Bortree Duplex Corset Trade Card

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Bortree Manufacturing Company, Duplex Corset Trade Card. Circa 1884. Card printed by The Krebs Lithographing Company of Cincinnati.

A wonderful, colorful, slightly comical, (depending upon how this strikes you) trade card for Duplex corsets and the Bortree Manufacturing Company. This lithographed card shows six (maybe four, depending upon interpretation) different scenes:  three gentlemen in a sailboat with other sailboats in the background; a couple taking a drive in the country in a cart pulled by two horses; two couples tobogganing; a country scene showing four artists, two of whom are accompanied by their dog; a ballroom dancing scene. The details in this card are wonderfully done:  the different poses of the couples dancing cheek to cheek; the smitten-looking gentleman with his lady love on the toboggan; the lively “movement” of the horses; the dogs in the artists scenes that are naturally intent upon their own interests; the concentration of the woman artist in the rowboat; the understandably happy expression of the gentleman (or lady in trousers?) that is either on his or her way to the plein air site, or heading home, well satisfied with the day’s work.

There are also a few puzzling things about this lithograph:  the name on the sailboat, the two brownish objects on the left, and the type of plant in the border. The sailboat name looks like Merrur or Merkur; maybe these were the initials of the artists involved, or maybe mer for sea and then the artist’s initials, or maybe it’s a street name in Cincinnati, but I only see Mercer (this speculation could go on forever) or after looking at the back of the card again, maybe it’s a reference to the New York City address of No. 7 Mercer St. As to the two unknown, rather highlighted objects on the left – could these be buckeyes or flax seeds? Maybe, but the shapes for either don’t quite seem correct. And the plant making up the border seems familiar but if it is supposed to depict a real plant, I’m not able to verify it. Maybe some horticulture experts will come across this post and be able to solve the mystery.

As for the three little images of the Duplex corset, one appears on a shield, another inside some nice scroll work, but the placement of the one on the waterfall is priceless! (Is the artist furthest in the background seeing corsets in the waterfall? Is this depicting our litho artist himself, and showing that the inspiration for the card has come to him while gazing at a waterfall?)

As you can see, this card was glued in someone’s scrapbook or glued somewhere, so a little of the wording is missing, but the Bortree Manufacturing Co. had a factory in Jackson, Michigan, and as the card indicates, had an office and salesroom at 7 Mercer St., New York, NY. According to an online article by Leanne Smith at on Jackson, Michigan’s corset industry, “Bortree Corset Co., 112 W. Cortland St., was the first corset company founded west of New York. Moses Bortree, who migrated to Michigan from Pennsylvania in 1866, opened the factory in 1868 to manufacture crinoline skirts and bustles. In 1875, Bortree switched to corsets. Within five years, he was producing 50,000 to 300,000 corsets per year. In its heyday, the company employed almost 400 people, 350 of whom were women.”  This trade card would have to be from at least 1884 though, per the date on the image of the medal shown on the back, that was awarded to Bortree at the Cincinnati Industrial Exposition.

The Krebs Lithography Company was established in about 1875, but had evolved from Ehrgott & Forbriger, a company founded in 1856 by Peter Ehrgott, a “practical lithographer” and Adolphus Forbriger, “an excellent artist.” The company had a reputation for it’s fine artistic work, and was located in the Carlisle Building at 4th and Walnut in Cincinnati. When Mr. Forbriger died in 1869, German-born lithographer, Adolph Krebs, became partner with Mr. Ehrgott in November of the same year, and the company became Ehrgott & Krebs.  In 1874 Peter Ehrgott left the partnership, and Adolph Krebs became president of the company. The American Stationer, in a March 1883 publication, made note of The Krebs Lithography Company’s plans to build a new factory on Sycamore St, as by this time, they had outgrown the 4th and Walnut location. The new factory was located at 138, 140 and 142 Sycamore St., between 4th and 5th, in Cincinnati, and comprised six floors with a basement. Adolph Krebs died September 1884 at age 53 (unfortunately before he could see the completion of the new factory.) His son, Hermann T. Krebs, was then elected as the new president, having been with the company for about 8 years. The 1888 City Directory for Cincinnati shows Hermann as president, along with the other company officers, and that the company was still at the same Sycamore St. address. The company’s name changed to Henderson Achert Krebes Lithographing Company on February 22, 1889, according to an annual report to the governor showing corporate name changes.

Trade card, circa 1884.

Price:  $20.00

Sources:  Michigan Historical Collections, Volume 2, Michigan Historical Commission. Pioneer Collections Report of the Pioneer Society of the State of Michigan, Together with the Reports of County, Town and District Pioneer Societies. Vol. 2, 2nd edition. Robert Smith Printing Co.State Printers and Binders, Lansing, MI, 1901. Page 342 (Google eBooks)

Peek Through Time: Corset business thrived in Jackson during the early part of the 20th century. Leanne Smith article dated July 9, 2010. (

Leading Manufacturers and Merchants in Cincinnati and Environs. The Great Railroad Centre of the South and Southwest. An Epitome of the City’s History and Descriptive Review of the Industrial Enterprises that are making Cincinnati the source of Supply for the New South. 1886, International Publishing Co., 102 Chambers St., New York, Boston, Cincinnati and Chicago. Page 67. (Google eBooks)

The Philadelphia Print Shop, Ltd. (

Artists in Ohio 1787 – 1900. A Biographical Dictionary Compiled and Edited by Mary Sayre Haverstock, Jeannette Mahoney Vance and Brian L. Meggitt. Kent State University Press, 2000. Page 500. (Google eBooks)

The American Stationer. Vol. XIII – No. 11. New York, March 15, 1883, pg. 358. (Google eBooks) U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011.

Annual Report of the Secretary of State to the Governor of the State of Ohio for the Fiscal Year Ending November 15, 1890. The Westbote Company, State Printers. 1891. Page 447. (Google eBooks)

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