Monday, January 25, 2016

The Hoge Brush Company Files, Vol. 8

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[Note: For background on the "Hoge Brush Company Files" series, click here; to see all the entries in the series so far, click here.]

One thing I've learned from the Hoge Brush Company series is that all sorts of companies were involved in the brush and broom industry — even companies that you wouldn't ordinarily expect. That's the case with our latest letter from the Hoge files, a 1950 missive on very attractive letterhead from Hoosier Wood Works — "Manufacturers of Fine Poultry Coops."

Okay, I get it: The dowels used to make chicken coops aren't all that different from a broom handle, so if you can make the former, you can presumably make the latter. But it's still interesting to see a company with such a niche-specific specialty dabbling so far outside its niche. (Interestingly, current articles about how to construct your own chicken coop, like this one, suggest using broom handles as chicken perches, so there's still an overlap between the two industries.)

I couldn't find any information on Hoosier Wood Works, but I suspect they're now out of business, because someone else is now using that company name. According to this listing of Indiana wood-related businesses, there's also a Hoosier Woodshop, a Hoosier Wood Creations, and two different Hoosier Wood Specialties. It's not clear if any of them manufactures chicken coops (or broom handles, for that matter).

(My continued thanks to Joanna and David Zwiep for sharing the Hoge Brush Company letters with me.)

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Hoge Brush Company Files, Vol. 7

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[Note: For background on the "Hoge Brush Company Files" series, click here; to see all the entries in the series so far, click here.]

Our latest letter from the files of the Hoge Brush Company is a particularly interesting one, because the firm that sent it — the New Era Mercantile Company — was based in Havana, Cuba. There was nothing unusual about an American company doing business in Cuba in 1945, when the letter was sent, but Cuba has been off-limits to Americans for so long that the mere sight of a sheet of Cuban letterhead now seems exotic.

Unfortunately, I can't find anything about New Era Mercantile's history or current status. It's interesting that they were located in the Bacardi Building — rum is such a signature Cuban product, it almost seems like a cliché for our one Cuban entry in this series to have a Bacardi connection. In any case, the Art Deco building dates back to 1930 and is still in use today.

(My continued thanks to Joanna and David Zwiep for sharing the Hoge Brush Company letters with me.)

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Hoge Brush Company Files, Vol. 6

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[Note: For background on the "Hoge Brush Company Files" series, click here; to see all the entries in the series so far, click here.]

Our previous look at the files from the Hoge Brush Company featured a truly outstanding example of letterhead design. Our latest example — a 1953 letter from Superior Painter Tools, Inc., of Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin, concerning a product called the Roll-O-Brush — is at the other end of the spectrum.

There's a long, unfortunate tradition of pin-up posters, many of them by the illustrator Art Frahm, showing women inadvertently "losing" their underwear or otherwise exposing their lingerie while walking the dog, bowling, waiting at a bus stop, changing a flat tire, riding an elevator, putting coins in a parking meter, or ringing the dinner bell, among many other activities. But those depictions never showed the model's exposed derriere like the Superior Painter Tools letterhead does. Superior's model also appears to be a girl, not an adult woman, which makes the whole thing even creepier. Why would a company choose to present itself in this way?

If you can look past the letterhead design, I quite like the references to "jobbing," which was once (and maybe still is..?) a slang term for wholesaling. In this parlance, a "jobber" is "jobbing" a product line by selling it to retail operations. Does anyone know if this term is still in use?

Superior Painter Tools does not appear to be in business these days. I did find a reference to one of their products, however, in the March 1954 issue of Popular Mechanics (click to enlarge):

As you can see, the product in question is a paint brush with a clip-on roller. This may be the Roll-O-Brush referred to in Superior's 1953 letter to Hoge Brush! Hmmm, did Hoge end up jobbing it?

(My continued thanks to Joanna and David Zwiep for sharing the Hoge Brush Company letters with me.)

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Hoge Brush Company Files, Vol. 5

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[Note: For background on the "Hoge Brush Company Files" series, click here; to see all the entries in the series so far, click here.]

Our latest letter from the files of the Hoge Brush Company — a missive from the A. L. Hansen Mfg. Co. regarding a malfunctioning stapler — has nothing to do with brooms or brushes and could easily have come from the files of any mid-century company. But I'm including it in the series anyway because (a) the letterhead is absolutely spectacular and (b) the subject matter appeals to my love of specificity.

