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A Brief History of Larkin Soap Company Premiums

A Brief History of Larkin Soap Company Premiums

John Larkin Soaps

John D. Larkin founded a soap factory in Buffalo, New York, in 1875. His factory produced two products, Sweet Home Soap, a yellow laundry soap, and Crème Oatmeal, a toilet soap. Soaps were sold through wholesalers and retailers.

A new approach to sales

In 1881, Larkin began selling his soap through door-to-door sales to private customers. Inside each box of soap were small colored picture cards printed with the Larkin logo. By 1890, premiums were central to Larkin’s approach to sales. Larkin’s early premiums included handkerchiefs, towels and one-cent coins. Larkin later included certificates that could be collected and redeemed through the company’s headquarters in Buffalo.

Today, small picture cards can be collected by themselves. The images are often of cute smiling children engaged in play. Dogs and kittens are frequent companions of children.

Larkin began selling his company’s products only through mail order, and by 1906 the items in Larkin’s catalog numbered in the hundreds. Toothpaste, cleaning paste, fabric dye, coffee, tea, spices, extracts, baking powder, toiletries, paint, furniture, peanut butter are examples of items that can be purchased through the catalog.

By 1912, the catalog included more than 500 products, including furniture.

Larkin Clubs

The creation of the “Larkin Club”, whose members were called “Larkinites”, allowed customers to buy items on payment. Ten customers can form a Larkin Club. Each member of the club gave one dollar a month. One Club member, the Secretary, will buy a Combination Box of Soap and then distribute the products and prizes to Club members. The club secretary was entitled to special bonuses based on the club’s sales volume.

Oak furniture

The Chautauqua desk is the most famous piece of furniture offered in the Larkin catalog since 1901. The desk was made of solid oak with a gold polished finish, applied carving, a beveled mirror, and had a drop front with an open bottom for storage. Simpler versions of the desk eliminated the mirror and had less elaborate carvings. The desk was given as a premium for a $10 purchase of soap.

Larkin was the first major catalog distributor to actually make the furniture offered as premiums. The Buffalo Pottery factory was founded to meet higher needs.

Much of the furniture produced by Larkin is unmarked and requires documentation to authenticate its provenance. Image cards or promotional cards display the Larkin Company logo and are easily identifiable.

John Larkin died in 1926 and the company closed in 1941. The City of Buffalo demolished the Larkin Company headquarters in 1950 due to back taxes. The building was designed and built by Frank Lloyd Wright.

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