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. The 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 residential customers. Small cards with color images printed with the Larkin logo were included in each soap box. In the 1890s, premiums were central to Larkin’s sales approach. Larkin’s first cousins included handkerchiefs, towels, and a hundred coins. Later, Larkin included certificates that could be collected and redeemed through the company’s Buffalo headquarters.
Today, small picture cards are collectibles in their own right. The images are often of sweet, smiling children playing. Dogs and kittens are frequent companions for children.
Larkin began selling his company’s products through mail order only, and by 1906 Larkin’s catalog items numbered in the hundreds. Toothpaste, scrubbing 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.
In 19122 the catalog included more than 500 products, including furniture.
The establishment of the “Larkin Club”, whose members were called “Larkinites” allowed the customer to purchase items on the installment plan. Ten clients could form a Larkin Club. Each club member contributed one dollar a month. A Club member, the Secretary, would purchase a Combo Box of soap and then distribute the products and bonuses to the Club members. The club secretary was eligible for special bonuses based on the club’s sales volume.
The Chautauqua desk is the most recognized piece of furniture offered in Larkin’s 1901 catalog. The desk was made of solid oak with a polished, carved gold finish, a beveled mirror, and had a drop-down front with an open bottom for storage. The simpler versions of the desk eliminated the mirror and had less elaborate carvings. The desk was given as a premium for a $ 10 soap purchase.
Larkin was the first major catalog dealer to manufacture the furniture offered as premiums. The Buffalo Pottery factory was founded to meet more premium needs.
Much of the furniture produced by Larkin was unmarked and requires documentation to authenticate its origin. Picture cards or promotional cards display the Larkin Company logo and are easily identifiable.
John Larkin died in 1926 and the company was closed in 1941. The city of Buffalo demolished the Larkin Company headquarters in the 1950s due to taxes owed. The building had been designed and built by Frank Lloyd Wright.