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Bill Solves the Cross Wood Puzzle

Hello everyone, welcome to another exciting Bill’s History Corner. I think I have answered a mystery that I have been worrying about for several years. In approx. 2010 I copied any Coppes-related news item from the Nappanee News and put them in one book.

One of the unusual items that has puzzled me was this item from June 14th, 1883.  The small news item read “Coppes Bros have placed into their box factory a machine for stamping letters on boxes. This firm spares no means to keep their work apace with the age of modern enterprise. The machine cost over $400.00.”    What did this mean: “Stamping letters on boxes?” was that letters like A, B & C? I could understand them wanting to put their name on the shipping boxes, but one letter at a time?  Why could a machine that stamped letters cost $400.00, when a workman could do the job with a hammer and set of letter punches?

Well, I can now answer that burning question. In the last box of business receipts, we found a receipt for a printing machine that printed on wood. This receipt corresponded with the date of the newspaper item, so I knew I was closing in on something meaningful.

The CROSS WOOD PRINTING CO. from Chicago advertised signs, wood printing presses and advertising specialties. Located at 23, 25, & 27 North Peoria Street. This receipt is for one “WOOD PRINTING PRESS” sold to Coppes Bros. of Napanee (note the one p) Ind. Two other receipts accompanied this one. A 2nd receipt was for blue and red ink. Another receipt was for making  “brass Dies” (like printing stencils or printing plates) – three each for the EXCELSIOR STARCH CO. AND THE MUZZY STARCH CO.

The obvious intention was to print the starch company names onto the wooden shipping boxes that Coppes Bros. was manufacturing and selling to these two starch companies. The skeptical old man in me is thinking what the financial incentive was for printing the starch company’s names on the wood. Certainly, the printed names would make the boxes more recognizable in stores and increase sales. Did the starch companies pay extra for the printed names? Inquiring minds want to know.

I also found several receipts from the EXCELSIOR STARCH COMPANY, Elkhart, Ind. I assume the printing dies resembled this picture on the receipt. Not really sure, we are still hunting for an empty starch box from either company.

J. C. Mellinger & Co. was purchasing Gloss Starch (soap) and Corn Starch from the Excelsior Starch Co., but what they were using the soap for is everyone’s guess. Did they take it home for home laundry use, was there a use for the soap at the factory and sawmill?  A couple of the excelsior receipts have a note written on the bottom, “Starch shipped in cars” which means the boxes were placed into the empty rail road cars that were to be returned to the factory for the next load of knocked down starch boxes. Coppes Bros. had two huge box cars specially made to carry the lightweight wooden starch boxes.  I would have thought the larger box cars would have warranted a couple photographs, but so far none have surfaced. This receipt (above) is for 4 boxes of No. 1 Gloss Starch = 168 lbs. @ 6 ½ Cent/lbs., =$10.92.

And 2 boxes #1 Corn Starch, 80 Lbs. @ 6 ¾ Cents/ Lbs. =$5.40.

Free shipping, what a deal.

I hope everyone has a clean and safe week.

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