Friday, January 21, 2011


Obscurity of the Day: Coffee and Sinkers

You wouldn't think that orphan children would exactly be a ripe subject for comedy, but there have been a number of comic strips that chronicle an orphan's quest to find new parents (or just a home to get them off the street!). I don't know if Coffee and Sinkers is the first of the genre, but I can't think of an earlier one. One thing I'll say for certain, though, is that hands down the funniest is Dwig's Home Wanted By a Baby. I'll cover that one of these days when I'm feeling very warm and indulgent toward y'all.

Coffee and Sinkers is a McClure Syndicate entry that ran from June 7 to July 26 1903. It was created by the great illustrator Robert Carter, who slummed in the Sunday funnies on a few occasions. Another of his series, Just Little Ones, uses something more akin to his straight illustration style.

Oh, by the way, if you're not up on your semi-antiquated jargon, 'coffee and sinkers' is slang for cheap coffee and donuts. 'Sinkers' because if the donuts are overly dense or stale they'll sink to the bottom of the coffee cup when you dunk 'em. Mostly a Britishism, but apparently popular on our side of the pond a hundred years ago.


Robert D. Carter was born in Chicago, Illinois in February 1875; the birth date is from the 1900 U.S. Federal Census. According to the 1880 census he was the fifth son of Consider and Emma; the family resided at 314 West Jackson Street in Chicago.

In the World Encyclopedia of Cartoons, Volume 2, Maurice Horn wrote:

Robert Carter began his newspaper career in Chicago, where he chronicled
some of the major murder trials of the day as a sketch artist. He attracted
the attention of William Randolph Hearst, who brought him to New York
around 1910 to work for the New York American. There he drew giant
half-page cartoons to accompany the editorials of Arthur Brisbane. He later
switched to the Progressive Globe and then to the Sun. In late 1916, he
moved to Philadelphia and drew for the Press...

Actually, Carter may have been in New York since the late 1890s. According to the 1900 census he married Hilda, in 1898, who immigrated from Austria in 1896. They had a son, Robert, and Carter's father lived with them at 95 Hart Street in Brooklyn. Carter's occupation was artist for a newspaper.

In the 1910 census, Carter had remarried to Lilian who was born in California. They family of four lived at 566 Greene Avenue in Brooklyn, six blocks south of their previous residence. Carter was an artist for a newspaper.

Carter passed away on February 28, 1918. The Philadelphia Inquirer published the following article on March 1:

Robert Carter, a well-known Philadelphia cartoonist, died suddenly early
yesterday morning at the Samaritan Hospital. He was 44 years old and
is survived by two children, Robert, 19 years old, and Mary, 17 years old,
and a brother in Chicago. Mr. Carter was cartoonist for the Philadelphia
Press, in which his last cartoon appeared yesterday. It has been drawn
the day before, when he appeared to be as well as usual except for a
slight headache. At 10:30 P.M. he was taken suddenly ill and later
removed to the hospital. He died at 3 A.M. yesterday. Mr. Carter began
newspaper cartooning in Chicago, from which city he went to New York,
working on two papers there. He joined the staff of the Philadelphia Press
about a year ago, and done much to promote the Liberty Loan drives.
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