Satisfaction Guaranteed

By Lily Kaar

One of the factors in collections management is that we’re constantly improving our understanding of historic object preservation. While this helps us improve our care of the objects so they don’t get damaged simply from existing in storage, sometimes this means that the current storage methods can end up being harmful to the objects, and they need to be re-wrapped, repacked, or even relocated. Last summer, boxes of historic clothing and textiles were pulled from their storage place in the non-climate controlled attic of the Deyo House and moved to Deyo Hall.

During the relocation process, we lost track of exactly what was moved from the attic, which meant an inventory needed to be done. Doing inventory is an interesting kind of roulette; sometimes you open a new box to find a dozen highly similar housewares with no accession numbers. Sometimes, though, you find something unique and exciting, like this old mail-order catalog for Montgomery Ward & Co. we found acting as a spool for a length of black fringe trim in a box of fabric scraps.

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Montgomery Ward & Co. was the first mail order dry goods business, and the second mail order catalog ever released in the US, preceded only by the Tiffany & Co. Blue Book. Founded by Aaron Montgomery Ward in Chicago in 1872, the company was completely mail order-based until the first physical store went up in 1926, and continued business until declaring bankruptcy in 2000. They originated the slogan “Satisfaction Guaranteed or Your Money Back”1 in 1875, and Ward staff copywriter Robert L. May was the creator of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer as part of a Christmas-themed coloring book introduced in 1939.2

Mail order catalogs such as this one give a glimpse into what people were buying around the country. People in rural areas wanted city goods and manufactured items, which were only available after being sold and resold through various middlemen until they came to the local general stores, at an increased markup with no quality guarantees. Catalogs, as direct marketing, offered a wider range of goods for reduced prices, allowing the customer more options in the items they wished to buy.

This catalog is for the fall and winter of 1877 into 1888. It would be another four years before Hammacher Schlemmer published their first catalog, and ten years before the debut of Sears Roebuck & Co. As you can see, the format is a bit different than the mail order catalog we’re used to today. Most goods are not illustrated, left to a very short description in a list, alongside the serial number and the price. This can be a little confounding to the modern viewer, as the catalog sold a large variety of goods, including patterned fabric, but only included drawings of a few investment pieces, such as a mattress box spring or steamer trunks.

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Another thing that can throw a modern viewer is the prices listed for the goods in catalogs such as these. Here, all prices are given in cents. It can be fun to find a historical currency converter (here’s a good one) and figure out what the equivalent cost would be in today’s dollars. Take the mattresses listed below the box spring, for example. The catalog lists the more expensive option at $5.30. Run it through a converter and you discover that is roughly equal to $124.00 in 2014, about the same as the low end of today’s mattress prices.3

With the rise of better transportation networks and the growth of towns, the mail-order catalog business had to change, shifting focus to include physical stores as well as catalog services. Montgomery Ward & Co. did have a line of department stores from 1926 onward and was a major retail giant during the middle of the 20th century, although mismanagement caused the long low faltering of the brand. The company president at the time of World War II, Sewell Avery, refused to expand the department store line or invest in the upkeep pf existing stores after the War, convinced that a recession was coming and he would need the profits to buy up his competitors once it hit. This misunderstanding of the markets eventually led to Avery’s resignation in 1955, and the opening of the first new store since 1930 two years later. Unfortunately, the heads of the company continued to be cautious where competitors such as Sears were bold, and did not expand into the rapidly growing suburbs effectively. The company was bought, merged, and sold multiple times, losing business with each attempted restructuring, until bankruptcy was declared and the chain liquidated in 2000.

The intellectual property of Montgomery Ward & Co., including trademarks, was bought in 2004, and there is now a namesake company offering both catalog and internet services.

1Who Originated “Satisfaction Guaranteed or Your Money Back”?” Printer’s Ink. 26 February 1920: 10, 12. Print.
2 Kim, Wook. “Yule Laugh, Yule Cry: 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Beloved Holiday Songs.” TIME.com. TIME Magazine, 14 Dec. 2012. Web. 22 July 2015.
3 Shop All Mattresses — Sleepy’s. Sleepy’s: The Mattress Professionals. Web. 16 July 2015.

The Rise of Mechanical Engineering

By Jillian Heller

10 Hard Rubber Curves for Mechanical Engineers

This seemingly plain wide wooden box holds the necessary tools for a mechanical engineer. This profession was established as its own field during the 19th century. The new found understandings of physics and calculus, along with the advancement of technology from Europe’s industrial revolution gave rise to mechanical engineering. This sector of engineering includes the design, construction, and operation of machinery. It includes the study of each individual part as well as the operating appliance as a whole.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries mechanical engineers used numerous technical drawing instruments to best sketch their illustrations and take measurements. On this particular box, the top has an engraved labeling, “10 Hard Rubber Curves for Mechanical Engineers.” The contents include various French curves and a pencil. These items were typical to find in such a box. A French curve is a template with a specific angle and shape usually composed of metal, wood, or plastic. All of the curves in our box are made of black plastic.

