W. O. Hickok Box

W.O.Hickock box. My Collection.

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.

1910 Gane Brothers Catalog. Specific mention of mailing a small package. Apparently this is novel at the time? Source: https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=nyp.33433057476958;view=1up;seq=44

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.


Prices of Hickock ruling pens from a 1910 Gane Bros Catalog. They cost .015 cents per point. Source: https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=nyp.33433057476958;view=1up;seq=44

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….

Blank Book Sewing Frame, Part Two

Earlier this year I wrote a post about the  Hickock Blank Book Sewing Frame.  I finally got to see one in person this past weekend, thanks to Karen Hanmer, bookbinder and book artist, who brought it to the Historic Cloth Case Class I was teaching at Columbia College, in Chicago last week.

It is a very cool sewing frame, beautifully made, and works for all types of sewing supports: cords, tapes or thongs.  The brass t-slots are stamped with the a Hickock logo in the middle (barely visible in this image) and I think the brass is the same thickness and size as the large pressboards that they also manufactured. A small screwdriver type tool tightens or loosens the buttons.  She mentioned that the only drawback is that because of the size of the buttons, supports cannot be spaced too closely together.  I suspect that the only reason the top bar is adjustable is that the uprights were  a standard Hickock product.  Also the front keeps the frame from sliding around, although the lighter colored wood in the bottom picture appears to be either a replacement or later addition.  Because the supports are at the front of the frame, it is much easier to start sewing, or sew in the round.  The buttons make tensioning the supports a breeze, with no complex knots or keys to deal with.  In the 1920’s, this frame cost $15.00, verses $4.50 for a standard frame about the same size, which may be why it didn’t became more popular.

I was so impressed by the frame, that I have started experimenting making a modern version, out of aluminum, with closer spacing for the supports, and with a little luck I should have a prototype by the end of the summer.   I plan to make the uprights on a hinge, so that the frame, when collapsed, will be less than two inches in thickness for easy, dust-free storage.

Images courtesy of Karen Hanmer.

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