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ChesapeakeGoldBaltimore’s Oyster Industryby Bob CoaleBaltimore, Maryland is situated near the mouth of the Patapsco Rivernear the northern end of Chesapeake Bay. Founded in 1729, Baltimorehas long been the leading mid-Atlantic seaport in the United States. Itsproximity to the oyster-rich Chesapeake Bay and its favorable location on majorinland shipping routes were instrumental in its becoming the oyster capitalof the world from the middle of the nineteenth century until early in the twentiethcentury. This industry was maintained by thousands of oyster fishermen,packing houses, planters, jobbers, suppliers, and dealers. The overall oystertrade represented one of the most successful commercial ventures in the nationduring this time. This article showcases this industry as shown by examples ofthe many hundreds of advertising covers known from this period.Chesapeake Bay is relatively young, geologically speaking, having beeninitially formed only some 11,000 years ago at the mouth of the SusquehannaRiver. As the last Ice Age ended and sea levels rose as a resultof melting ice caps, the riverwas “drowned” by rising oceanwaters. Decreased river flowscaused glacial sediment to bedeposited at the river mouth,creating a delta now known asthe “Eastern Shore.” The presentconfiguration of ChesapeakeBay was probably onlydeveloped about 3,000 yearsago.910 American Philatelist / October 2012


The Maryland portion ofChesapeake Bay.The waters of Chesapeake Bay are classified as anestuary. Because of the several rivers that dischargeinto the bay (in addition to the Susquehanna, thePotomac, Patapsco, Choptank, and Chester Rivers,among others, are major tributaries) and the relativelynarrow opening to the Atlantic Ocean between CapeCharles and Cape Henry, Chesapeake Bay waters arebrackish, having a salt content less than that of theocean. The bay is also relatively shallow, a conditionthat creates warm temperatures in the summer andstill temperate conditions in the winter. Fresh waterflow and daily tidal incursions create conditions thatprovide an ideal habitat for numerous fauna, particularlyestuarian species including crabs, shellfish, andmany species of fish. In particular, the Eastern Oyster(Crassostrea virginica Gmelin) thrives in this brackishenvironment, which is laden with minerals and nutrients.One Algonquian Indian translation of the word“Chesapeake” means “Great Shellfish Bay.”Oysters are members of the Phylum Mollusca,Class bivalvia. A mollusk is a creature composed of asoft body enclosed within a hard shell. The shells areformed from a limey substance (calcium carbonate)extracted from the water and laid, layer upon layer,both inside and at the margins of the shell as it grows.There are literally thousands of species of mollusksworldwide.Oysters are comprised of two shells (bivalves) thatare hinged together at their narrow ends. As juveniles,most species of oyster cement one shell (valve) to aconvenient anchoring point and remain stationary forlife. It is essential for oysters of this type to encounter asuitable hard surface on which to adhere. This may bea rocky substrate, other oysters, or any variety of rigidstructures in the water. In such environments, millionsof oysters may thrive in colonies known as beds.Oysters are filter feeders, meaning that they extractnutrients from water, which they continuously pumpthrough the open shell valves. Fine filter hairs removetiny plants and animals from the water, which are thenconsumed by the oyster. Large oysters may pump asmuch as fifty quarts of water per hour when feeding.During the warmer summer months, each female oysterspawns, releasing as many as 100 million eggs tobe fertilized by milt given off by males. Fertilized eggsmature into larva that, after drifting with the currentsfor about two weeks, settle to the bottom to attach toa hard surface. Of the millions of larva that are pro-October 2012 / American Philatelist 911


Maryland, the Oyster War. A state police steamer overhauling a pirate boat on Chesapeake Bay off Swan’s Point. (From a sketch by FrankAdams, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, No. 1, Vol., LXV, January 7, 1888.)October 2012 / American Philatelist 913