10 Hard Rubber Curves for Mechanical Engineers

10 Hard Rubber Curves for Mechanical Engineers

The primary use of a French curve is to sketch a smooth flowing line. To do so, there needs to be predetermined drawn points that will then be connected. Various parts of the French curve will serve to match different segments of the plotted points. The sharper the desired curve, the more plotted points needed. The French curve would then be placed to intersect at least two of the points and shifted as needed to fit the desired design. When sketching along the edge of the curve, the engineer must stop short of the last point intersected and shift the curve to align with the next set of points to be intersected.1 This is done in order to make the current line connect smoothly to the rest of the line to be drawn. The use of the French curve should result in a smooth flowing curving segment. The engineer could either use a pencil to trace or a knife to cut around its edges. French curves could be bought individually or in sets depending on the Engineer’s needs. Below is an image of a 1917 catalogue selling drawing curves, very similar to the ones we have.2

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It can be understood that this box and its contents were very useful to the work of its owner. When viewed closely, it is clear that there are initials etched in pencil on several of the box’s items. “W.C.B” and “Wm.C. Blake” are marked in the corner of the wooden box, as well on a few of the French curves. William Culbert Blake was the proud owner of this mechanical engineering box set. Blake was born in 1865 in New Paltz, NY, to Parents William H.D. Blake and Matilda Reeve Booth. He was raised on his family’s farm and attended New Paltz Normal School. Later, he graduated from the Steven’s Institute at Hoboken, New Jersey, receiving a degree in Engineering. He stayed in New Paltz working as a mechanical and civil engineer, as well as a farmer, until his death on July 11th, 1936.

During Blake’s time, there were journals and magazines very useful to practicing engineers. Many articles in such publications aimed to better educate engineers from home. They published scientific research in the field and detailed how specific appliances operate. For example, the Home Study Magazine of 1897 ran by the Colliery Engineer Company in Scranton, PA included the titles, “How to Test Plumbing,” “Accurate Pencil Drawing,” and “The Velocity of Electricity.”3 These writings kept engineers like William C. Blake informed and up to date. In addition, these magazines, much like our magazines of today, ran advertisements that relate to their articles. They often marketed other scientific books, journals, and materials that would be useful to its readers.

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These magazines and newsletters are possibly where engineers such as Blake bought their technical tools, like the ones in his wooden box. Specifically, Blake’s curves and stencils are from two Mechanical Engineering companies. One of which is the company advertised in the magazine pictured, “Kolesch & Co.” It can be speculated that Blake may have had more than one wooden box set of French curves since this box in particular includes two different brands. The other maker included in his box is “Keuffel & Esser Co.”, which often goes by the abbreviation K&E. This maker is the more present one, making up five of the seven remaining curves. K&E is also the maker of the wooden box that holds all of the curves.

This tool set can be dated to around to 1897, the earliest, based on one of the K&E serial numbers.4 This year fits our timeline since at that time, William C. Blake was around 22 years old, about the age he would be studying engineering at the Steven’s Institute. These tools would be the utensils that Blake first used to exercise his interest in mechanical engineering. But it must be understood that this mechanical engineer box is very special to its time. Although top of the line to an early 20th century mechanical engineer like Blake, ever increasing technology has made most of these drawing aids obsolete.

1Use of the French Curve.” Beginning Structural Engineering Guide Book. Integrated Publishing, n.d. Web.

2 Illustrated Catalogue and Price-list of Drawing and Tracing Papers, Sun Print Papers and Equipments, Drawing Instruments and Materials, Surveying Instruments, Accessories, Etc. 11th ed. New York: Kolesch, 1917. 127. Print.

3 “Home Study Magazine.” The Colliery Engineer Company 2.4 Scranton, PA (1897): 55-62. Print.

4How To Date Your Keuffel & Esser (K&E) Instruments.” Surveying Antiques. N.p., n.d. Web.

I Pledge Allegiance

By Jillian Heller

This week we are focusing on a 19th century flag with New Paltz origins. The history of the American flag is very reflective of our own nation’s history. The foundation of the flag spurs from our freedom from Great Britain. Since declaring independence on July 4, 1776, the country needed a symbol to represent a strong young nation. The exact origin of the first design of the flag is unknown. However, it is widely recognized that Pennsylvanian Congressman Francis Hopkinson played a key role in designing the flag, while the legendary Betsy Ross, a Philadelphia seamstress, constructed it. The flag exhibited this week is one of the many successors of Hopkinson’s original design.

