John Harvey’s name is usually associated with antique tractors. He created the Classic Farm Tractors calendar and founded a company called Classic Tractor Fever that focuses on people who collect, restore and preserve classic farm tractors. You may even have seen some of his Classic Tractor Fever broadcasts on RFD-TV. But most people do not associate John with antique lard tins.
Growing up on a small dairy farm near St. Joseph, Missouri, John learned early on to love the land, farm people and livestock — especially hogs. His FFA chapter at Savannah High School held a hog show and sale every fall, so John jumped into the Swine Project with both feet, purchasing a purebred Hampshire gilt as a starter.
In his school’s shop class, he built a modified hog house under the sharp eye of instructor Glenn Wade. It included pig rails along the side to prevent the sow from crushing a baby pig. The mother might weigh 300 pounds, the piglet just 3 pounds; every FFA student wanted to save every pig possible.
Later, John and his father established a small, select herd of Hampshire and Yorkshire purebred hogs with customers in Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas. “Hogs put me through college,” John says.
Earning a degree in agricultural journalism at the University of Missouri, John joined the staff of Successful Farming in the 1960s and was named Swine Editor. He wrote numerous feature articles promoting “lean-type hogs” and the pros and cons of raising hogs in confinement. “You can see why I have a passion for pigs,” he says. “I was a hog man, or, to be politically correct today, call me a pig person.”
Today, John’s home in Wilmington, Delaware, is decorated with pictures of pigs, including one by famed American artist Jamie Wyeth simply named, “Pig,” and an icon showing two Duroc hogs cheek-to-cheek titled, “Hogs are Beautiful.”
He also has a collection of pig memorabilia from various countries: signs, paperweights, coffee cups and a sharp-looking pig on a pedestal accompanied by a quotation by Sir Winston Churchill. “I like pigs,” Churchill said. “Cats look down on human beings, dogs look up to them, but pigs just treat us as their equals.”
“And don’t forget President Harry S. Truman,” John adds. “He grew up on a farm and he too had great respect for pigs.”
It’s no wonder that John began to spot lard tins while accompanying his antique-loving wife on her search-and-purchase missions. “Carol loved anything Victorian,” he says. “I loved anything pigs.”
Manufacturers’ trademarks and varied commercial design make each of John’s tins unique. But the pieces have one element in common. “I only collect those that have a pig pictured,” he says.
His favorite is a large tin (14 inches tall by 10 inches across) that once held 50 pounds of lard. Lettering at the top of the yellow can reads, “Wolff’s Old-Fashioned Kettle Rendered Pure Lard.” At the bottom, “Chas. Wolff Packing Co., Topeka.”
“What really tickles my funny bone are the illustrations showing pigs performing all kinds of tricks,” he says. “The designer obviously had a sense of humor, because the tin shows pigs juggling balls in the air, beating a drum and dancing, balancing the trademark on their nose, er, snout, jumping through a hoop and walking a tightrope holding a parasol for balance.”
Another of John’s favorites came from Oldham’s Farm Sausage, Lee’s Summit, Missouri. A chuffy pig in overalls sings, “All of me, why not take all of me?” The illustration and lettering are in white; the background is blue. This tin held 8 pounds of lard. It measures 8 inches tall and the lid is 7 inches across.
While attending a farm radio broadcasters meeting in Colorado one summer, John and Carol went antiquing. John found several gems, including one from Babbitt Bros. Trading Co., Flagstaff, Arizona. That tin, which once held Babbitt’s Silver Pine Open Kettle Rendered Pure Lard, featured the smiling face of a pig looking directly at the viewer. Also printed on the tin: Manteca De Puerco (Spanish for hog lard).
John’s collection includes a number of pig figurines from foreign countries, but only one of his lard tins came from outside the U.S. That small 5-pound tin (found in Vermont) shows a sow with several pigs near a hog trough. The trademark name is Alex Ames, Packer & Curer, Sherbrooke, Quebec.
