Saturday, December 5, 2015

Buggies in Glass Paperweights: A Second Look

In one of my first posts on this blog in December, 2011, I featured a group of ten glass paperweights that memorialized buggy manufacturers, a once thriving industry in America that was destroyed by the coming of the automobile.  Although the post, entitled “Buggy Makers, Gone But Not Forgotten,” has been far from my most popular, I have continued over the years to collect other examples of this once ubiquitous mode of transport as captured under glass. 
The first example is from Keys Brothers Wholesale Buggy Manufacturer from Council Bluffs, Iowa.   This firm was founded by the brothers, N. A, Keys, F. H. Keys and E.W. Keys.  They had been in the hardware business in Red Oak, Iowa, and became engaged in making buggies with a Red Oak firm.  After buying into the company the brothers were enticed about 1891 to transfer its operations to Council Bluffs by a subscription offer of that city’s Board of Trade. Keys Bros. manufactured buggies, spring wagons and carriages.
The Coleman Carriage & Wagon Co. was founded in Ilion, New York, by an immigrant English family led by Fred Coleman.  It employed a work force of some 36 men manufacturing horse-drawn vehicles, including sleighs, Coleman was reported to have won many first prizes when exhibiting at fairs and the National Carriage & Harness Dealers Assn. in New York.  The company advertised their manufactures as "Victorias, Landaus, Dog carts, Village carts, Ilion platform and spring wagons and other patent wagons."  Prices ranged ran from $50.00 to $1,000.00 with every vehicle said to be guaranteed.  Victorias, large buggies with cushioned seats fit for a queen, and landaus, high end convertible carriages, would have been closer to the latter figure.

The W.C. Koller Carriage Co. of Glen Rock, Pennsylvania, sought a national market for its buggies, like the No. 119 Bike Wagon shown here.  The firm displayed its ware at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo.  The Koller firm showed six vehicles there, including two buggies, two canopy top surreys, a phaeton (a sporty open light carriage), and a depot wagon.  One observer of their exhibit noted:  “The styles are good, the lines being of the popular forms, the mechanical construction is of high grade, as is also the finish.”  He noted that Koller was one of the few makers to sell buggies right off their exhibit.

The Ohio Spiral Spring Buggy Co. of Cincinnati was also exhibited its wares at the Vehicle Division of the State Transport Department.  It was showing five buggies with tops, four phaetons, one cabriolet (two-wheeled, one-horse carriage that had two seats and a folding top), three surreys, a canopy top wagon and one “jump-seat” buggy, featuring a back seat that could be folded out of the way.  No indication of sales from these items. The firm guaranteed its springs for ten years.
In 1908 a trade paper reported that S.E. Baily & Company of Philadelphia had received a contract from the New York City Fire Department to build twenty-two fire chief’s heavy buggies, equipped with rubber tires and a regulation fire gong.  This was a hefty order even for the Baily firm that operated factories in both York and Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  In its advertising the company claimed to make and deal in carriages and harnesses “of every description.”
The Cooper Wagon Works of Dubuque, Iowa, was founded by Augustine A. Cooper, once an apprentice and blacksmith for local wagon makers Newman and Duffee. One month after finishing his apprenticeship in 1850 he bought out Duffee’s interest and the company became Newman and Cooper.  With Newman’s retirement for bad health in 1862, Cooper took full control of the enterprise.  

Under Cooper’s leadership, the firm expanded considerably. In 1875, when the factory was producing nearly three thousand wagons annually, ninety workmen were employed with the average monthly payroll being $4,000. By 1897 the company employed 300 men who worked thirteen to fourteen hour days to keep up with demand.  With continual expansion,  in 1910 the company employed about six hundred workers with an annual payroll of a quarter of a million dollars.  The Cooper paperweight is quite unusual.  It features a clown-like individual with a wide open mouth in which is written “Cooper Wagons, Buggies, Bobs & Cutters Are the Best Made.” This may not be just hype.  Cooper is said to have seasoned the wood for his wagons for no less than seven year.

The Deal Buggy Co. not only displayed a buggy on its paperweight but also a picture of its factory in Jonesville, Michigan.  Jacob J. Deal was a blacksmith who moved to Jonesville to practice his craft.  About 1865 he decided that making buggies was a better idea, sold his shop, constructed buildings across the street, and began making wagons and carriages.  The initial factory with buggies on display atop a porch is shown below.  

Taking his son into the company Jacob gradually expanded to the facility shown on the weight.   In 1908  the company, bowing to the inevitable, branched out into making motor cars, producing multiple models of the Deal Automobile.  Like other buggy manufacturer who tried to morph into the auto industry, the effort failed and the Deals went out of business in 1915.
The final weight here is from the Fife & Miller of Dallas and Fort Worth, showing one of the buggies it sold.  This company was a dealer not a manufacturer, obtaining its vehicles largely from the Columbus Buggy Company.  Considered a “premier sales agency” for that Central Ohio manufacturer, Fife and Miller were sent the first three motor cars produced by Columbus Buggy for testing.  Called the “Firestone-Columbus,”  all three automobiles broke down in test runs after barely going ten miles.  The diagnosis:  they all had overheated in the Texas sun.  In 1913, after thirteen years as agents for Columbus Buggy,  Fife & Miller terminated business.  A. D. Fife had died earlier and Col. Dick Miller, the surviving partner, was reported to have gone on to other interests.

Few would have been interested in buggy sales after 1913.  The general demise of the industry was rapid.  There were only about 300 automobiles in the United States in 1895, the era of “get a horse,” when many predicted motor cars were a passing fad.  Five years later the number had grown to 8,000, however, and by 1905, to 78,000.  By 1910 the number of automobiles had grown to 459,000 and by 1914 to 1.7 million.  Buggy makers were doomed.

Many carriage companies advertised their products under glass as paperweights — many of them still to be found and collected.  These artifacts provide industrial history buffs in 2015 with a glimpse of the time when the horse drawn vehicle was in its heyday.  

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