Pequea Part II by J.K. Garrett and L.P. Brooks
Last week we discussed the emergence of Harry Clay Kaufman from carefree teenager crafting lures in his spare time to the role of wunderkind tackle producer in Philadelphia, PA. Kaufman, born in Philadelphia on 14 October 1885, had at least two failed tackle businesses under his belt by his twenty-second birthday . It is understandable that he wanted to start over in Strasburg (where his partner Edwin Brown was principal of the Public school) when so many Philadelphians were left with unpaid debts from Harry's earlier failed ventures. Fishing tackle was in the Kaufman blood, as Harry had an older brother and nephew who worked for well known tackle houses and could be of use buying his products, if only he could make the Pequea Works a success.
You can count on one hand the number of early tackle companies whose records still exist in sufficient quantity to show much insight into the internal workings of the company. Pequea is one of these few companies. With the reader's permission, we will stray from the usual practice of showing an array of the most artistic and rare examples of their letterhead and turn our attention to paper which focuses on internal Pequea operations and how these related to his customers. In this edition we will discuss the early years when Pequea was just hitting it's stride. Next week we will discuss the golden years of the company and the death of its president.
By 1909 Harry had taken a wife (Virginia, who he called Vergie), who was a salaried employee at Pequea. The handwritten letter dated 13 September 1911 (shown here) was penned by Harry from the Republican House hotel in Milwaukee, WI, to Vergie back home. Harry was on a road trip hawking his wares and seems to have met with some success at the Standart Brothers Hardware Corporation of Detroit, Michigan. Apparently Standart wanted to see some Pequea "Plug Baits" and some "gang hooks" with gut leader for fishing with earth worms. He asks Vergie to ensure that the Plugs were perfect in all respects and the worm gangs on the card were of uniform length. We may wonder from this admonition to Vergie if off the shelf items might not have the same quality control as sample items. It is this lack of quality control that would be a constant strain on relations between Pequea and their customers for decades to come. Letters to Pequea may be found by the bushel , sent by irate retailers because of defective Pequea workmanship. Many times the returned items were replaced by Pequea with goods as bad or worse than those which caused the complaints.
Why, we may ask, would retail companies continue to do business with such an undependable bunch of folk. The answer is two fold. First much of what Pequea sold did meet the average fisherman's needs. Equally important, the goods were sold at about the lowest prices possible compared to other manufacturers in the tackle industry. Second, Harry was a born salesman. He would promise the moon and stars on his sales trips, Pequea production schedules and quality would be found wanting, and the following year he would show up again and somehow kiss and make up with buyers not yet fully convinced of his duplicity.
Our next piece of Pequea paper shows a handwritten payroll list on company letterhead. The payroll is dated for 29 September 1911. A comparison of this list with earlier payrolls shows that he took many of the employees with him to Strasburg that had worked for him in Philadelphia. Even more informative is the inclusion of relatives of his partner Brown and a salary for his wife Vergie. He would have found it hard, if not impossible, to fire friends and relatives, even if his business suffered by their incompetence. Truth be told, Harry had a soft spot for his old friends even if they occasionally proved to be deeply stupid or infirm in their older years.
Our next example of internal Pequea paper is page one of a five page order by New York Sporting Goods dated 4 January 1912. The massive amounts and diverse styles of products available from Pequea is stunning. Of course some of the items were produced by other wholesalers and touted as Pequea's own. The five page list contains great varieties of snelled hooks, leader, sinkers, plug baits and spinners. Not included on this order were many other products available from Pequea such as bobbers, hand lines, swivels, flies, etc. Even if Harry did not always deliver all the goods he promised or in a condition to be usable, he delivered enough to help retailers make money and keep them coming back for more. We repeatedly see invoices from large companies like Shakespeare buying Pequea items and companies like Enterprise Mfg. Co. acting as suppliers to Pequea. Many times we see the same company acting in both capacities (i.e. G. W. Frost of Stevens Point, WI). There must have been very few significant tackle makers or retailers that Pequea did not interact with in some capacity through the years. The vast archive of their available correspondence proves it so.
Next week, the golden years of Pequea.