It can take 500 tries before Anne Taintor lands a single line with just the right tone, the right message, the right bite.
“I should come with a warning label.”
“Good girls go to heaven . . . I just need to get to New York.”
“There was nothing passive about her aggression.”
Time intensive, sure. Fabulous snark is not to be rushed.
Since 1985, the Lewiston native has married her funny, often saucy captions with advertising images of smiling homemakers from the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s. They adorn magnets, luggage tags, sticky notes, even flasks. It’s grown from a kitchen-table venture to a million-dollar operation with products in more than 3,000 stores.
This month, Taintor launched a new line, “Taintor … with a twist,” pairing captions with Saturday Evening Post art. She also bought a house in Portland.
After 11 years out in New Mexico, she’s moving back.
“It’s kind of exciting,” Taintor, 57, said during a phone interview from her Youngsville studio. “I came out here on a semi-whim.”
When she started the company, she was a single parent working too many hours at DeLorme and wishing she saw more of her little girl. Taintor was also good at, and enjoyed, making collages, having studied art at Harvard after graduating from Lewiston High School in 1971.
Taintor’s great-grandfather founded Skelton, Taintor and Abbott. Her father was the late Fred Taintor.
“I started doing this on the side,” she said. “One day my father said to me, ‘Why don’t you quit your job and do this full time?’ And I said, ‘But I would have no security.’ And my father, who I thought was the most conservative person in the entire universe, said, ‘You have no security now.’ I was like, whoa, OK.”
Then, Anne took his advice.
A stack of Ladies’ Home Journals from the 1940s bought at a South Portland yard sale provided early inspiration for her now-familiar style. Outside of the Evening Post artwork, Taintor said the images she uses come from old adverting in the public domain.
“Some of them I use straight out of the magazine and some of them I collage,” she said.
At first there were was pins, earrings and barrettes. Then, the biggie: magnets.
“I thought it was a really goofy idea because I didn’t think anybody would spend money for magnets,” Taintor said.
Except they did. “That was kind of the mainstay for a long time.”
Anne Taintor Inc. stayed a solo, Anne Taintor-only businesses until she moved to New Mexico.
“I said to Nathan, my husband, ‘If we want to get any hiking done we need to hire someone to ship these orders,’” Taintor said. She hired one woman. Then, the woman’s daughter-in-law. Then, a cousin. “That’s when we started growing. Then maybe about nine years ago I noticed some other companies were doing some things that looked very similar to mine. I decided that if I wanted to survive I was going to have to expand my product line.”
Since then she’s assembled a team: product developer, graphic designer, public relations.
At certain times of the year, Taintor says she gets busy captioning. Lines like “I love not camping,” “Old enough to know better . . . too young to give a rat’s ass,” “She was one cocktail away from proving his mother right.”
Three years ago she started enlisting freelancers to pitch in.
“I’m really picky,” Taintor said. “I get a lot of submissions I don’t use and I write a lot of stuff that I think I’m (being) hilariously funny and the next day I’m, ‘What?!’”
As her offerings have expanded, Taintor has worked to tailor her captions: For sticky notes, something about work. For coin purses, shopping. For flasks, drinking.
She’ll expand her retro empire in October with a new cocktail recipe book, “I’m so happy it’s happy hour.”
“We just used captions and related the recipes to them,” she said. Like “Think of me as unexpected turbulence” paired with a cocktail called the Aviation.
“A lot of classic, but a few really odd recipes in there, and I’ve had them all. At the end, I reached out to my editor for some help and he tried a couple. I was just like, ‘I can’t drink anymore!’”
Taintor said she never imagined business growing as big as it has. Only over the last four years has she created budgets, learned to use Excel.
“It was kind of a seat-of-the-pant thing,” she said. “I finally know what I’m doing. I think.”
Now, she’s being drawn back to her home state by a pair of young granddaughters.
“We still have good friends in Maine,” Taintor said. “I can’t wait to get my kayaks back, we loaned them to a friend. Hey, I want them back June 15.”
Anne Taintor runs a monthly caption contest asking online readers to try their own hand at her one-liners. She offers up the picture, you take your best shot. Almost 1,000 entries poured in for March. She sorts through them all, declaring one winner, who comes away with a $100 gift certificate for her website.
Taintor said some contest writers have caught her attention and been asked to freelance for her line.
Deb Gilgore won for March with: “Whoever says you can’t have it all hasn’t met my lawyer!”
Read more past winners at www.annetaintor.com
“Some men think I’m a male basher, and I guess to some extent maybe I am, but my husband thinks it’s very funny. I have a design that’s been in the line for many years that says ‘Male refrigerator blindness claims another victim,’ which was written about him. He is just is so proud of that.”
— Anne Taintor, the Lewiston native behind Anne Taintor Inc.