The copper letters above the entrance memorialize an importer of food products, founded in 1882, that was successful enough by 1909 to commission these bespoke premises. Among the company's imported brands, according to a 1939 photo, were Umberto Olive Oil and Marie Elisabeth Sardines.
That period photo also includes a name still visible today: "SAPCO BUILDING." (It was the sight of that name, faintly visible even from a distance, that led me here in the first place.) The meaning of S and A are clear enough: The first is for Frederick Gottfried Strohmeyer, the company's founder, the second, for Herman Arpe, who seems to have been employed by Strohmeyer from the start and who made partner around 1895. P surely honors Col. Gustav Porges, who joined the firm as partner after World War I, "fresh from his assignment as General "Black Jack" Pershing's chief food procurement officer." Although almost universally slighted in online accounts, the colonel does receive his due on the Strohmeyer website — a century later, the company, now based in New Jersey, is still a going concern.
Strohmeyer & Arpe Co. Surviving signage, 139-141 Franklin St. (at Varick St.), Manhattan
The spelling is odd, and at least two centuries old: It figured in the title of an 1802 satirical print published in London. In New York, an 1846 directory identified 273 proprietors whose business included the word "segar," a mere 21 that mentioned "cigar." For reasons unclear, the phonetic spelling gradually fell out of favor over the course of the 19th century.
The premises shown here date to 1810. The initials "G.H." (date and full name unknown) appear above the left-hand door, whose slot for "lettres" is painted shut; following that pointed finger won't get you far. For the current bar-restaurant, take the door to the right — but no smoking, please.
Even if you don't read Chinese, you can spot a familiar face on the first signboard. This depiction of the sun, a circle surrounded by radiating lines, is so widely understood that even a half-circle, as on the second signboard, can suffice.
In context, the second sign clearly shows a sunrise and not a sunset. I can't pin down why that's equally apparent for the first sign, which advertises a modestly appointed Dongbei (Northeast Chinese) restaurant. Perhaps it's the smile. I needed a moment to identify the stylized characters that follow: 早点, "zǎodiǎn," "breakfast."
Note also that this photo illustrates one peril of insufficient morning coffee: an inadvertent waist-down self-portrait.
Rise-and-shine signboards First photo: Tieling Restaurant 46-24 Kissena Blvd. (Juniper-Kalmia Aves.), Flushing, Queens 347-732-4199 www.TielingFlushing.com Second photo: Tiny's 135 West Broadway (Thomas-Duane Sts.), Manhattan 212-374-1135 www.TinysNYC.com
The placement of the banner suits a product with a skinny profile, though not necessarily a healthy one: Pixy Stix would fit just as neatly as a bag of these bean-based, high-fiber chips and puffs. Historical imagery via Google Street View reveals only one other advertiser, in August 2013, coincidentally also concerning food. This awkward space, it seems, just isn't all that appetizing.
Beanitos banner Wrapped around the corner of 270 Lafayette St. (at Prince St.), Manhattan
In the 1870s, "Frederick Akers was proprietor of the oldest and best known trade roasting establishment in New York," according to the 1922 book All About Coffee, by William H. Ukers. "Mr. Akers died in 1901. The same year, William J. Morrison and Walter B. Boinest, former employees of Akers, formed a partnership to carry on the same kind of business at 413 Greenwich Street." Later a corporation under the name of Morrison & Boinest, it specialized in wholesale coffee roasting and spice grinding — as the signage still tells us — for some three decades.
The first photo shows the narrow Greenwich St. facade. The second, from around the corner on Hubert St., also shows better-preserved signage (at left) for Dayton Corsa, importers of "teas and coffees."
Hyman and Henry Sonn "were not distillers, but rectifiers, taking supplies of 'raw' whiskey, mixing them to taste and bottling them"
under two brand names, Old Cabinet Rye and the top-shelf Buckingham Rye. Their liquor business, which moved to this location in 1901, moved again, not many years later, one block to the north. The brothers, who earlier had been fish merchants and grocers and who later ran an import-export business, ultimately weathered Prohibition thanks to many and varied dealings in real estate.
Sonn Bros. Company Whiskies Surviving signage, 31 Desbrosses St. (a.k.a. 440 Washington St.), Manhattan
"The kind of tea they use in Ireland," a motto of the Lappin Tea Co, can just be discerned in the faded curved text at upper right. Some contemporary advertisements give the address of this building as 190 Duane St.; other ads, as well as faded signage on the facade itself, say 188. According to Forgotten New York, this was the former home of several tea wholesalers, Lappin included.
"Tea" Surviving signage at 188 Duane St. (Greenwich-Hudson Sts.), Manhattan