Hammett: Unearthed — The Samuels’ Campaign

We haven’t seen a lot of Tenderloin Terry Zobeck recently, but you know he’s out there, ever sleuthing the Mean Streets. He’s been working on finalizing his biblio of Lawrence Block, but when he gets scent of a Hammett quest, he’s willing to drop everything (except maybe smoking and drinking) to get on it.

Here’s Terry:

About two years ago, Mean Streets visitor Marc LaViolette contacted Don with a question that Don passed along to me. His eagle eye had noticed that the bibliography included with Richard Layman’s Discovering the Maltese Falcon included a sixth article by Hammett from Western Advertising — “How Samuels’ Campaign Developed”.

Marc wanted to know if I had a copy, since I had written about Hammett’s Western Advertising pieces for Mean Streets.

I was completely ignorant of it. My only excuse for not being aware of it is that Discovering the Maltese Falcon is a reprint of Layman’s Dashiell Hammett: The Maltese Falcon, originally published for the academic community by Thompson Gale. And while I own the latter, I never read it since I’ve owned the former for several years — but the earlier edition does not mention this piece in the bibliography of Hammett’s work.

Marc’s question immediately sent me to my shelves. Taking down the bound 1927 volume of WA I hurriedly turned to the table of contents for the October issue. Nothing.

Then I thought, perhaps it was an ad for Samuels.

I looked through the entire issue. Nothing.

I then noticed that some long-forgotten librarian had excised several pages from each issue of my bound copies, including the List of Advertisers and several pages of ads. I reported my findings to Marc and Don and promised to go to the Library of Congress to check their copies, which I hoped were not mutilated.

Yesterday, I finally got back to the LOC to look into the existence of the “How Samuels’ Campaign Developed”.  I searched every issue from 1926 through 1928. 

Unlike my bound copies of Western Advertising, the LOC’s did have the List of Advertisers. Again, nothing. 

Samuels appears not to have placed an ad in Western Advertising in these years — especially puzzling since Selected Letters of Dashiell Hammett includes a letter which Layman presumes to be from June 1927, in which Hammett tells his wife Jose that “I haven’t got my copy yet, but I hear Western Advertising reprinted another of my ads this month. Getting to be a habit.”

This morning I pulled down my copy of Letters and re-read that letter and it struck me for the first time that Hammett writes “reprinted”; not “printed”.

I then had one of those inexplicable instances of inspiration.

I recalled that each issue of Western Advertising had a feature called “Advertising Review of the Month” which reprinted what they considered to be especially effective recent examples of advertising.

With shaking hands, I turned to June’s issue. Nothing.

Well, perhaps it wasn’t June’s issue — Layman wasn’t sure of the date of the letter. I checked earlier issues, and there in the April 1927 issue is a reprint of an ad for Albert Samuels Jewelry!

The other significant point about Hammett’s letter is that he writes “Getting to be a habit”, suggesting that Western Advertising had reprinted other of his ads. More searching for me — details to follow.

Back to “How Samuels’ Campaign Developed”. Perhaps this was an ad that also was reprinted.

I turned to the October issue and searched the two pages of small images of reprinted ads in that month’s “Advertising Review of the Month”. Nothing.

My disappointment was profound. Could Layman have been mistaken? Perhaps it actually appeared in a local newspaper and he simply got it confused.

I sat idly turning pages of that issue thinking about my next step when my eye was drawn to a full page of striking reprints of ads, shown below. They were from Albert S. Samuels Co. Jewelers!

I have no excuse for how I missed this before other than I was looking for ads featuring lengthy prose copy, like the one that Layman reproduces in one of his Hammett volumes.

These ads, on the other hand, feature striking images with little text.

However, there is no mention of Hammett associated with these reprints. The caption that appears at the bottom of the page reads:

In this campaign the Albert S. Samuels Company has not attempted to picture jewelry faithfully, but rather to suggest it in unusual ways. Striking art, simple layout, good typography, short copy-these have been the dominating principles of an effective series of advertisements, the results of which are described in the accompanying article.

My pulse raced at the words “accompanying article” as my eyes shifted to the opposing page only to be disappointed and slightly confused by the title and author: “Making Retail Advertising Stand Out: How two Western stores have made their advertising more profitable in use of unusual ideas in art and copy” by Hugh Crane.

Huh? Who the hell was Hugh Crane and what happened to “How Samuels’ Campaign Developed”?

The ads made sense and the topic of Crane’s article seemed to fit. I began to read the extremely dry article — no Hammett.

Then I turned the page and there on page 61 was the sub-header “How Samuel’s Campaign Developed”. Eureka!

But where was Hammett?

My question was immediately answered by the first sentence:

Let Dashiell Hammett, advertising manager of the Samuels’ stores, and R. J. Ralph, advertising manager for Hastings’ [the second store whose advertising is one of the subjects of the article], tell their own stories of the ideas and purposes behind their advertising programs.

And here is Hammett’s story:

After a campaign of this kind has been in progress for some time, it is easy to advance reasons for its adoption, and to establish a theoretical basis to justify it. With some tangible evidence of results at hand, we can easily say: “In our wisdom, we decided upon such a course for such and such reasons.” But to be perfectly candid, we have actually worked out our present methods mainly by trying one thing and another, checking as carefully as possible on the returns, eliminating the unprofitable, and holding fast to that which was good.

In the beginning, we were convinced that we wanted something new. The old style of copy and illustration was worked to death. But more than that, it is apparent that jewelry is a product which can not be satisfactorily pictured in newspaper advertising. A diamond ring, a salad fork, may be beautiful things in themselves by virtue of chaste lines, the lustre of metal and the sparkle of the jewel. But these things do not show in a drawing. We turned, therefore, to a style of illustration which makes no attempt to reproduce literally, but which suggests the atmosphere of jewelry.

We found that the bizarre drawings, supported by carefully planned typography, were effective. We discovered still other advantages — that their grotesqueness made them more forceful in getting attention, and enabled us to dominate the page with smaller space. A casting up of accounts revealed a surprising thing: we were actually saving money by spending more of it for art and typography. By investing more in the preparation of the copy, we were able to accomplish more with a small advertisement than with a larger one built along traditional lines. This saving we put into more frequent insertions.

In commenting on our advertising, our friends frequently assume that we are appealing primarily to an upper stratum of buyers, which we attempt to interest by modernistic technique. Not at all. We find that this type of message appeals to the ordinary run of people, who enjoy it, remember it, act on it. We are not limiting our invitation to our store to any one class. We simply have desired more good customers, and our advertising has helped us get them. In spite of materially increased competition, our stores have shown large gains since this advertising was instituted. Our Oakland store has shown an increase of 29 per cent; our two stores in San Francisco have gained 18 and 40 per cent respectively.

The ads are indeed visually striking. This is especially remarkable in that Hammett was relatively new to the advertising game. That he should be capable of directing such a visually appealing approach and to express the concept so fully is a testament to his innate skills and abilities.

In Jo Hammett’s memoir of her father she notes that he was something of an amateur artist, so he presumably had the artistic sensibility to realize the appeal of such an advertising approach.

The issues of Western Advertising document that Samuels also was running more traditional ads, such as the one they reprinted in the April 1927 issue, shown at top. I’ll now be looking through my bound volumes for other examples.

Stay tuned.

My sincere thanks to Marc for putting me on the scent. Sorry it took so long to run it down.

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