Cockayne House Mysteries and Discoveries

by Thomas J. Tarowsky.

Column reprinted courtesy of The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register.

     This is the sixth in a series of columns about the curious and interesting items that the Marshall County Historical Society has identified and cataloged in the Cockayne House, and what they tell us about life in the Ohio Valley between 1850 and the turn of the current century.

Arbuckle Coffee Cards

Farmhouse Yields Evidence of Zealous Coffee Drinkers

     A morning cup of coffee. I can't start the day without at least one, can you? Most every one enjoys a steaming cup of joe - I'm on my second, as I write this.

     A cursory look around the Cockayne Farmstead tells me that at least some of the Cockayne family were coffee drinkers, as well. There's no Mr. Coffee; you would never find an espresso machine, either.

     There's a coffee pot - about an 8-cup one, sitting on the table in the summer kitchen, the room in which Sam Cockayne, the last resident, spent most of his time. It's not a percolator - just a metal coffee pot in which a person puts ground coffee and water, bringing everything to a boil. I guess you'd strain out the grounds. It's the kind of coffee pot you'd take camping, to use on your Coleman stove or campfire. This pot's of relatively recent vintage, as it still has the sticker on it from the store.

     Evidence also points to an earlier generation of coffee drinkers in the Cockayne family. In the winter kitchen is a small table upon which rest a handful of artifacts. One is a picture of Sam, aged 7 or 8 months, on his mom's lap, in 1922. Also among this group of artifacts is a modern can of pipe tobacco (that belonged to Sam), a couple of pipes and a pipe stand. As a serious coffee drinker, my eyes gravitated toward the old, hand-cranked coffee mill that sits on the little table, as well.

     As one does his or her weekly or daily grocery shopping, a person could easily be bewildered by all of the choices in the coffee aisle. There's decaf and regular, and mild, French roast, Columbian, etc., etc., etc. And there are as many brands of coffee as there are blends. Today we can buy coffee ground in any number of ways - or not at all.

     The people who used this little coffee mill didn't have quite the range of choices that we enjoy. My hypothesis is that their coffee was purchased in whole bean form from a local grocer, and then ground at home.

     I never stopped to ponder the coffee supply issues of the Cockayne family until one of our volunteers made a discovery.

     Cockayne House volunteer Eddie Grose was scanning some documents into a folder on his computer at our office when he called me over to see some cards that he was about to scan. Actually, it was quite a stack of cards, from the Arbuckle Brothers Coffee Company.

     They included a variety of scenes from around the world - some historical in nature, all about the size of hand-colored postcards. After a quick check on the Internet, I've found that they were given away as promotional premiums with bags of coffee in the 1890s. The back of the cards extolled the virtues of grinding your own coffee, (“Ľone mess at a timeĽ”) right in your own home, and praised the educational value of the cards.

     I don't know if there was a conscious effort by the Cockaynes to collect a full set of these cards - I'll need to count the cards, in order to figure that out. What I do know is that they are the only collectable cards that we've found at the farmstead. There are neither any cigarette cards of baseball players from the 1900s, nor any bubblegum cards of sports heroes from the 1930s--only these softly colored and quaint Arbuckle Brothers Coffee Company cards.

     The sizeable stack of Arbuckle coffee cards tells me that the lady of the house bought the same brand of coffee from her grocer on a very regular basis, and that this grocer sourced his coffee from the Arbuckle Company. (Founded in Pittsburgh, the Arbuckle business was later headquartered in New York.)

     Although the colorful collection of cards points to the Cockaynes being an Arbuckle coffee family, we shouldn't get the idea that the family didn't support local businesses. I'm not particularly surprised that we've also recently found a little card among the artifacts that indicates that they likely bought at least some coffee in those days from a competing company - Wheeling Coffee and Spice, the same firm that continues in the coffee-roasting business today, just a few miles north. And that's a story for another week.