First, that letterhead — my god, is that a beauty or what? Look at the decorative swash that accents the type at the top. Who came up with that, and where can we see the other things he or she designed? Magnificent! I also love all the staplers, each of them firing a series of staples, running down the left sidebar. Unfortunately, the stapler model referred to in the letter — the T 1 Tacker — isn't shown. Frustrating!

Some of the text is priceless, too. I especially love the paragraph explaining the difference between Tacks and Tackpoints: "The TACKS have a blunt point whereas the Tackpoints have a sharp point." One imagines A. L. Hansen's staff explaining this distinction over and over again to various clients.

The A. L. Hansen Mfg. Co. is still an ongoing concern, although it appears that they no longer manufacture staplers. According to their website's "About" page, the company was founded in 1920 by one Augie L. Hansen, a Danish immigrant who had worked for Thomas Edison during World War I. Their longtime slogan appears to have been "Hardware for Hard Wear." Unfortunately, that slogan doesn't appear on the old letterhead, which is about the only bad thing one can say about it.

(My continued thanks to Joanna and David Zwiep for sharing the Hoge Brush Company letters with me.)

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Hoge Brush Company Files, Vol. 4

[Note: For background on the "Hoge Brush Company Files" series, click here; to see all the entries in the series so far, click here.]

Our latest letter from the files of the Hoge Brush Company is this 1954 note sent to Hoge executive Carl Werheim from another brush operation — the Sunshine Brush Co. of Cleveland.

As you can see, the letter has nothing to do with brushes. The topic at hand is World Series tickets. The note from Al Leventhal of Sunshine Brush says, "[I]t is absolutely a bedlam here for tickets," and with good reason — on Sept. 22, when he wrote the letter, the Cleveland Indians had clinched the American League pennant and were a few days away from finishing the season with a record of 111-43, setting the mark for the most wins ever by an A.L. team. They were heavily favored against the National League's New York Giants.

It's not clear if Leventhal or Werheim were able to procure tickets. If so, they were likely disappointed in the outcome, as the Giants swept the Indians in four games. (This is the Series in which Giants centerfielder Willie Mays made his now-famous miracle catch in Game 1.) The first two games were played in New York, and then Games 3 and 4 were at Cleveland's Municipal Stadium. That means the Indians and their fans in attendance — possibly including Leventhal and Werheim — had to watch the Giants celebrating their championship on Cleveland's field, which must have been a particularly bitter pill after the Indians had seemed to be such a juggernaut.

Note that Leventhal mentioned that tickets had to be purchased for all three games being played in Cleveland. But there was no third game in Cleveland — that game, which would have been Game 5 of the Series, became unnecessary when the Giants swept the first four games.

It would be 41 years before the Indians appeared in another World Series — which they also lost, to the Atlanta Braves in 1995. Two years after that they lost the World Series yet again, this time to the Florida Marlins. Those are the only Series appearances they've had since 1954.

As for Sunshine Brush of Cleveland, I googled it and found a listing indicating that it's no longer in business. But then I found another listing for it that included a reference to a company called Newton Broom & Brush, so I looked that up and found that Newton is an Illinois company that's still very much in business. Not only that — check out this passage from their "About Us" page:

[L]ocal bankers E. W. Hersh and A. F. Calvin, together with former congressman E. B. Brooks, incorporated Newton Broom Company on January 10, 1914. … In 1935 the original partnership was dissolved and P. L. Adams of Louisville, Kentucky purchased the business. In 1954, Adams died and his wife sold Newton Broom Company to Alex Leventhal of Cleveland, Ohio.

Alex Leventhal — that's Al Leventhal, who wrote the letter about the World Series tickets! So regardless of whether he was able to obtain those tickets or not, 1954 was an eventful year for him. He must have acquired Newton Broom & Brush as part of Sunshine Brush's holdings.

The "About Us" text goes on to say that Newton Brush is now operated by Leventhal's son, Don Leventhal. I suppose I could call and ask if he knows whether his father attended the 1954 World Series, but I'd almost rather not know. Sometimes the question is more interesting than the answer.

(My continued thanks to Joanna and David Zwiep for sharing the Hoge Brush Company letters with me.)

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Hoge Brush Company Files, Vol. 3

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[Note: For background on the "Hoge Brush Company Files" series, click here; to see all the entries in the series so far, click here.]

Our latest letter from the Hoge Brush Company files is this 1945 dispatch from the Elwing Implement Company of Campbellsport, Wisconsin (a town I believe I drove through during a 2014 road trip, although I have no specific memory of it).

The very nice John Deere letterhead is a standardized design that Deere made available to all of its authorized dealers during this period.

