Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Printed Cancel Puzzle: S. C. & Co.

Historically the S. C. & Co. printed cancel has been attributed to the Strong Cobb Company of Cleveland, Ohio.  Morton Dean Joyce, in his 1957 catalogue, Proprietary Revenues of 1898 Precanceled Varieties, lists 3 separate varieties of the cancel, all attributed to Strong Cobb.  Robert Mustacich, whose Battleship Desk Reference (BDR), focuses more on handstamp cancels but also includes printed cancels, likewise attributed all his S. C. & Co. listing variations (four separate handstamp variations and a generalized printed cancel listing) to Strong Cobb.  

Neither Joyce, nor C. H. Chappell, whose earlier precancel listings provided the basis for the Joyce catalogue, indicated any basis for attributing specific cancels to specific companies.    Mustacich, on the other hand, provided a thorough explanation of how he and co-author Anthony Giacomelli based their cancel/company correlation process.  Primarily using pharmaceutical trade directories for the years 1898-1902 they first built a database of potential proprietary stamp users and then searched those listings for specific precancels.  Generally, when sufficient additional evidence existed from other sources, or when the presence of corresponding information, like a specific location, occurred for a company in the index as well as on a specific cancel, a direct correlation was established.  That one of the S. C. handstamp cancels listed by Mustacich also bore the location "Cleveland", Strong Cobb's headquarters location, probably resulted in the other S.C. varieties also being attributed to Strong Cobb.

While Mustacich reported making "educated guesses" he identified those suppositions in his correlation index with a leading "?" to indicate the tentative nature of the correlation.  Interestingly, he also specifically reported rejecting "...many correlations from Joyce's personal [handstamp] collection based upon our enumeration of a large number of possible correlations combined with skepticism that Joyce did not have sufficient additional information in some of these cases."  This suggests that Joyce and Chappell before him also may have "guessed" about the firms they correlated to specific printed cancels. Admittedly, that's a guess on my part; we'll just never know for sure.    

What we do know for sure is that an S. C. & Co. cancel on a 1/8th cent RB20 proprietary issue still affixed to a complete product container, a cough drop box, recently appeared in an Eric Jackson online-auction, and the product wasn't produced or distributed by Strong Cobb!  Mustacich notes that the surest way to establish a cancel/company correlation is to find a cancel used "on piece".  In this instance we've got the entire box!  So how did both Joyce and Mustacich get it wrong?  We'll begin exploring that situation by first reviewing Joyce's three S. C. & Co. listings.
                        
Joyce Type 1
Two line horizontal printed cancelation in a 2 1/2 mm. serif font, with the initials above and the date below. "Co." is in upper and lower case letters.
S. C. & Co.
1898  

Joyce Type 2
Two line horizontal printed cancelation in a 3 mm. serif font, with the initials above and the date below.  "Co." is in upper and lower case letters.
S. C. & Co.
1898
NOTE: This particular example of the Type 2 cancel has no period after the first "C", a variant not listed by Joyce.

Joyce Type 2
Type 2 cancels are listed in three colors, black, red, and blue.   

 Joyce Type 3
Two line horizontal printed cancelation with the initials above and the date below.  The initials are from the same font as those in Type 1 and the date is the same as Type 2. "Co." is in upper and lower case letters.
S. C. & Co.
1900
NOTE: Joyce listed the Type 3 cancel in blue ink only.  This example is black.
 
If you carefully compare the letter fonts in Type 1 and Type 2 you'll see that in addition to being 1/2 mm larger, the Type 2 serifs are more pronounced.  And the numerals in the Type 2 date are justified horizontally, whereas the Type 1 numerals are not.  Type 1 and Type 2 appear to be from entirely different font sets.  As such they easily could have been produced by different printers and possibly could correlate with entirely different companies.  However, that the letter font in Type 3 matches Type 1, while the Type 3 numeral font matches the Type 2 numeral font seems to establish a relationship between all three cancels, i.e. that they likely were produced by the same printer for the same client.  But was that client Strong Cobb?              

Lot #54 Eric Jackson Online Auction 276, November 8, 2011
RB20 with S. C. & Co. Type 1 Cancel
on Snyder, Chaffee Cough Drop box 

Enlarged detail of stamp affixed to the box 

Regrettably, the enlarged detail of the 1/8-cent RB20 affixed to the lot #54 cough drop box is degraded, although it's sufficiently clear enough to confirm that it matches the Type 1 Joyce listing for S. C. & Co. attributed to the Strong Cobb Co.  But clearly, as shown in the photo below, these cough drops were produced by Snyder, Chaffee & Co. of Columbus, Ohio, whose initials also are S. C. & Co.,  and not by Strong Cobb.         