John says the best looking pig image on any of his tins is that of a Hampshire (black with a white belt over its shoulders) shown on a tin from Millikan Sausage Co., Asheboro, North Carolina. John paid $25 for the piece (which was designed to hold 8 pounds of lard), buying it in the Metrolina Flea Market in Charlotte, North Carolina. “It was Carol’s buy of the day,” he says wryly.
The most elaborate specimen in John’s collection is a large tin that once held 50 pounds of “home rendered lard.” Inside the oval-shaped trademark area is a large hog tattooed with the A&B Brand, which stood for Arbogast & Bastian Co., Allentown, Pennsylvania.
Two circles flank the pig and contain this information: “Pure open kettle rendered lard, and celebrated A&B Brand.” It is the only tin in John’s collection that comes with a warning. On the back is printed this message: “We guarantee this lard to be pure and to conform with all pure food laws. It is open kettle rendered, carefully prepared from the fat of our own slaughtered pork, contains no stiffening and has all the original properties.
“Caution: Immediately after the removal of all the contents of this can, the label and inspection legend must be erased. Any person refilling this can with lard and offering it for sale without first destroying the full label will be subject to the full penalties of the law.”
One tin in John’s collection now serves as a pencil pot on his desk. Holding a selection of ballpoint pens, yellow highlighters and a pair of scissors, the tin is inscribed, “Pure Kettle Rendered Lard, Put up by Edward Lux & Sons, Waterloo, N.Y. Net weight 2 lbs. 8 oz.” An image on the tin shows a sow and an artistic ear of corn.
A small, orange, 2-pound tin from Wheeling, West Virginia, touts, “Schenk’s Good Will Brand Pure Lard, F. Schenk & Sons Co., Wheeling.” In small type is this sentence: “U.S. Inspected and Passed by Department of Agriculture. Estb. No. 373.”
A Hormel tin catches your eye with its bright yellow “skin” and its deep red color scheme. A mid-size tin, it held 25 pounds of lard and is just under a foot tall with a lid measuring almost 10 inches across.
In the top part of its trademark area is a chubby pig sprinting full speed, as though he knows what’s coming if he’s caught. A small circle of information identifies the number and below (in red) is “Hormel Minnesota Austin, Minn.” In type almost too small to read without a magnifying glass is this: “With not more than 1/100 of 1 percent butylated hydroxyanisole, 1/100 of 1 percent propyl gallate and 5/1000 of 1 percent of citric acid in propylene glycol added as preservatives.”
John ran across that beauty in the Franklin Station Antique Mall while attending an Alpha Gamma Rho convention a number of years ago in Nashville. “I got it for $8,” he says. “It was a steal. It was the best buy I ever made.”
Some would say lard was the secret to the fantastic-tasting food prepared by our grandmothers and great-grandmothers, because they used it in just about everything. Back in the day, many farmers butchered hogs and rendered their own lard. But lard was readily available commercially then and it came in attractive and attention-getting packaging — packaging that opens a window onto another era.
For years, we’ve enjoyed modern telephones with area codes followed by seven numbers, but it wasn’t always that way. For example, one of John’s tins once held “Home Rendered Lard” produced by H.L. Byerly, Muncy, Pennsylvania. The tin included Byerly’s phone number: “Phone 37-A-2.” Ever seen a phone number like that?!
Some firms added an additional advertising message. For example, on a Wenger’s Meat Market lard tin, the inscription reads, “The best place to trade after all.” Wenger’s was based in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. The orange tin is marked with “Net Weight 4 lbs. 8 oz.” printed below the trademark.
Still another tin — attractive in black, red and yellow — came from Seltzer Packing Co., Pottsville, Pennsylvania, with this imprint: “Lard for family use.” Details like those make each tin unique and add spice to John’s pig-related collection. FC
For more information:
— John Harvey at 3207 Kammerer Drive, Wilmington, DE 19803; (302) 478-5787; email@example.com.