Clockwise: John L. Shriver and Bro’s., Baltimore — Packers ofHermetically Sealed Oysters, Fruits, &c.F. King & Co., No. 247 W. Pratt St., Baltimore — Oyster Packers ...Orders for Shucked, Shelf and Can Oysters promptly attended to.Platt & Co., Platts Wharf, Baltimore — Packer of Fresh & CoveOysters and Canned Goods.formed an “oyster navy” to patrol the industry.Because of its strategic location on the Chesapeake, Baltimorebecame the center of the oyster industry. As early as1836, a commercial processing and canning plant was locatedin the city. During the ensuing years, oyster fishermanfrom all areas of the Bay sold their catch to Baltimore merchantsand distributors.These firms employed thousands of workers, mostlywomen, to shuck, process, and can the oysters. Because ofthe similarity of the type of processing and canning equipmentused, many of these canneries also packed fruit andvegetables during the summer months, thus sustaining yeararoundoperations.The period from the last third of the nineteenth centuryuntil the early part of the twentieth was the heyday for theuse of postal advertising covers by merchants and firms ofall types in the United States. The Baltimore oyster dealerswere no exception, and most used this medium for advertising,often employing striking and colorful designs. Skipjacksailboats and/or tongers frequently were included in thesedesigns.The oysters harvested from the Chesapeake Bay were essentiallythe same; there was little differentiation betweenthe oysters collected from the various beds.Nevertheless, there was a strong economic incentivefor the oyster dealers to “brand” theirproduct so as to develop a marketing niche.Specific harvesting sites or processing tech-C.L. Applegarth Company Inc., 411–13 W. CamdenSt., Baltimore. (1928)C.L. Applegarth & Co., Baltimore — Oyster andFruit Packers. Acme Brand. (1894)914 American Philatelist / October 2012


T. Callahan Packing — Atlas Brand Oysters. Baltimore. (1894) Baltimore Oyster Company, Baltimore — Planters, Pickers. Gemsof the Ocean. Pearls of the Deep.niques were touted as producing better flavored, “sweeter,”“plumper,” or more “healthful” oysters than others. To supportthis notion, most oyster dealers invented imaginativebrand names and logos and incorporated these on their advertisingstationery. A listing of many of these is presentedin the table which appears in the Bonus Content online atwww.stamps.org/AP-Album.Three of the earliest firms to deal with oysters in Baltimorewere Platt & Company, John L. Shriver and Brothers,and F. King and Co.C.L. Applegarth & Co. marketed the “Acme” brand.Founded in the late 1880s, this firm continued to operate atleast into the late 1920s at several locations in Baltimore andwas one of the longer lasting of the Baltimore firms, manyothers having gone out of business early in the twentiethcentury.The Aughinbaugh Canning Company advertised oystersunder the “Nigger Head” brand. This company was locatedin Baltimore from the late 1870s until about 1920 when itrelocated to Biloxi, Mississippi. It was still marketing oystersunder this brand name as late as 1955 and only because ofintense pressure raised by the NAACP, changed its brandingto a more socially acceptable “Negro Head” Brand.The “Atlas” brand was promoted by T. Callahan PackingCompany. This firm was in business from at least 1874. Norecords beyond this 1894 cover have been located by the author.The Baltimore Oyster Company, in business since theearly 1880s marketed “Gems of the Ocean, Pearls of theDeep.” This company lasted well into the 1900s but changedits name to the Baltimore Fish and Oyster Company. TheF. P. Coleman & Co., Baltimore — Full Moon Brand Fresh Oysters.(1902)Baltimore Fish & Oyster Co., 607 Water Street, Baltimore — The OnlySanitary Sea Food House To Buy From.October 2012 / American Philatelist 915


Fick & Chase, Baltimore — Oyster Packers.F. Border’s Son & Co., Baltimore — Full Moon Brand Fresh Oysters.(1894)H. W. Hitchcock and Co., Baltimore.Jones and Booze, 10 &12 Columbia St., Baltimore — OysterPackers. J. &. B. Selects. (Jones & Booze were successors toJones & Keagle; note the ink correction of “K.” to “B.” andthe manuscript insertion of “Booze” above the crossed out“Keagle.”)company marketed itself as a “sanitary” seafood house, perhapsto distinguish it from those firms that shipped bulkoysters, some of which died along the way. It also rebrandeditself as the seller of “Baltimore” brand oysters.F. P. Coleman & Company, “Full Moon” brand, appearsto have started in the 1890s. No information regarding itsexistence past 1911 has been found. The same brand name,“Full Moon” also was used by F. Border’s Sons & Companyduring this same period.Fick and Chase represented one of the early oyster packingcompanies in Baltimore. Their full-cover design advertisingcovers featured tongers as well as a ventral view of anopened oyster, a common theme of many oyster advertisingcovers. This company represented the United States at the1878 Paris Exposition, where it offered pickled oysters to fairgoers.Other early examples of advertising covers picturing theventral view of an opened oyster include the H. W. Hitchcockand Company, D. D. Mallory and Company, the FoyCompany, and the O. W. Miller and Company, “Triangle”Brand. Note that this was the successor to A. Thomas andCompany. Many oyster firms merged or were bought outduring the period, such as Jones and Booze, successors toJones and Keagle. Note the handwritten changes to their advertisingcover.H. McWilliams & Co., 49½ Centre Street, Baltimore —Packers of the Celebrated Chrisfield Brand Oysters andShippers of Fresh Fish, Fruits, Melons, Sweet Potatoes, &c.H. McWilliams & Co., Established 1870, 110 & 112 E. York St. Foot ofWilliam St. Dock., Baltimore — Celebrated Express Brand Oystersand Shippers of Fruits & Produce. (1893)916 American Philatelist / October 2012