Reverse side of Lot #54
Snyder's Cough Drops
Manufactured by SNYDER, CHAFFEE & CO.
Columbus, Ohio

It appears the Snyder, Chaffee & Co. operated a retail chocolate shop in downtown Columbus at least from the 1880s until sometime in the 1920s, perhaps longer.  The firm also manufactured chocolates and other confections wholesaling them to other retailers.  An 1889 History of the State of Ohio indicated the firm had 73 employees in 1887.  The 1895 Annual Report of the Commissioner of Patents indicates the firm was granted a trademark for cough drops that year.  As the firm's primary products were chocolates and candies, not subject to the Spanish American War tax,  these cough drops may well have been the firm's only product subject to taxation.  The firm wasn't included in Mustacich's database as they weren't listed in the Era Druggist's Directories for 1898-1902 that form the basis for his index.  I didn't find them listed in an Era directory until 1916.     

 Snyder-Chaffee Chocolate Shop circa 1910
 
 
That some small one-product firms like Snyder Chaffee don't appear in the BDR doesn't in any way lessen its value to handstamp collectors.  It's an absolute must for any serious handstamp collector. A searchable, online version is available via Mustacich's website.  Because the BDR is a dynamic database, new finds and company additions such as this can be integrated with little effort.

Strong Cobb & Company was still in business in 1957 when Joyce completed his catalogue.  Their recently developed Strong Cobb tester for pill hardness was then the industry standard. The firm was founded in 1874 and by 1898 was a major wholesaler of pharmaceuticals and chemicals as evidenced by the pricelist shown below.  A history of the firm was published in 1894 in Vol. 11 of The Phamaceutical Era.

 Strong Cobb Catalogue and Pricelist
January 15, 1898

With clear evidence of a still-thriving Strong Cobb Company whose leadership as a wholesaler in the phamaceuticals was well established by the Spanish American War era, it doesn't seem unreasonable for Joyce, and Chappell before him, to have assumed that Strong Cobb was the likely user of the S. C. & Co. printed cancel, if that's in fact what they did. With the Snyder, Chaffee Company apparently gone by the 1920s it's quite possible that neither Joyce nor Chappell ever knew of their existance.  Even Mustacich, who brought a systematic, applied approach to documenting possible users of proprietary stamps, found only Strong, Cobb & Co. as having the initials S. C. & Co.   

That someone happened to save a Snyder, Chaffee cough drop box gives us absolute, unqualified reason to question the validity of identifying Strong Cobb as the user of the S. C. & Co. printed cancel, but it's not the only reason.  Consider the fact, as documented by both Joyce and Mustacich, that the S. C. & Co. printed cancel appears only on the 1/8th cent proprietary stamp whose purpose was to pay the tax on a product retailing for just 5-cents or less!  The printed cancel is not found on any other value.  Then consider that at the turn of the 19th Century Strong Cobb's primary business was to supply non-proprietary pharmaceuticals and chemicals, in bulk, directly to druggists, physcians, and to other companies who in turn made prescriptive or compounded proprietary products.  As such, much, if not all, of Strong Cobb's products were not subject to the War Tax.  Strong Cobb simply wasn't a company that made its money selling 5-cent products!  And it's doubtful they had any need for a 1/8th cent tax stamp.  On the other hand it appears that the only product subject to taxation produced by Snyder, Chaffee was their cough drops and the 1/8th cent stamp was likely the only value they needed.  

In hind-sight it simply doesn't make sense that a large firm like Strong Cobb would print and use only the smallest value revenue stamp, while it makes perfect sense for a candy company dabbling in a single, inexpensive proprietary product to do so.  So it seems a reasonable hypothesis, or educated "guess", if you prefer, to consider that all of the S. C. & Co. printed cancels were produced for use by Snyder, Chaffee and not by Strong Cobb.

However it likewise seems reasonable to suspect that the higher value S. C. & Co. handstamp cancels listed by Mustacich do come from Strong Cobb.  If anyone can provide other examples of ANY S. C. & Co. cancel, printed or handstamp, used "on piece" either from Snyder, Chaffee or Strong Cobb please send a scan with description to 1898revenues@gmail.com

FOR THE RECORD

Here are some additional examples of S. C. & Co. cancels including some non-Joyce listed varieties. A handstamp on the 2 1/2cent RB 28, assumed to be from Strong Cobb,  also is shown.  Please report any other varieties of these cancels, with scans, to 1898revenues@gmail.com

S. C. & Co.
1898
Joyce Type 1 Inverted
Langlois scan


S. C. & Co.
1898
Joyce Type 2 Inverted


S. C. & Co.
1900
Joyce Type 2
1900 inverted date unlisted by Joyce
Langlois scan

S. C. & Co
1900
Joyce Type 2
no period after "Co"

S.C. & CO.
1898
Unlisted by Joyce, proposed as new Type 4
Two line horizontal printed cancelation in a serif font, with the initials above and the date below. "CO." is in upper case letters. The initials are the same font as Type 2 but are only 2 1/2 mm in height.  The year date doesn't match any of the prior type fonts. 

S. C.  & CO .
1898
handstamp attributed to Strong Cobb

This handstamp on RB28 matches one of the handstamp types listed by Mustacich.  Mustacich however reports it only on the 5/8 cent and 1 1/4 cent stamps, not the 2 1/2 cent.   

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