Before the invention of radio, television, and Facebook, there were only two ways to advertise your business. Either you placed an ad in the newspapers, or you put up a sign. The newspaper ads are interesting in their own right, like Captain Joseph Hein’s proclamation that he was “Commander-in-Chief of the best liquors!” My stock and trade, though, is buildings and the physical remnants of our rich history.
At one time, advertisements covered the sides of half the buildings on Point Pleasant’s Main Street. On the side of what is now Boardman’s Furniture were ads for Hooff’s Drug & Hardware Store and Eastman Kodak. 514 Main Street, the first building you see on the east side of Main Street, changed every few years with various ads for Coca-Cola, Thompson’s Drug Store, a clothing company, gunsmith, and saloon. 510 Main had a massive ad for Hein’s saloon, and 314 Main (recently demolished) had an ad for another saloon.
Perhaps the most iconic of these building advertisements were the Mail Pouch Tobacco advertisements of West Virginia’s own Bloch Bros. Tobacco Company. Most people are familiar with their barn advertisements that are scattered across several states, but the Bloch Bros. frequently used commercial buildings as well. In fact, by the 1920s, there were no less than three Mail Pouch Tobacco ads on Main Street! The two on the sides of 515 and 314 Main are gone, but the one on the side of CounterPoint Co-op looks almost as good as the day it was painted!
On a solid black background with yellow trim, it originally advertised, “Bloch Bros. Mail Pouch Tobacco” with a company seal to the top left that said, “West Virginia Mail Pouch Tobacco, for Chewing and Smoking.” After a while, however, the advertisement was updated to read, “R.W. Selbe’s Place, Fine Wines and Liquors, Cigars & Tobacco. Standard for 25 Years, Mail Pouch Tobacco” with an illustration of a Mail Pouch Tobacco tin beside it. There’s also evidence of a few other ads beneath the several layers of paint, including one for shoes.
I’m sure you’re wondering when it was painted and who R.W. Selbe was. Well, the Selbe family is an old one in Point Pleasant, and they opened a saloon in Point Pleasant sometime before 1871. Around 1890, their saloon moved into the building that now houses CounterPoint Co-op, and it just so happens that the business advertising shoes was next door. As for the sign, it was put up between 1913 and 1930, during the heyday of Mail Pouch Tobacco’s barn advertising.
Speaking of advertising from the 1930s, another of Main Street’s gems is the Coca-Cola advertisement recently discovered on the side of the former Harris Steakhouse. It reads, “Drink Coca-Cola, Delicious and Refreshing” and was painted by the R.C. Maxwell Company out of Trenton, NJ. That last line, “delicious and refreshing,” is almost illegible today.
After speaking with Coca-Cola company archivist Caitlin Bowron, it was discovered that this advertisement was put up between 1931 and 1935, based on the style of the script that was patented by Coca-Cola and the construction of the neighboring building in 1935. Based on records at the company archives, it was likely put up by the Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Point Pleasant, which was incorporated in 1917 and was an expanding business in the 1930s.
This sign, along with the Mail Pouch Tobacco ad just a block up the street, are real treasures. It helps that these signs were covered for nearly a century and protected from the weather, a factor that also kept them from being destroyed or painted over. Perhaps in the near future, before the elements begin to eat away at them, these ads can be freshened up or given a nice clear coat to ensure that tourists and future generations can appreciate these beautiful relics of the past. It’s certainly a project worth looking into.
Information from the Weekly Register and Coca-Cola Archives.
Chris Rizer is president of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society, reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.