The Larkin Method

Larkin-detWhen I first saw this negative shot by John B. Capewell, I thought I was looking at a food stand or a ticket booth at a carnival, but on closer examination, it turned out to be something else.

Larkin-det-2The three ladies appear to have been selling bottles of lotions, perfumes and such. Not the frankfurters and candy I thought they would be hawking.

The pennants adorning the stand read Larkin. I thought that Larkin may have had some significance to New Jersey so I sent the images to Jerseyman who is an expert on the history of The Garden State. Jerseyman replied:

The Larkin Soap Company went from a smaller manufactory of toiletry items to the Amway of its day, offering the many ladies and girls who sold their products a way to earn premiums, including many pieces of furniture for their homesteads. There are many websites that will provide you with some company history, but here are two that I have found useful in the past:

He then supplied me two links:

  • This one from The Monroe Fordham Regional History Center supplies a fascinating history of the Larkin company detailing it’s start as a modest soap factory in 1875 and turning into a mammoth corporation offering a diverse line of products via mail-order, initiating brilliant marketing schemes and raking in millions of dollars at around the time this photograph was shot. It sort of was like Amway with a little Avon and Tupperware thrown in, and it was apparently a very nice place to work offering employees pay and benefits that were unheard of at the time
  • This link is from the fabulous Internet Archive which is an absolute treasure trove. It features a pamphlet called The Larkin Idea which shows off Larkin’s products, contains some human interest stories and details the company’s sales philosophy. It’s dated from 1902 which is roughly the time when Capewell shot his negative.

Jerseyman went on:

With the West Jersey & Seashore Railroad tracks in the background, I am wondering if the ladies set up their booth at either a baseball game or even for the dedication event at the firehouse. Perhaps a negative in the future will shed more light on this image!

Here is Capewell’s entire 5″x7″ plate:

LarkinThese ladies were probably showcasing a number of Larkin’s goods outside of a carnival or ball game trying to drum up new customers.

It didn’t have much to do with New Jersey except for the locale, but it’s terribly interesting just the same. Thanks, Jerseyman!

About The Capewell Glass Negative Collection

The Capewell Glass Negative Collection is a series of about 200 5-inch by 7-inch glass negatives shot early in the 20th Century by John Batt Capewell (1878-1951) of Westville, New Jersey. John passed the negatives down to his son Henry who left them in his wife’s possession upon his passing. Henry’s widow didn’t know what to do with them and didn’t particularly want them so she offered them to my Dad who couldn’t turn down anything. Ultimately I wound up with them and thought I would one day have photographic prints struck from them. That didn’t happen, but I came up with the digital workaround of placing the negatives on a lightbox and rephotographing them with a digital camera. The “processing” was then done on a computer with image editing software. They came out better than I thought they would so I thought I would show them off to the world on this site. Many of these pictures have not been seen in a century, and I’m proud to be presenting them today.

At first, I did not know who the people were in the photographs. I have a box of ephemera that accompanied the negatives and snagged a few clues from that as far as the Capewell name. I did some research on the internet and had a few false starts and wrong turns, but the readers of these posts have provided a remarkable amount of research and detail. I’m amazed at what people have turned up sifting through public records and such!

DSCN1532-negLast Week: Sweethearts

 

 

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2 Responses to The Larkin Method

  1. Debra J. HIgbee says:

    My great grandmother ordered Larkin soaps and as a bonus the Larkin Company sent her an oak sewing cabinet as was their practice.
    A similar photo was given to the Pitman Memorabilia Museum. That photo was taken at the Grange Fair at Alcyon Park in the early 1900’s. I’m on Borough Council in Pitman and do volunteer work at the museum.

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