Carnival Glass at a Premium
with grateful thanks to Lance Hilkene
The first time the remarkable Lee Manufacturing Catalogues were featured in Carnival Glass collecting circles was in our NetworK #7 in 1995 – and it was all thanks to collector Lance Hilkene, who had discovered the first reported Lee’s catalogue from the early 1900s. Here and in linked pages, we show how Lee Manufacturing used mail order, special offer assortments, and "premiums" to distribute and sell the Carnival Glass products from makers such as Fenton, Imperial and Northwood at the time it was being made.
Miss Ada M Foley from Virginia wrote: “I’m writing to tell you what I think of the Lee Manufacturing Company. Have taken up six orders. In two days I had a $12 order for which I received a 45 piece dinner set for my premium and for an extra premium I got 80 pieces of glassware. I think they are the grandest things I have ever seen.” One testimonial, like many that featured in a Lee Manufacturing catalogue, shown below.
The Lee Manufacturing Company of Chicago, Illinois, was a buyer, importer and manufacturer of a whole range of goods - from glass, china and enamelled cookware to food and pharmaceutical goods, baking powder, tooth soap and the splendidly named “witch hazel and carbolic salve”. Some examples are shown on the right. Lee sold by mail order, directly to the consumer through their “lady agents” who took Lee's catalogues from door to door.
The agents would write up the orders - no advance payment was required - and send them to Lee. A few weeks later the merchandise would arrive, packed in crates or barrels. The lady agents would then have to deliver the orders, and collect the payments, in return for which they received a “Premium”, not a cash commission, and a “valuable present included in every assortment".
A typical cover of a Lee Manufacturing catalogue from the early 1900s.
Note the picture of a cosy family life - mum, dad and two children - in a very comfortable living room, immaculately decorated and with a roaring fire. How close that was to reality for the average family back then?
A full page of agents' testimonials from all around the USA - who knows how real they were (no consumer legislation then!).
Some of the comments are fascinating and an extract is included below.
Where does Carnival Glass come in?
The “valuable presents” that rewarded the agents were guaranteed by the president of the company, John Magnus - and they included Carnival Glass!
A customer who bought Lee's Witch Hazel Antiseptic Tooth Soap for 25 cents, would get a free "Iridescent ART MUG" (in fact, Northwood's Singing Birds).
Another customer who bought an assortment of Baking Powder, Baking Soda, Witch Hazel and Carbolic Salve and the Tooth Soap, would receive six Fenton Butterfly and Berry tumblers – FREE. Now those look like very irresistible deals don't they?
One of the unusual names for Carnival Glass back in the “old days” was actually Baking Powder Glass, which seems like a really odd label to give it. Other names such as “Poor Man’s Tiffany” are easier to understand, but a Lee Manufacturing Catalogue provides the answer - click on the "Baking powder Glass" image below.
Free gifts (premiums) were also given for introducing new agents: if you introduced five new agents you would get $25 worth of premiums free. Lee Manufacturing advertised that they required no money in advance. “We furnish the capital and trust you. We ship all premiums with goods. We pay the freight and allow you time to deliver and collect”.
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Read more about Lee's fascinating use of Carnival Glass as a sales incentive. Click on any image.