Very often, one of Salem’s longest-running and best-known businesses, Daniel Low & Company, is reduced to a pioneering seller of witch wares with their souvenir witch spoons and other “memorabilia” issued before, during and well after the very important Bicentennial of the Witch Trials in 1892. It all started with a spoon, say the proponents of witchcraft tourism, long ago: we didn’t start it! And they are not wrong: the Company certainly sold its share of witch spoons, plates, dishes, thimbles, scissors, and more unusual items like “penwipers”. But Daniel Low & Co was also a Salem institution for over a century: evolving from its jewelry and silver foundations to a major purveyor of all manner of decorative accessories for the home over its long history (1867-1994). It “sold Salem” in more ways than one: if you visited its landmark store, situated in Salem’s most historic square in the former site of its First Church, you would see not only floors of display cases but also “unique antique rooms” featuring reproductions of Salem’s more traditional products; if you ordered from the annual Daniel Low year book you would receive a receipt bearing an illustration of an historic Salem structure as well as a copy of the company pamphlet The Salem Pilgrim.
You could write a book entirely on Daniel Low’s advertising methods and campaigns: there’s just so much information and copy. The company advertised both locally and nationally: to support both its wondrous store and its annual year book, issued from the 1890s into the 1960s (I think—I can’t find the end date). But it’s not just the means by which Daniel Low reached out and reached in to homes across America, it’s the messaging. The store’s advertising philosophy was expressed in a number of speeches and articles by Robert R. Updegraff, its manager of publicity, from the teens into the thirties. Everything I read by Updegraff, who seems to have been a pioneering practicioner of the new “art” of advertising, reminded me of Don Draper’s Kodak carousel pitch in Mad Men: aim for the heart, and treat your customers like neighbors. Only a year into his job, Mr. Updegraff summarized his pitch and his profession in a serialized article entitled “The Story of the Year”: One thing is sure, the advertising man who is to be the real power in the future will be the man who stops thinking in terms of type and borders and magazines and billboards and street car cards and printing presses and halftones. He will think in terms of neighborliness and life. He will write simple, sincere, friendly messages to these neighbors of his. He will think and write in terms of ideas, emotions, experiences, merely using words as vehicles to convey his message and printing presses to multiply it. He will use illustrations only when they tell the story better than the same amount of space used in words. His advertisements will be efficient because they are sincere and have the beauty of truth. And they will be effective. [Macleans magazine, September 1913]. Updegraff believed that Salem’s past could be utilized to emphasize sincerity and exemplify the “beauty of truth”: not its witch-trial past but rather a more hopeful, gilded, and gentle “old Salem.” In a 1914 article in Printers’ Ink he elaborates on how the imagery of truly Colonial Salem conveyed an atmospheric sincerity in the Daniel Low Year Books which began offering “glimpses of old Salem” from that time until the 1950s.
A half-century of Daniel Low & Co. Year Books: from Historic New England, Salem State University Archives and Special Collections Flickr photostream, Harvard University Digital Collections and my own collection.
Glimpses of Old Salem was a constant, but not Daniel Low’s exclusive pitch: it aimed to be a traditional-yet-modern “Treasure House” too, a phrase that was adopted by the Essex Institute and applied to all of Salem from the mid-century: before Witch City crowded out all other messaging at its close.