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"Mr. Perkins of Portland" from Century Magazine

by Ellis Parker Butler
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  • Century Magazine (February, 1900)   "Mr. Perkins of Portland"   A Perkins of Portland story. Later published in Perkins of Portland. With pictures by Florence Scovel Shinn. Published in the "In Lighter Vein" section. p 642-645.  [RGTPL]

from Century Magazine
Mr. Perkins of Portland
by Ellis Parker Butler Mr. Perkins of Portland

There was very little about Perkins that was not peculiar. To mention his peculiarities would be a long task; he was peculiar from the ground up. His shoes had rubber soles, his hat had peculiar Mansard ventilators on each side, his garments were vile as to fit, and altogether he had an appearance of being a composite picture.

We first met in the Golden Hotel office in Cleveland, Ohio. I was reading a late copy of a morning paper and smoking a very fairish sort of cigar, when a hand was laid on my arm. I turned, and saw in the chair beside me a beaming face.

"Just read that!" he said, poking an envelope under my nose. No, no! he cried; "on the back of it." What I read was:

Perkins' Patent Porous Plaster
Makes all pains and aches fly faster.

"Great, isn't it?" he asked, before I could express myself. "That first line, 'Perkins' Patent Porous Plaster,' just takes the cake. And the last line! That is a gem, if I do say it myself. Has the whole story in seven words. 'All pains and aches'! Everything from sore feet to backache; all the way from A to Z in the dictionary of diseases. Comprehensive as a presidential message. Full of meat as a refrigerator car. 'Fly faster'! Faster than any other patent med. or dope would make them fly. 'Makes'! They've got to fly! See?' Perkins' Patent Porous Plaster makes all pains and aches fly faster,' 'makes all pains and aches fly faster,' 'makes all pains and aches fly faster.' Isn't she a beaut? Say, you can't forget that in a thousand years. You'll find yourself saying on your deathbed,

Perkins' Patent Porous Plaster
Makes all pains and aches fly faster."

I held the envelope toward him, but he only tapped it with his finger.

"There is a fortune in those two lines," he said. "I know it. I'm Perkins, known from Maine to California as Perkins of Portland, Perkins the Originator. I have originated more ads than any man living. See that shoe? It's the 'Go-lightly' kind. I originated the term. See this hat? It's Pratt's. 'Pratt's Hats Air the Hair.' I originated that ad. Result, six million pair of the Go-lightly kind of shoes sold the first year. Eight million Pratt's Hats sold on the strength of 'Air-the-hair.' See this suit? I originated the term 'Ready-tailored.' Result. a boom for the concern. Everybody crazy for Ready-tailored clothes. It's all in the ad. The ad's the thing. Say, who originated 'up-to-date in style, down-to-date in price'? I did. Made half a million for a collar concern on that. See that fringe on those pants? And to think that the man who's wearing them has made millions! Yes, millions -- for other guys. But he's done. It's all off with Willie. Now Willie is going to make money for himself. Mr. Perkins of Portland is going to get rich. Are you with him?"

"How is the plaster?" I asked, for there was something taking about Perkins. "Is it good for anything?"

"Plaster!" he said; "bother the plaster! The ad's all right, and that's the main thing. Give me a good ad, and I'll sell lead bullets for liver pills. Display 'Perkins' Bullets Kill the Disease' in all the magazines, and in a year every person with or without a liver would be as full of lead as a printer's case. Paint it on ten thousand barns, and the inhabitants of these glorious States would be plugged up like Mark Twain's frog. Now, I have here an ad that is a winner. Give me fifty thousand dollars, and we will have every man, woman, and child in America dreaming, thinking and wearing Perkins' Patent Porous Plaster. We will have it in every magazine, on every barn, fence, and rock, in the streetcars, on highways and byways, until the refrain will ring in sixty million free American heads:

Perkins' Patent Porous Plaster
Makes all pains and aches fly faster."

"But, my dear sir," I said, "is the plaster good?"

Mr. Perkins of Portland leaned over and whispered in my ear, "There is no plaster."

"What?" I cried.

"Not yet," he said; "that will come later. We will get that later. Law of supply and demand, you know. When there is a demand there always turns up a supply to fill it. See the point? You look bright. See this. We advertise. Get, say, fifty thousand orders at ten dollars each; total, five hundred thousand dollars. What next? We sell out. We go to some big concern. 'Here,' we say -- 'here is an article advertised up to the handle. Here are orders for five hundred thousand dollars' worth. Thing on the boom. Give us two hundred thousand cash and get up your old plaster and fill the orders. Thanks. Good day.' See? They get a well-established business, we get a clear profit of one hundred and fifty thousand. What next? We get up another ad. Invest our whole capital. Sell out for a million. Invest again, sell out again. In ten years we can buy Manhattan Island for our town seat, and Chicago for our country seat. The richest firm in the world -- Perkins and --"

"Brown," I said, supplying the blank; "but I haven't fifty thousand dollars, nor yet ten thousand."

"What have you got?" he asked eagerly.

"Just five thousand."

"Done!" Perkins cried.

And the next day we had the trademark registered, and had made contracts with all the Cleveland papers.

"You see," said Perkins, "we are shy of money. We can't bill the universe with a measly little five thou. We've got to begin small. Our territory is Ohio. Perkins' Patent Porous Plaster shall be known to every Buckeye, and we will sell out for twenty thousand."

