW WILL I EVER MAKE THIS CORRECTLY?

The above image with its disappointing cake recipe was found on the inside pages, when you open it like a book. And then it folds out, first into a tri-fold that I have more-or-less stitched back together for you.

Sugar Cane trifold

Come visit the enticing world of sugar harvesting.

I love that the artwork is all scrolling and pirate-y and a completely romanticized glossing of the sugar industry, largely harvested thanks to slave labor or poverty-level wage earners. The industry saw a significant amount of unrest in the 1930s (i.e., roughly around the time this pamphlet was printed, and these links are but a few small examples). But it’s all good, right?  Because Nancy Tice reminds housewives: Sugar is one of the most necessary foods in the family diet (see the back cover image if you don’t believe me). So that makes it all OK, right? I also love that Thailand is still referred to as Siam and the rest of the Cambodia/Laos/Vietnam/Myanmar peninsula has been lumped together by western mapmakers as one big “Indo-China“. Who needs specifics when you’re pirating the sugar trade and working with slave labor? Yo ho, me hearties!

But then.

And then.

The entire pamphlet opens up into a centerfold of sugary awesome, as the Pennsylvania Sugar Co. examines the total process of sugar production, from harvest to loading to ships steaming in to Philly, through production and then onto the trucks for distribution unto a hungry world clamoring for sweetness.

Centerfold? Hey, this did turn sexy!

Centerfold? Hey, this did turn sexy!

Oh, for a simpler time, when no one balked at the idea of using cheap labor, and the world was ours to harvest at will!

One question: what have they got going on in Louisiana?  While the world labors to make sugar affordable for all Americans, are the Louisianians…sitting around playing banjo? Is that it?

As gloriously jingoistic and kind of craptastic as this pamphlet is, I’m still having a hard time trying to understand its practical benefits. Mainly because I can’t figure out when or where this would have been distributed. I mean, sure, at the grocery store, but that begs the question of the consumer: why would you take it in the first place? Though–believe me–I know why I paid one entire dollar for this baby, and it was worth all 100 pennies. Hells to the yeah.

FYI: This scanned e-book is an interesting way to explore the concept of economic and trade pamphleting, but its writing style is dry and old-timey, so be prepared that it’s kind of like reading through sandpaper.

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4 responses to Flea Market Find: The Story of Cane Sugar

  1. It is always interesting to look at the ways pamphlets and advertising were done in the past. This one does look interesting.

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