Walt Whitman — patriotic poet, gay iconoclast, shrewd marketing ploy, or all three?

About four months ago, cigar boxes, matchbooks, and coffee tins bearing the name and likeness of 19th-century poet Walt Whitman began appearing on the Show & Tell section of Collectors Weekly. Turns out, as Lisa Hix learned when she spoke to Ed Centeno, who posted the items from his personal collection, Whitman's name and bearded visage were once used to sell everything from tobacco products and booze to apple sauce. For the record, Whitman did not smoke, and as the son of an alcoholic father, he argued on behalf of Temperance causes. Presumably, Whitman ate apple sauce, but marketers never asked his permission to to sell stuff when he was alive (1819-1892), nor was Whitman ever compensated for the use of his good name.

All this advertising attention to Whitman is curious since, in general, poets don't make good marketing tools. The Whitman name is particularly problematic. While some people are inspired by his steadfast support of the Union cause during the Civil War, imperiling his own health to work as a nurse in a Washington, D.C., Army hospital, others see him as a very early champion of gay identity, as well as a hell of an erotic writer. Being patriotic and gay are obviously not incompatible, but the latter often gives those who would make money off the former pause.

Here's a snip:

During the Gilded Age, new industrial technology, particularly in chromolithography and tin-stamping, caused an explosion in product branding and advertising with colorful product labels, tin boxes, and tin signs.

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Walt Whitman was into paleo and wrote a “Manly Health and Training” guide with sex tips

Leaves of Grass? He probably ate them now and then.

A scholar at the University of Houston in Texas has discovered a 13-part, 47,000-word series by Walt Whitman, published by the New York Atlas in 1858, under the pseudonym Mose Velsor.

Under that most macho of aliases, “Manly Health and Training” amounts to a "part guest editorial, part self-help column," a “rambling and self-indulgent series” that reveals Walt Whitman's thoughts on a variety of manly-man topics. Including sex. Read the rest