Cartoons that sold sell again Antiques: Palmer Cox's Brownies appeared in magazines, books and advertising.

August 18, 1996|By Ralph Kovel and Terry Kovel | Ralph Kovel and Terry Kovel,KING FEATURES SYNDICATE

Cartoon characters have been used to promote products since the 19th century. The Palmer Cox Brownies, comic characters in books and cartoon strips, were among the most successful product "salesmen."

Palmer Cox was born in Quebec in 1840. He went to San Francisco in 1856 and soon was working as an artist, journalist and cartoonist. His first book of cartoons was published in 1874, and he moved to New York in 1875.

The first Brownies story was printed in a magazine in 1883. The Brownie books gradually became more and more popular, and their fame brought fortune to Cox. He wrote more than 20 books before his death in 1924.

The Brownies -- Dude, Soldier, Policeman, Sailor, Cowboy, Scotsman, American Indian, Clown, Arab, Turk, Japanese, Eskimo, German and Dutchman -- were imaginary little characters. There were no children or women, although Cox did write other stories about Greenies, who were of both sexes.

The Brownies went fishing, hunting and horseback riding and visited Europe, Asia, the polar regions, the World's Fair, the White House and other sites.

A Brownies beginning reader's primer was used in many schools.

In the 1930s, a maple sugar company got permission to use the Brownies in its ads. Other companies followed suit, and today collectors can find books and magazine stories plus hundreds of toys and advertising items.

The Brownies appear in ads or packaging for ice cream, carpeting, soft drinks, crackers, cookies, candy, cocoa, coffee, soap, stomach remedies, salves and painkillers.

We have an old wood chair with a label that says "Parkersburg Mill Co." What can you tell me about the company?

The Parkersburg Mill Co. might have been in business in Parkersburg, W.Va., as early as 1895. It eventually became the largest wood-planing mill in the state.

The mill produced lumber and some finished products. Its products were shipped to Germany, Scotland, England, Nova Scotia and all parts of the United States. The mill was damaged by fire in 1919, and probably stopped making furniture then.

The lumber part of the business became the Parkersburg Lumber Co., which went out of business in the 1990s.

I found an old tin Popeye toy in my attic. It's about 5 inches high. His arms reach to the ground and are attached so that they look as though they should twirl. The toy has a wind-up knob that doesn't work. Do you have any information on the toy?

Your Tumbling Popeye was made by Marx Toys in the 1950s. His arms should move, because he is meant to do somersaults. In excellent condition, with the paint intact, the toy is worth about $900. Because yours doesn't work, it is worth considerably less.

The Kovels welcome letters and answer as many as possible through the column. Write to Kovels, The Baltimore Sun, King Features Syndicate Inc., 235 E. 45th St., New York, N.Y. 10017.

Pub Date: 8/18/96

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