It's interesting that a John Deere tractor dealer would also be selling brooms. At first I thought, "Well, I guess it all falls under the heading of 'farm equipment,'" but some research reveals that brooms were apparently Fred Elwing's principle business, while the farm implement company was just a side operation. This 1952 article from The Campbellsport News mentions, "The largest broom factory in Wisconsin is operated here by Fred Elwing." Additional details are filled in by this 1977 article from The Fond du Lac Commonwealth Reporter (here's the jump), which indicates that Elwing Broom was founded in Milwaukee in 1900, moved to Campbellsport in the late 1930s, and was sold by the Elwing family to new ownership in 1977. In 1981 The Milwaukee Sentinel reported that Elwing Broom was still going strong under the new ownership, but some additional research shows that the company was sold again in 1984. I'm not sure when it was closed, but it doesn't appear to be in business anymore.

So why was Fred Elwing writing to Hoge Brush on John Deere letterhead? This Campbellsport town history includes an entry for "Elwing Implement John Deere Co" that reads as follows: "Fredrick Elwing built the cement block building [at 512 South Fond du Lac Avenue] and after one year in business he sold to Herman Beuchel and he operated it until November 22nd 1949 and then sold to Rolland Jacak." So it appears that this letter from Fred Elwing to Hoge Brush was written during the very narrow time slot in which Elwing was running the Deere business in addition to his broom factory.

Meanwhile, a simple search reveals that the Elwing family is still well-represented in and around Campbellsport.

(My continued thanks to Joanna and David Zwiep for sharing the Hoge Brush Company letters with me.)

Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Hoge Brush Company Files, Vol. 2

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[Note: For background on the "Hoge Brush Company Files" series, click here; to see all the entries in the series so far, click here.]

Our latest document from the Hoge Brush files is a 1945 letter from the Joseph Lay Company, Inc., of Portland, Indiana — another brush and broom operation.

Of note:

• Wow, that's some design, with the plane dropping the bomb and all. Although I haven't seen this design before, I'm assuming it wasn't unique to this company. This was likely a basic template offered by stationery manufacturers, so any company could put its name at the top and support the war effort.

• The lettering for the company name at the top of the page feels a lot like the "United States of America" lettering across the top of a dollar bill.

• I believe the mention of 16" Palm probably refers to palmyra brush bristles, which are mentioned on this Hoge promotional flier. According to this page, palmyra is "a cinnamon colored fiber produced from the base of the leaf stalks of the India Palmyra palm. It has a medium stiff to stiff texture and is light to dark brown in color. It is finer, less stiff, more brittle, and of lower quality than bassine. Used in garage floor brushes, fender washing brushes, deck brushes, and scrub brushes."

• Love the reference to the new inventory being "afloat."

• The "Yours 'V' truly" send-off is interesting. Don't think I've ever seen that before.

• Looks like H.J. Lay's signature was applied via a rubber stamp.

• As noted near the top of the letter, the Joseph Lay Company dates back to the 1870s. The notation "Originators of the Metal Case Broom" may refer to this patent, which was granted in 1883 to company founder Joseph Lay, or it may refer to this patent, which was granted in 1900 to Lay's son, Samuel C. Lay. Further details on this, and on other aspects of the company's history up through 1925, can be found in these documents held by the Indiana Historical Society. Later, in the 1930s, the company came out with the Kitchenette broom, the rights to which were later acquired by an Illinois firm called Quinn Broom Works, which still makes the Kitchenette today. Although the Kitchenette has survived, it appears that the Joseph Lay Company has not.

That's all for this one. More letters from the Hoge Brush Company files soon.

(Special thanks to Joanna and David Zwiep for sharing these materials with me.)

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Hoge Brush Company Files, Vol. 1

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David Zwiep works for the Hoge Lumber Company in New Knoxville, Ohio. Hoge recently decided to sell a building that used to house a division called the Hoge Brush Company, which specialized in brushes, brooms, and so on (see flier above, from 1956), and David was tasked with cleaning it out. Along the way, he encountered lots of old paperwork, much of it on beautiful letterhead. He kept some of it and shared it with his daughter, Joanna Zwiep, who in turn has shared it with me.

Joanna thought I'd be interested in the old letterhead designs, and she was right — many of them are spectacular. But I also found myself intrigued by the letters themselves, most of which are from representatives of other brush-centric companies looking to sell broom handles, purchase brush bristles, or whatever. There's something about the brush industry that I find oddly endearing — a combination of specificity and banality, perhaps. In addition, for the most part we no longer make brushes and brooms in America, so the letters are a peek into a bygone industry.