The Continental Congress passed the first Flag Act on June 14, 1777, making flag-making a bit more official. This act “resolved, that the flag of the United States be made of thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation.” From then on, every flag produced followed a variation of this arrangement. In fact, the design of the flag has been modified 26 times officially since 1777 and most likely much more times unofficially as saw fit by various seamstresses. Indeed, the Flag Act of April 4th, 1818, contributed to the ever changing design. It declared that there would be one star for each state on the flag in addition to the 13 stripes, representing the original 13 colonies. What is interesting about this proposal is that new states were continually and fairly frequently being admitted to the union during the 19th century. In turn, President Monroe also stated in this act that each new star be added to the flag on Independence Day following the admission of each new state. Therefore, each time a new state was added, the flag maker could officially sew another star onto the flag as long as it was after the next Fourth of July. This Flag Act supports why there were so many various flag constructions during this time period. In addition, there was not an established proportion of the flag or arrangement of the stars until June 24, 1912, when President Taft made an executive order. Before Taft stated that the stars should be arranged in six horizontal rows of eight each, with a single point of each star upward, seamstresses took a lot of liberty in their own flag arrangements. Due to the deep history of the American flag, a lot can be understood when studying one particular flag of the past. In fact, it is possible to even tell a story based on its specific design and structure, including the flag we are focusing on here.

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This particular flag is a combination of machine and hand sewn materials, with 44 undyed stars on a blue background and 13 red and undyed stripes. It is quite large, at 72” in length and 108” in width, needing 5 grommets to be raised. Despite the faded color and substantial tares throughout the flag, there is another way to gather how old it is. Referring to the Flag Act of April 4th, 1818, as mentioned above, each star represents each state. Consequently, if this flag has 44 stars, then it must represent 44 states. On July 10th, 1890, Wyoming was admitted to the Union as the 44th state and since the flag cannot be officially altered until the following Fourth of July, this particular flag can be as young as July 4th, 1891. The 45th state, Utah, was not admitted till January 4th, 1896. Due to this, it is clear that the flag we are presenting was most likely commemorated in the five years between July 4th, 1891 and July 4th 1896. The then rapidly growing United States of America, along with the Flag Acts help us easily determine when this remarkable flag belonged in history.

The number of stars placed on this flag, although very uncommon, is not the only interesting aspect of this flag. Written across a stripe of the flag reads, “ELTINGE POST G.A.R 212 NEW PALTZ.” This marking just makes this flag even more specific and adds to its story. The G.A.R is an acronym for “The Grand Army of the Republic,” the largest organization of the Union’s Civil War veterans. It was founded in Illinois in 1866 with the goals to honor their fallen comrades, give aid to their families and wounded veterans, and most significantly, advocate for benefits and pensions for soldiers. The association saw its last day in 1956, when its last member passed away. A “Post” was the organization at the community level, each with a consecutive number within its department. The group had many Posts across the country joining together to strengthen their comradeship and political power. The Posts were named to honor a deceased person. In the case of this flag, it can be assumed that this flag was used by or to honor the Post of the G.A.R. that was located in New Paltz, NY. This Post was named “Eltinge,” assumingly to honor one of the deceased Eltinge’s around the time of the Post’s formation. There is a long line of Eltinges in Huguenot Street’s past; we cannot be immediately definitive in which one was being honored here. However, we do know that the New Paltz Eltinge Post 212 was originally formed as the New Paltz Veterans Association in 1880 and then officially became a Post of the G.A.R in 1884. There were weekly meeting and annual elections for the various positions. The most important positions were Commander, Senior Vice Commander, Junior Vice Commander, Quartermaster, Surgeon, Chaplain, Officer of the Day, and Officer of the Guard. The Eltinge Post was involved in numerous ceremonies, celebrations, fairs, and travels to meet with other local G.A.R Posts. Although the G.A.R as a whole did not dissolve till 1956, the New Paltz charter disbanded in 1920 and donated all of their historical documents and collections to what is now Historic Huguenot Street.

As our nation progressed and grew in strength and size, so did our Star Spangled Banner. Our flag developed side by side with our country. Specific to its time, different flags reflect different moments in history. The details in design and structure are what make flags so special. The flag exemplified here has quite a story, with specific construction between 1891 and 1896, and specific use by veterans in New Paltz, NY; it has already proved how extraordinary it is.

Below are photos of other flags in the HHS Collections, revealing a variety of designs.

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