Every once in a while, I will get an email asking about a small metal device about the size of a whistle that is embossed “Warner’s Safe Cure” on one side and on the other “Keeler’s Little Joker Pat. Nov 12, 1878”. I have seen this device show up a few times on eBay. It’s fair to say that simply looking at it does not reveal its function. So, invariably, the question is what is it and what did it do.
Recently, Russ Dean had occasion to put that question to Jack Stecher. Jack advised that the “Little Joker” was a hand held printing device distributed by the Warner’s Remedies Company as yet another advertising premium. It seems that the “Little Joker” was manufactured and distributed by W. H. Keeler of Buffalo, New York. In her book “Personal Impressions: The Small Printing Press in Nineteenth Century America,” Elizabeth M. Harris included the follow profile of Keeler:
Keeler was the holder of a series of patents for hand stamps in the 1870’s, variously assigned. He was the owner of Buffalo Rubber Type Foundry in 1883.
Little Joker, about 1883. The Little Joker was described by its maker as a self-inking printing wheel and classed with desk and pocket stamps. It came in five sizes costing $1.25 to $2.25, and holding from one to five lines of letters.
The 1884 Buffalo City Directory lists Keeler’s Little Joker Co., W. H. Keeler, President in Brown’s Building. There is also a terrific ad for the Little Joker in the 1885 Detroit Society Blue Book:
Apparently, the Little Joker could be used to mark linen indelibly. I hope that this sheds some light on this unique little device that surfaces among Warner’s collectors.
Special thanks to Russ Dean, Jack Stecher and Jackie Peck for their contributions to this post.