locations across the nation includingDuluth, Chicago, Denver, andKansas City.Oysters were sold in manydifferent forms. One could buyshucked oyster meat eithersteamed or raw by the can orbottle. Many grades were available,often euphemistically labeledas “premium,” “select,” “jumbo,”“mammoth,” “favorite,” “standard,”etc. There was little uniformity inthese descriptions between oysterpackers, and it was up to the consumerto learn to distinguish themone from the another. This helpedreinforce brand loyalty. Manyfirms distributed postal cards as aform of weekly advertising lettingcustomers know which oysterswere available and the prices. Notethe inclusion of XXX grade, whichrepresented oyster parts or otherwisedamaged oysters.Elaborate methods were developedto keep the oysters freshduring shipment. One of the moresuccessful means was the “Sealshipt”case, which consisted of aninner container in which the oysters were placed. The innercontainer was inserted into an outer container with theinterstitial space being packed with ice. In this fashion, thefresh shucked oysters could be preserved for as long as twomonths — as long as the ice remained. Because of the twocontainerdesign, the oyster meat was not diluted with icemelt. The Sealshipt Packing System was located in Norwalk,R. Davis & Co., 121 Hillen Street, Baltimore —Packers of the Celebrated Sea Foam Brand Oysters.(Advertising postal card dated February 11, 1882.)Connecticut with a distributor inCleveland.Whole live oysters were preservedon ice during delivery tooften faraway jobbers who wouldshuck and process them for localdelivery. The live oysters wouldtightly close during this trip andthus would remain alive and fresh,although there were no doubtsome casualties that were sometimespassed on to unsuspectingconsumers with uncomfortableresults. These merchants also usedpostal covers to advertise theirwares. Some advertising coversinclude King Cole, Omaha, Nebraska;W. O. McCluskey, Wheeling,West Virginia; T. P. Nelson,Peoria, Illinois; Bahr, Kansas City,Missouri; and Fellows Brothers,Lincoln, Nebraska.The shipment of bulk liveoysters for subsequent shuckingand marketing required that eachshipment be cleaned and inspected.Dead oysters needed to be removedfrom the mix. It was advertisedthat multiple handling andcleaning robbed the oysters of their natural flavor. This wasemphasized in the postal cards advertising Baltimore OysterCompany products in which they touted their direct expresstrain shipments to various locations in Ohio.Literally thousands of tons of oyster shells were left overafter the oyster meat was removed. The shells, essentiallypure calcium carbonate, were found useful as a raw mate-The Sealshipt Oyster System Inc., South Norwalk, Conn. —Sealshipt Oysters. Direct from the Oyster bed free from waterice or preservative. A PURE FOOD natural flavor and freshnessguaranteed. Sealshipt Oysters Conform to All Pure Food Laws.(1909)The Forest City Oyster Co., 2219–21 East Ninth Street, Cleveland,O. — Sealshipt Distributors. The Largest Exclusive Oyster Dealersin the State. (1910)918 American Philatelist / October 2012


The “King Cole” Co., Burlington Postal Station, Omaha — KingCole Oysters. There are no Oyster better than “King Cole’s.”(1928)W. O. McCluskey, Dept, 56 Twelfth St., Wheeling, W. Va. — The OldReliable. Shipper of Fresh Oysters All the Year Round. (1904)Fellows Bros., 1229 O Street, Lincoln, Nebraska — WholesaleDealers in Fish & Oysters. (1890)Baltimore Pulverizing Co., Baltimore. — Crushed Oyster Shells forPoultry. Increased Number of Eggs, Healthy Fowls, Hard Egg Shells,Reduced Loss in Shipment from Breakage. (1901)Baltimore Oyster Co., Atlantic Wharf, Baltimore — “Ouroysters are opened and taken from the shell on day ofshipment, and at once placed in hermetically sealedcans, packed in ice, then Shipped Direct to customers.Oysters ordered from branch houses in the West, frominterior towns, are in every way inferior, as they areshipped to those points in wooden buckets and tubs,rehandled, washed and rewashed, so that the flavor islost, then canned and sold for fresh goods.” (Advertisingpostal card dated November 18, 1884.)Peerless Oyster Co., Chesapeake Wharf, Baltimore — The C. H. PearsonPacking Company. Oyster & Fruit Packers, Manufacturers of “PeerlessBrand” Crushed Oyster Shells for Poultry. “They Are Peerless in Name,Quality and Flavor.”October 2012 / American Philatelist 919


