Monday, November 22, 2010

Neither Bear nor Spaniard

The Spencer House wooden Indian, winter, 1889

“…With a musket in one hand and a pack of cigars in the other…“Tecumseh”—so everybody called the wooden Indian in front of the cigar store in the old Spencer house—gazed out for many years upon the waters of the Ohio and Licking rivers. Thousands of Cincinnatians, going down Broadway to the Coney Island and other wharfboats, saw him standing there…How many wooden Indians are left in Cincinnati? The census estimates vary from three to about six.”
--Cincinnati Times-Star, June 9, 1929

Note: Spencer House is visible in the image posted yesterday...The light-colored 5-story structure with the awnings in the photo's center. "Tecumseh" in under the corner awning.

Image: Yesterday's Cincinnati, Luke Feck, 1977


  1. I think I may have this Cigar Store Indian. Does anyone have a better photo (higher resolution of it).

  2. Russell, Even if your wooden Indian was identical to this grainy image of "Tecumseh" and appeared to have been made of, carved from and painted with material proven to be of 19th century origin or earlier, your example would have to be accompanied by solid documentation proving its unlikely path from Spencer House to your house.
    A 'Cincinnati Times-Star' story on the city's wooden citizens from June of 1929 is accompanied by an engraving of "Tecumseh" by Rookwood artist and city documentarian Edward Timothy Hurley but this engraving could have been copied from the grainy photo up above. The 1929 'Times-Star' story describes three wooden figures existing in the city at the time of publication, "a wooden Indian in front of Louis Kusnick's cigar store, 23 East Sixth Street, another in front of Wm. F. Muller's cigar store, 314 East Fifth Street, and a third, an Indian girl - "Minnehaha"- in front of the Ohio Pharmacy, 838 West Eight Street."
    The article also says, "In the old days the model of a bear or of a gaily colored Spaniard with a bear was often found in front of cigar stores. Unique among the old Cincinnati cigar store symbols was the figure of a colored boy, cast in iron, that stood for many years in front of the Davis Cigar Store, Vine Street above Fourth."
    The Indian statue located at the intersection of Gracely Drive & Thorton Avenue in the Cinvcinnati neighborhood of Saylor Park is occasionally called "Tecumseh", "the Fernbank Indian" and "Indian Chief No. 53" but is metallic and bears no resemblance to the Spencer House figure.
    The Cincinnati Art Museum has no wooden Indians in their collection but would dearly love to offer a home to any of our departed wooden residents from the past.

  3. Not the response I expected. In over two decades of seriously collecting and researching 19th century cigar store figures, I have found that no two are carved exactly alike. Some might seem very similar, but will have a different feather tip or something else to distinguish one from the other. You might be able to understand this by realizing how difficult it would be to hand carve an EXACT copy of anything. I agree that I cannot tell by the low quality photo and that is why I wondered if I could get a higher resolution photo. It is not however important to me that I have this particular Indian, was just interested in getting a better look at the one in the photo.

  4. I never have a problem with questions. I'm glad my reply wasn't what you were expecting. If you possess a wooden Indian figure, take digital images of it and send a couple to me.

  5. I am still curious if it is possible to buy a higher quality scan of this photo? I have the Indian, but do not understand why I could not ever get an answer to my original question? I also have a number of other original 19th century wooden Cigar Store figure ( W
    here is this photo currently located, perhaps I could appeal to the present curators to see if I can buy the better scan I am seeking. Thank you.

    1. Russell, I love the 'distance' between the dates on these's like we're communicating 200 years ago.
      The image is credited in the original post to a regional book, 'Yesterday's Cincinnati' by Luke Feck and published in 1977. Mr. Feck was the Managing Editor of the Cincinnati Enquirer (he hired your humble blogger as an Editorial Copy Boy in 1971) and was given the author title on the Cincinnati version of 'Yesterday's [fill in the city]' series by E.A. Seemann Publishing, Inc., Miami, Florida.
      The book's frontpiece describes 20 other cities and titles, from 'Yesterday's Akron' to 'Yesterday's Tallahassee' in a Florida-heavy list.
      Likely, across the East coast and South, Managing Editor's of local paper's busting with unused photo files all became authors as Seemann Publishing got access to those files for their 1977 series.
      Your photo, on the upper left corner of page 52 in the offset printed hardback, required a great deal of correction and contrast enhancement for use here.
      I would imagine Seeman Publishing, Inc. is defunct...You can try the present day 'Cincinnati Enquirer' but I've not found them to be very helpful.