How much can we tease out of this nicely made wooden box with a sliding lid? Someone once told me that with enough rigor, knowledge and time, the whole history of the world could be found in any object. Mmmmm.
The Hickok company is still in business, and has made bookbinding and paper ruling tools for over 150 years. On this box, the shipping label also keeps the lid from sliding open in transit. The addressee, “News Bookbindery” must have been associated with the Goshen News, which was the newspaper in Goshen, Indiana. The wood is Southern yellow pine and has finger joints which are machine made using circular cutting heads. The bottom has saw marks from a 12 inch diameter circular saw.
Given the size, and very sturdy packaging, my guess it that it contained fragile Hickock ruling pens. The end of the box not visible in this image has written in pencil “17 point”, which would also support the ruling pen hypothesis, and could indicate the box was also used for storage. There is a Hickok order number, which I haven’t identified yet.
In a 1910 Hickok catalog, there is special mention that smaller packages can be sent through the mail, and this occurs on the page that lists the styles of ruling pens. The 3 cent purple Thomas Jefferson 1801-1809 stamp on the outside of the was issued in 1938. I’m a little suprised a ruling machine was still in use at this late date, even in a small midwestern town. This must have been near the end of ruling machines.
Hickok is still in Harrisburg Pa, and still has lots of spare parts for ruling machines, and they still sell bookbinding equipment, such as my favorite book press, the Hickok 001/2. I visited in 1998 and wrote a short piece, “The W.O. Hickok Mfg. Co.: 150 Years of Bookbinding Equipment” for the Guild of Book Workers Newsletter #121.
The history of the world in this little box? Physically, it is evidence of the timber industry and industrial manufacture, as well as transportation and storage. The label is record of printing technology and the postal system. If the box contained ruling pens, these were used to make the pages for record keeping by clerks and accountants. This spins out into record keeping, finance, written marks, memory, foundations of civilization….
7 Replies to “W. O. Hickok Box”
I like that, the ‘in my beginning is my end’ thing, and you did it well.
Thanks Graham! Hats off to the 20th century!
My uncle ruled paper in his basement up until the late 1960s in Toronto although by that time I believe it had moved to being more of a cottage industry supporting a shrinking set of clients. I think he had a Hickok. He was a police officer and the shift work nature of that job meant that many people would have some second source of income they pursued in their off days. One of his last clients was the police service itself, providing them with the large ledger pages that the desk sergeant would use to record the comings and goings.
Great info, thanks. Much later than I would have thought. Any idea what happened to his machine?
Harcourt Bindery was still operating a pen ruling machine in the 1990s. Not sure how frequently. They must have had a few holdout clients because I saw it in use and I know they weren’t just doing it for the fun of it!
The Harcourt machine is at the American Bookbinders Museum now, I think.
I don’t know what happened to my uncle’s machine but the Canadian Museum of Science and Technology in Ottawa has a similar model in its collection as they contacted him in the 1990s to ask him to come operate it for them, as they had never seen it being used.