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Product label study showcases history of NOLA entrepreneurs

Madame Olympe, the first woman in America to put labels on her dresses

Madame Olympe, the first woman in America to put labels in her dresses

Phillip Collier is a New Orleans-based, award-winning graphic designer with many well-known business clients around town. But what he really likes to do, maybe even more than keeping those clients happy, is to make books.

Now, his tomes are not multi-chapter novels. They are not anthologies or short stories. His creations, for want of a more literary description, are picture books; gorgeous, sumptuous, elegant picture books; books that feature images of long-gone city landmarks; books that focus on some aspect of the history of this unique city.

And now he has a new one. This go-around, his more-than-330-page coffee table tome covers a subject that the newly-minted entrepreneurs of town, to say nothing of the Greater New Orleans Inc. gurus, should find interesting. For Making New Orleans: Products Past and Present is the story of the hundreds of products manufactured in New Orleans over the past 200 years.

It was something Collier had been thinking about doing for 15 years.

“But it actually started the night New Orleans lost to San Francisco in the playoffs,” he says with a laugh. “I didn’t have a hobby after that.”

What began as a book to showcase some of New Orleans’ artistically creative product labels morphed into something way bigger the more that Collier did his research. He discovered the extraordinary business vibrancy of this city, which in the early 1920s had 1,200 factories making more than 900 different products, a city that had furniture craftsmen and macaroni makers, sheet music publishers and coffee barons.

The American Frog Canning Co. made, among other things, frog-skin purses

The American Frog Canning Co. made, among other things, frog-skin purses

Who knew that in the early 19th century, the first American dressmaker to put labels in her creations was one Madame Olympe, right here in the Crescent City? Who knew that today’s Columns Hotel on St. Charles Avenue was the home of Simon Hernsheim who, with his brothers, owned one of the largest cigar-making companies in the country? By 1892, his workers were hand rolling more than 40 million imported Cuban cigars annually for national and international markets. Who knew about the Depression-era American Frog Canning Company that not only marketed canned frog’s legs, but also made frog skin purses?

The stories go on and on, accompanied by images of the colorful and artistically creative labels used on the products. In a nod to an earlier master graphic designer, Collier dedicates the book to Susus Frederick Von Ehren, who, for 70 years, was head designer of the New Orleans printing firm Walle & Co., creator of so many of the labels. So dedicated was Von Ehren that in 1952, when forced to retire at age 91, and having sued to get his job back at minimum wage and lost, he continued to sneak back into the printing plant to work at his old desk until he died in 1957.

On Saturday, November 9, at 2 p.m., The Ogden Museum of Southern Art will host a panel discussion on Making New Orleans: Products Past and Present. Panelists will include chapter authors Dr. Nick Mueller, President and CEO of the National World War II Museum, John Magill, curator of The Historic New Orleans Collection, Arthur Smith, Marketing/PR Director of the Louisiana State Museum, and freelance journalist and author Wayne Curtis. Also included in the discussion will be entrepreneurs who are keeping alive the business spirit of this city, including Sarah Elizabeth Dewey and Jolie Benson of local seersucker favorites, Jolie & Elizabeth. The panel will be moderated by Phillip Collier, who will also sign his books.


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