So we soon had the words

Perkins' Patent Porous Plaster
Makes all pains and aches fly faster

on the fences and walls

on the fences and walls throughout Ohio. Every paper proclaimed the same catchy couplet. One or two magazines informed the world of it. The billboards heralded it. In fact, Perkins' Patent Porous Plaster was in everybody's mouth, and bade fair to be on everybody's back as soon as there was a Perkins' Patent Porous Plaster to put on those same backs.

For Perkins was right. The backs seemed fairly to ache for plasters of our making. From all over the State druggists wrote for terms, and we soon kept two type-writers busy informing the anxious pharmacists that owing to the unprecedented demand our factory was two months behind on orders, and that "your esteemed favor will have our earliest attention, and all orders will be filled in rotation at the earliest possible moment." Each day brought a deluge of letters, and we received several quite unsolicited testimonials to the merits of Perkins' Patent Porous Plaster. Perkins was radiant.

Then he faded.

He set out to sell the trademark, and failed! No one wanted it. Money was tight, and patent medicines were a drug. Porous plasters were dead. Perkins was worried. Day followed day, and the orders began to decrease, while countermands began to arrive. We had just two hundred dollars left, and bills for four thousand dollars' worth of advertisements on our file. At last Perkins gave up. He came in and flung himself despondently into a chair. Sorrow marked every feature.

"No use," he said dolefully; "they won't bite. We have to do it."

"What?" I asked; "make an assignment?"

"Nonsense!" cried Perkins. "Fill those orders ourselves!"

"But where can we get --"

"The plasters?" Perkins scratched his head He repeated softly: "Makes all pains and aches fly faster," and swung one foot sadly. "That's it," he said; "where?"

The situation was becoming acute. We must have plasters quickly or fail. Suddenly Perkins arose with an air of determination, and vanished through the door.

In two hours he returned. He had a punch such as harness-makers use to punch holes in straps, a pair of scissors, and a smile as broad as his face was long.

"They will be here in ten minutes!" he cried. "Sit right down and write to all our ad mediums to hold that ad for a change. In one year we will buy the soldiers' monument for a paperweight, and purchase Euclid Avenue for a bowling alley! Get off your coat. I've ordered forty thousand paper boxes, one hundred thousand labels, and two hundred thousand plasters. The first lot of boxes will be here tomorrow, and the first batch of labels tonight. The plasters will be here in five minutes. It's a wonder I didn't think of it when I wrote the ad. The new ad will sell two plasters to every one the old one sold."

"Where in thunder --" I began.

"At the grocery, of course," he cried, as if it were the most natural place to find porous plasters. "I bought every wholesale grocer in town out of 'em. Cleaned them plump up. I've got enough to fill all orders and some over. The finest in the land. Stick closer than a brother, 'feel good, are good,' as I wrote for a stocking concern. Stay on until they wear off."

over a thousand cases of sticky flypaper

He was right. The trucks soon began to arrive with the cases. They were piled on the walk twenty high, they were piled in the street, we piled our office full, and put some in the vacant room across the hall. There were over a thousand cases of sticky flypaper.

We cut the sheets into thirds, and sprinkled a little Cayenne pepper on the sticky side with a peppershaker, and then punched holes in them. Later we got a rubber stamp and printed the directions for use on each, but we had no time for that then. When the boxes began to arrive, Perkins ran down and gathered in three newsboys and constituted them our packing force. By the end of the week we had our orders all filled.

And our plasters stuck! None ever stuck better. They stuck forever. They wouldn't peel off, they wouldn't wash off, they wouldn't scrape off. When one wore off, it left the stickiness there, and the victim had to buy another to paste on top of the old one before he could put on a shirt. It was a huge success.

We changed our ad to read:

Perkins' Paper Porous Plaster
Makes all pains and aches fly faster,

and branched out into the magazines. We sent a man to Europe, and now some of the crowned heads are wearing our plasters. You all remember Stonely's account of meeting a tribe of natives in the wilds of Africa wearing nothing but Perkins' Paper Porous Plasters, and recall the celebrated words of Rodriguez Velos, second understudy to the Premier of Spain: "America is like Perkins' Paper Porous Plaster -- a thing not to be sat on."

Five months ago we completed our ten-story factory, and increased our capital stock to two millions; and those to whom we offered the trademark in our early days are green with regret. Perkins is abroad now in his private yacht. Queer old fellow, too, for he still insists on wearing the Go-lightly shoes and the Air-the-hair hat, in spite of the fact that he hasn't enough hair left to make a miniature paint-brush.

I asked him before he left for his cruise where he was from, -- Portland, Maine, or Portland, Oregon, -- and he laughed.

"My dear boy," he said, "it's all in the ad. 'Mr. Perkins of Portland' is a phrase to draw dollars. I'm from Chicago. Get a phrase built like a watch, press the button, and the babies cry for it."

That's all. But in closing I might remark that if you ever have any trouble with a weak back, pain in the side, varicose veins, heavy sensation in the chest, or in fact any ailment whatever, just remember that

Perkins' Paper Porous Plaster
Makes all pains and aches fly faster.



Saturday, October 07 at 1:15:04am USA Central
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