f00151960

Osage Rub Stoneware Jug, 1843-1910, stoneware, steel wire, wood, H: 9 ¾ x D: 7 in. The Farmers’ Museum, Cooperstown, New York, Gift of the Estate of Wilson McGown, F0015.1960.

M. E. Waite’s Osage Rub – “Better than a Cocktail next Morning.” So says an advertisement in the 1903 edition of the Barber’s Journal. [1] Merton E. Waite originally operated The Barber Supply House out of Utica, New York, producing his hair tonic for men across the entire country. Waite advertised his Osage Rub for its remedial qualities as well as its practical qualities. He claimed that his hair tonic provided relief from sun headaches, acting as a cooling agent for the scalp and face after a shave, while also fulfilling the purpose of a styling product, which left the hair “as soft and glossy as a kitten’s fur,” and “Makes the old head feel like new.” [2]

A stoneware jug (F0015.1960), once use to carry this tonic found its way into the collections of The Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown, New York. But while smaller bottles and advertisements incorporate catchy slogans, the label on this jug is very simple, in fact, the jug as a whole is quite plain. In terms of advertising, the only words on the jug are, “Osage Rub for the Hair and Head, M. E. Waite, Trade Mark Registered, Utica, N. Y.” Looking at the material, stoneware was also traditionally a material reserved for utilitarian purposes. During the 1800s, porcelain was the highest quality clay, and stoneware was the lowest. The cheap material, with an absence of the colorful slogans suggests that this particular jug was not meant for the general audience. The qualities of this container did not necessarily demonstrate wealth to the average consumer. They do, however, speak to Merton Waite’s practicality as a businessman – knowing what his audiences demanded, and cutting costs at every opportunity.

With success came the need to market his products appropriately – Waite could not simply sell his Osage Rub in one size only. He needed to understand how to sell his product to different audiences, mainly the general public and professionals. Barbers would recognize Osage Rub from the advertisements. The container did not matter to this audience – only the product. Therefore, he did not need to make the container pretty to sell it, as he might with smaller bottles meant for the individual consumer. For large orders shipped to barber shops, he packaged Osage Rub in cheaper, stoneware jugs. To do this, he took advantage of local resources, partnering with another business in Utica, White’s Pottery, which specialized in stoneware. [3] The localized partnership with White’s Pottery made for fast and cheap shipping of the Osage Rub jugs, and took the responsibility of packaging materials out of the hands of Merton Waite, allowing him to focus solely on making his product.

The Osage Rub Jug portrays Waite as the quintessential businessman – competitive, yet economical. M. E. Waite’s entrepreneurial spirit shines through his jug, and shows the continued importance of partnerships and practicality in business.

 

Post written by Nathan Samoriski

 

[1] “Osage Rub,” The Barbers Journal 14, no. 1 (January 1903): 2.

[2] “Sun Headache,” Harper’s Bazaar (July, 1903): 34.

[3] Osage Rub Stoneware Jug, Farmers’ Museum Collections, S Museum, F0015.1960, Documentation.

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