Growing up in Canada, Red Rose Tea was definitely the tea of choice from the time I was a child. A series of television commercials from the 1970’s made the above phrase a household saying. The advertisements usually featured staunch British folks having Red Rose Tea. After they sipped and learned it was available only in Canada, they would say, “Only in Canada, you say? Pity!”
What also made Red Rose Tea exciting and memorable while I was growing up were all the small, collectible, figurines that were featured prizes in each package. We could hardly wait to tear open the box of tea bags to retrieve the miniature ceramic figurine tucked inside; nestled in the tea bags. There was seldom a household visited that did not have window sills, shelves, and china cabinets lined with these tiny figurines. A brief history of the ceramic company is featured below. It was sheer marketing genius because every age group looked forward to the next box of Red Rose Tea!
Who, and what, was the Red Rose Tea Company? I never thought to ask that question until a recent trip home to Canada.
Red Rose Tea History
“The story of Red Rose Tea began way back in 1890 in Canada. Theodore Harding Estabrooks was born in Wicklow, Carleton County, New Brunswick, in 1861. He attended Kerrís Business College in Saint John, New Brunswick, and went into business himself in 1894 on Dock Street in downtown Saint John. He was a local business leader who came up with a great idea: produce and pack a quality blended tea which was consistent from cup to cup. Before, tea was sold loose from tea chests by local merchants and quality varied a great deal. Mr. Estabrooks’ innovation meant that tea lovers could count on the quality of tea in every Red Rose package — a tradition that continues to this day.
Red Rose was primarily sold in the Atlantic Provinces of Canada, but soon distribution expanded into other parts of Canada and into the United States, beginning in the 1920’s. Initially, distribution was limited to cities near the Canadian border such as Portland, Buffalo, and Detroit. In 1929, Red Rose introduced tea bags for the first time.
The business continued to expand and in 1932, a new chapter in the history of Red Rose began. Mr. Estabrooks sold Red Rose to Brooke Bond & Company of England. Arthur Brooke had founded Brooke Bond and Company in 1869, starting with a single tea shop. There was no Mr. Bond, but Arthur Brooke thought it sounded better. What would become one of the world’s leading tea companies was born!
During the 1890’s, Arthur Brooke expanded beyond tea shops and into the wholesale tea market, using vans to deliver his tea all over England. The Brooke Bond name became synonymous with tea throughout the United Kingdom. Brooke’s company introduced a second brand — PG Tips in 1930. Brooke Bond also became a major brand in the large tea market of India. With the sale to Brooke Bond, Red Rose became part of a global tea company and flourished under the guidance of the parent company. Arthur Brooke’s son, Gerald, became chairman in 1910.
Following the Second World War, Brooke Bond established their Canadian branch in Montreal, Quebec, continuing to grow the Red Rose Tea brand. By the 1970’s, Red Rose was sold in most of the United States and Canada.
In 1985, Unilever NV acquired Brooke Bond Foods, Inc. Shortly thereafter, Unilever sold the rights to the Red Rose brand in the United States to Redco Foods, Inc. retaining the rights in Canada and other parts of the world. Production of Red Rose Tea for the United States market moved to Little Falls, N.Y., in 1988.
Today, Red Rose is blended with the same care that Theodore Harding Estabrooks established more than a century ago. Red Rose contains high-grown black teas from Sri Lanka (Ceylon), Kenya, India and Indonesia. The result is a blend that produces a full-flavored cup of tea for the tea lover. We think Mr. Estabrooks would be proud.” *
“Red Rose began to give away Wade miniatures 42 years ago, in 1967. At first, the promotion was very restricted in terms of geographical area. Figurines were given away in Quebec, Canada, as part of a short-term promotion. The results were so successful that the promotion was gradually extended until it covered all of Canada. In 1983, the promotion was finally launched “full scale” in the United States. To date, it is estimated that more than 300 million Wade figurines have been given away in packages of tea in America.
Although figurines had been offered to American collectors via mail and had been test marketed in two regions in the 1970’s (Pittsburgh and Pacific North West), it was not until 1983 that they became widely available in the United States. While the molds were the same as those used for Canadian series, coloring and glazes were different.
At the end of each series, a closeout option is given to consumers to purchase a complete set of figurines from the current series while inventory supplies last. After a series has closed out, availability will be limited to trading among other collectors. Look for closeout options in specially marked boxes of Red Rose Tea at the end of each series promotion. We at Red Rose adhere to a very strict “no sale” policy during in-pack promotions. Our figurines are for promotional purposes only.” *
Whisper “Wade Whimsies” into many people’s ears and it will mean only one thing: small animal figurines from the George Wade Pottery of Burslem, England. Wade began in 1810 in Burslem, England, with a small workshop and a single pottery oven making mostly bottles and pottery items. He soon turned his attention to the more profitable ceramics’ needs of textile mills, which supported the company into the late 1920’s. As well as industrial ceramics, Wade produced a line of beautiful figurines, many Art Deco. These were so popular that animal figures were added. The line ran into a snag when it was found that the Cellulose finish turned yellow and peeled off with age. In the late 1930’s some models were reissued with a high-gloss underglaze finish.
The outbreak of the second World War in 1939 led to the cessation of all non-essential ceramic items. Domestic ceramic production was limited to plain, undecorated dinnerware and teapots.
Intended for children, the figurines also appeal to adults who have not lost their sense of imagination. Rumor has it that these figurines were often used in English pubs for striking matches to light pipes. Also for use in kitchens, these “strikers” were used to light the match to heat the stove. That is why the base of each is graded — for striking a match.
The Wade figurines have become collectors’ items and are very much in demand. Today, Wade figurines are still offered as a premium with the purchase of select boxes of Red Rose Tea.
Many Whimsies, often those apparently in the same range, are different from each other. This is due to the length of time they were made and the volume of output. Molds became worn and were retooled for fresh use. Nearly all Red Rose Figurines, with the exception of the very first, have one significant feature: fine molded parallel ridges on the underside of the base. It now seems to have become a “trademark” for all Wade “Whimsies” to follow, making them remarkable Red Rose collectibles.
Only in Canada? Not anymore!! But you still see the grocery store shelves very well stocked with Red Rose Tea, and most places that give you a pot of water for tea, seem to always offer Red Rose Tea as part of their tea selections.
*Research for this post came from Red Rose Tea.
Images courtesy of the contributor, snapped just a few weeks ago during a visit to Canada.