Oyster shells for reef making.Bowen & Mercer, 65 S. Gay Street,Baltimore — Oyster Shell Lime, SuperPhosphate.rial for several industries. In particular,crushed shells were usedas chicken feed supplements. Thechemical industry also made useof the shells. It has been reportedthat much of the development ofthe inner harbor in present-dayBaltimore is constructed on oystershells that were dumped intothe water.Very early during the explosivegrowth of the oyster industryon Chesapeake Bay, many recognizedthat the rate of take of naturaloysters could not be sustained.Even though over-fishing was controlled by strictly regulatingthe industry in terms of take, it became apparent thatartificial propagation would be necessary to replenish theoyster beds. It had long been known that given a suitableThe Leib Packing Company, Baltimore — Sun Brand Oysters. Real Quality Oysters. (1934)stratum on which to attach, artificial propagation of oysterscould be an important tool to maintain oyster stocks. Hencemany oyster fishermen also became “planters” or “seeders,”as noted on their advertising covers. Thousands of tons ofpreviously-harvested oyster shellswere dumped back into the Chesapeaketo form artificial underwaterreefs so that larva had a suitableresting point to adhere and grow.Areas were artificially seeded in anattempt to develop reserves. Theseareas were “off limits” for oysterharvesting for several years allowingtime for the mollusks to reachmaturity.For many years, the harvestingO. E. Wentworth & Co., 111–113 W.Hamburg St., Baltimore — PackersTriangle Brand Oysters. “Natural Home ofGood Oysters.” (1945)920 American Philatelist / October 2012


D. E. Foote & Company Inc., Aliceanna & Chester Streets,Baltimore — Packers of Oysters, Fruits & Vegetables. (1937)of oysters from Chesapeake Bay continued to rise. Thiswas mainly due to improved fishing techniques, the expansionof the oystering areas, and to some extent thesuccess of the planting programs. Towards the end ofthe nineteenth century, however, the industry experienceda precipitous decline in the oyster take. By theearly 1900s oyster production had dropped from a highof some 800,000 tons annually to less than 200,000 tons.Not only were the oyster beds being over-fished, but theoyster habitat was severely damaged by pollution of theChesapeake from chemical releases and choking siltand other sediment released into the rivers feeding thebay. The reseeding programs, once viewed as the saviorof the industry, proved ineffective as silt levels in the bayincreased. Further, the oyster beds were affected by previouslylimited mortal diseases.By the second decade of the twentieth century, theindustry was in a crisis; commercial oystering on theChesapeake had greatly diminished and only a handfulof the many oyster dealers remained. In 1930 onlyOysterman statue on Solomon Island.Chesapeake Corporation,West Point, VA — Ask forSEA-RAC OYSTERS, “On theHalf Shell,” GROWN IN WIREBASKETS. (1941)October 2012 / American Philatelist 921


Expanded stamp album pages for this articleshowing examples of advertising covers from manyother companies known to have been associatedwith the Chesapeake Bay oyster trade can be foundat www.stamps.org/AP-Album in addition to thetable listing the companies.an estimated 50,000 tons of oysters were harvested. Thenumber of surviving oyster dealers had been decimated,and of the scores extant during the period 1880–1920,only a handful remained. That number was reduced evenmore from the 1920s with perhaps only a dozen or tworemaining by the start of the depression. A few of thefirms that remained included the Chesapeake PackingCo., which offered oysters grown in wire baskets — a farcry from the earlier farming methods; O. E. Wentworth,D. E. Foote and Company, and Leib Packing Company.Baltimore is still famous for its oysters, but the heydayof being the oyster capital of the world is long gone.Marine biologists and others have assisted in cultivationof the Eastern oyster by identifying selective habitats andimproving breeding techniques; many private plantersare growing them; and better laws are protecting the industry.Other species of oyster that are more tolerant ofthe silty conditions in the bay have been introduced withsome success. Although these methods may sustain modestharvesting levels, sadly the Chesapeake Gold of earlieryears has become tarnished.The AuthorBob Coale is a thematic collector of seashells but hasspecialized in oyster advertising covers and the IndianFeudatory State of Travancore, which features a stylizedshell in its stamp design. He has studied the Eastern Oysterand the industries that it has supported based on advertisingcovers, billheads, oyster cans, and other ephemera.He resides in Solana Beach, California.922 American Philatelist / October 2012

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