Tea Company Booklets

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"The Story of the Tea Plant, published with "Compliments of Salada Tea Company."
"The Truth About Orange Pekoe," pubished by the Salada Tea Company.
"Cup Reading" by the Salada Tea Company of Boston, in its "Four women" variant.
In the 1930s the Ming-Cha Company issued a tiny booklet of instructions in tea leaf reading to accompany a special brand of loose-leaf tea called Tell Your Fortune Tea
Your Future in the Tea Cup" by Princess Romana, published by Thomas J. Lipton, Inc., circa 1930.
"The Cup of Knowledge: The Tea of Good Fortune — Lipton's," the booklet accompanying the Alfred Meakin Royal Marigold Cup of Knowledge, front cover.

From the 1920s through the 1960s it was quite common for manufacturers of all sorts of goods, from cocoa powder and mayonnaise to oil filters and art supplies, to issue small booklets describing their products. Sometimes prices were included, and a booklet would take on double duty as a catalogue, but more often a small price list and a return mail envelope were included separately, which allowed the booklet to be used for years without having to be updated to reflect changes in pricing.


20th Century Product Ephemera

A manufacturer's decision to publish a booklet represents a major investment with no direct return in view. During the 20th century, some product booklets were issued with a nominal price, which the purchaser was supposed to remit to receive the booklet by mail, but most were included in packages of goods or were given away for free as point-of-purchase advertising. The point-of-purchase booklets were typically bulk-shipped to wholesalers, who distributed them to retailers, who in turn set them out in specially-marked shelf-hanger pockets or counter-top easel stands where the goods were sold and the customers could take one if desired.

Most of these booklets were printed on glossy paper or at least with glossy covers, to allow reproduction of beautiful full-colour art and classy sho-card lettering. Painted art covers were common, giving rise to an entire generation of fine artists who spent their days painting still-lifes of Jell-O moulds or Sun-Kist oranges, and their nights trying to break into the more prestigious fields of magazine or gallery art.

The interiors of the best of these booklets were enhanced with fancy typesetting and full-colour images printed on glossy stock, or, if they were printed on a lesser grade of paper, they might feature sharp line art with spot colour. The typical page length was 16 pages, with smaller companies opting for mere tri-fold brochures and larger ones going as far as 24 or 32 pages per booklet.

Advertising copy writers researched and wrote these booklets, and in some cases were allowed to attach their names as authors. The general idea behind the text, especially in the culinary industries, was to intrigue and captivate the retail purchaser with interesting factoids and practical recipes or advice on product usage, and thus to build brand loyalty.

My mother, Liselotte Erlanger Glozer, wrote a book called "California in the Kitchen," in which she catalogued many such pamphlets that were distributed with California agricultural products. I was a teenager at the time she prepared the book and i helped her with cataloguing and proofreading. In addition to regular cookbooks published in California, she identified two distinct genres of culinary pamphlets, which she used to jokingly call the "The Romance, Lure, and Lore of Raisins" and "50 Ways to Use Fresh Figs." Some product booklets combined both approaches — the "Romance" in the opening pages and the "50 Ways" in the second part.

The "Romance" Product Booklets

The "Romance" booklets resembled friendly encyclopedia articles. In broad historical strokes the author described the first use of the product in pre-history; its colourful early history; its importation from tropical climes, if applicable; and the wonderful modern era of sanitary packaging and rapid rail shipment that assured its high quality and freshness.

The epitome of these booklets was "The Story of Crisco," which glorified a lard substitute made from cottonseed oil. In a special marketing ploy to Jews, it actually included a chapter in which noted rabbis of the time glowingly declared that the Jewish people had been waiting 2,000 years for Crisco so that now they too could enjoy the pleasures of deep-fried foods formerly denied to them by their stern and watchful God.

The "50 Ways" Product Booklets

The "50 Ways" booklets presented recipes or, in the case of multiple-use goods such as baking soda, they might combine recipes with household management tips and tricks. Reading such a booklet was like leafing through a demented cookbook in which every meal, from breakfast, lunch, and dinner to Christmas party treats, nutritious infant pabulum, and easily-digested gruel for invalids, contained, for instance, walnuts, or tinned salmon, or perhaps lettuce.

In the case of products from which a plethora of recipes could not be invented — such as tea — the authors looked for additional ways to use the product. And that brings us the answer to your unspoken question, "Why did tea companies publish instructional booklets on tea leaf reading?"

Tea Product Booklets from Tea Companies

When it came to "Romance" booklets about tea, the Salada Tea Company of Boston, Toronto, and Montreal had all the other companies whipped.

  • The lushest booklet Salada published was "The Story of the Tea Plant," complete with paintings of elephants, maps, photographs of the art gallery that enriched the Salada Tea Building (including several Buddhas and a matched pair of 7 feet tall cloisonne foo dogs), and the multiple plate-glass storage units that each held 1 ¼ tons of tea.
  • The raciest Salada booklet was "The Truth about Orange Pekoe," whose provocative title promised much, but which upon reading turned out to be a short, cheerful encyclopedia article on how tea is grown and graded in India.

Tea Leaf Reading Instructions from Tea Companies

Because recipes for the use of tea in cooking are simplistic at best, instruction booklets about tea leaf reading were issued by a number of tea companies from the 1920s through the 1960s. These booklets were either packed into boxes of tea or the customer sent in a proof-of-purchase coupon and a nominal amount of money to cover the postage, and would receive the booklet by return mail. The Lipton's Tea booklet on this page is an example of this latter type.

  • Bell Tea of New Zealand published an illustrated booklet called "Your Future in a Tea Cup (How To Read Tea Cups)" in the early 1930s.
  • Bushell's Blue Label Tea of Australia published an instruction booklet called "How To Read Tea Cups" in several variant editions during the late 1920s and early 1930s.
  • Lipton's Tea of New York published "Your Future in the Tea Cup," a tea leaf reading booklet written by Princess Romana.
  • Salada Tea Issued an instruction booklet called "Cup Reading: The Ancient Art of Foretelling the Future" in at least three editions over the course of many years, with variations in covers and content.
  • Stephen Leeman Products of New York, which operated the Ming-Cha Tea Company, issued a booklet called "Tea Fortunes!" containing instructions in tea leaf reading written by Marcia Benevente. It was packed into boxes of a special brand of loose-leaf tea called Tell Your Fortune Tea.

Instructions Accompanying Tea Sets from Tea Companies

Occasionally during the era from the 1920s through the 1960s, tea companies offered marked fortune telling cup and saucer sets as premiums packed within their larger boxes of tea, or as side-sales for which the customer sent in a proof-of-purchase coupon and enough money to cover the cost of the goods and postage. As far as i can tell, all such sets were marked for fortune telling, all came with an instruction booklet, and all the booklets referred primarily to the marked sets.

  • Red Rose Tea offered a set of three cups and saucers and an instruction booklet under the name Red Rose Cup of Fortune.

At The Mystic Tea Room, images of the tasseomancy booklets that accompanied tea sets issued by tea companies, as well as those which went with sets issued by chinaware manufacturers, will be found on the pages devoted to the cup and saucer sets themselves.

catherine yronwode
curator, historian, and docent
The Mystic Tea Room

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