Joanna has sent me over a dozen of these letters. Rather than present them all at once, I'm going to parcel them out one at a time and create a little series out of them. We'll begin today with this very simple letter from 1944, sent by the Mersman Bros. Corporation of Celina, Ohio (click to enlarge):

There are lots of interesting bits here. One thing at a time:

• Mersman Bros. is no longer in business. But during their heyday, they lived up to the slogan at the bottom of the letter: "Mersman — The Biggest Name in Tables." The man who signed the letter, Walter Mersman, was the son of the founder, J.B. Mersman, who began making tables in Ohio around 1876. There's a good recap of the company's history here, and many Mersman tables can be found on eBay. It's not clear why Mersman was making brush handles in 1944, but it's worth remembering that most American factories had shifted to wartime production during World War II, so Mersman's normal production routines (and Hoge's, for that matter) were probably affected.

• The factory plant at the top of the letterhead, complete with the smokestacks, is so mid-century perfect, presenting the image of bustling production and industry.

• The fine print at top left refers to the "New York Furniture Exchange." I've lived in New York for nearly 30 years and had never heard of this, so I Googled it and learned that 200 Lexington Ave. in Manhattan — a building that occupies the block between 32nd and 33rd Sts. — houses a bunch of showrooms open to buyers in the furniture and design trade. Designed by the skyscraper architect Ely Jacques Kahn, it was built in 1926 and called the New York Furniture Exchange, but since 1981 it has been known as the New York Design Center (which I had also never heard of, although it seems like the sort of place I should have been aware of). A lithograph showing the building's exterior, made by the printmaker Louis Lozowick, is in the Smithsonian Institution's permanent collection.

• The conventions of mid-1940s communications seem pretty odd today, don't they? This letter advises Hoge Brush that the brush handles will be available "the latter part of next week." But the date of the letter — April 14, 1944 — was a Friday. Assuming the letter was mailed that day, it probably arrived at Hoge's offices the following Monday, which means the brush handles would actually be available toward the latter part of that week — or, in other words, in a couple of days. Obviously, email wasn't available in 1944, but why not just pick up the phone? Seems like that would have been more efficient. (For that matter, Celina and New Knoxville are only 18 miles apart. Mersman could have sent an errand boy to deliver the message in person and had him back in the office the same day.)

That's it for this installment. I'll have more Hoge Brush correspondence soon.

(Special thanks to Joanna and David Zwiep for sharing these materials with me.)

• • • • •

A programming note: You may have noticed that I posted much less frequently than usual this past autumn. Part of that is because I've been busy (in case you're not aware, here's a new project that's been taking up some of my time), but it's also because I've become somewhat bored with aggregating existing news stories that have already been reported elsewhere. It's much more satisfying to post entries that break new ground — like this series about the Hoge Brush Company files — instead of repackaging the latest news report about a message in a bottle or whatever.

I'm not saying I'll never do posts on things that have been reported elsewhere (the recent post about long-lost letters to Santa, for example, was really fun, even if I was rehashing other people's reporting). For the most part, though, I'm going to try to keep PermaRec focused on original storytelling. I know this will be more rewarding for me, and I hope for you as well.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Library Card Revisited

Last March I posted an entry about some old library book cards that I'd purchased on Etsy. The books were all from the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library at Phillips Academy, a prep school in Andover, Mass.

Now reader El Jefe has pointed out something I'd missed: One of the cards, for the book Eight Famous Plays by August Strindberg (shown above), was checked out April 20, 1973, by one P. Sellars and again on Sept. 23, 1974, by Peter Sellars — clearly the same person, judging by the handwriting.

That would appear to be the contemporary theater director Peter Sellars, who, sure enough, graduated from Phillips Academy in 1975. Fascinating to see that he twice took out a book of plays by Strindberg, an experimental Swedish playwright. "Heady reading for a 16- or 17-year-old," says El Jefe, "and quite possibly a formative experience for his future career." Indeed.

This also means I now have an object with Peter Sellars's signature — a celebrity autograph, so to speak (assuming one considers Sellars to be a celebrity, which he is in certain circles). I'm still sorting out how I feel about that. On the one hand, I admit that it's fun to suddenly realize that I have a document with a semi-famous person's signature. On the other hand, one of the underlying points of Permanent Record is that "normal" people have their own stories to tell, no fame or notoriety required. Sellars is interesting, but all the other students who checked out the Strindberg book, and whose names are listed on the card along with Sellars's, are in some ways more interesting because of their relative anonymity. Who were they? What have they ended up doing with their lives? Did this book affect them in any way? All questions worth pondering.