STARTED WITH STATIONERY
An Interesting Bit of Tiffany HIstory.—There was an interesting statement in one of Tiffany & Co.'s advertisements the other day. It was in reference to their wedding stationery, and mentioned the fact that the stationery department formed a prominent feature of their business when the house was established in 1837. Doubtless most of Tiffany's patrons of the present generation are under the impression that stationery was an afterthought with this great house, and that copper plate engraving is only a natural expansion of their silver engraving department.
"This is far from the fact," said Mr. C. L. Tiffany, who has just passed his eighty-sixth birthday. "When I started in business sixty years ago, down at 259 Broadway, my stock consisted of choice and novel objects in bric-a-brac; Chinese goods, which were then very popular; fine stationery, cabinets, and fancy articles generally; but no part of my first stock interested me more than the stationery." And then, pulling open a draw of his desk, he dug out from under a pile of old documents a large sheet of writing paper. It was of fine texture, and, although yellow with age, the several creases where it was folded showed no sign of breaking.
"This," said Mr. Tiffany, holding up the parchment-like paper, "is a sample sheet from the first stock that I bought; it is the nucleus of one of the most successful departments of this house. My first stationery stock consisted chiefly of fine note papers and the many little accessories of the writing-desk, inkstands which in those days were always accompanied by the little cups of fine sand, universally used to absorb the ink before blotting paper was invented.
"I remember as though it was yesterday the first inkstand we sold. It was a bronze inkstand, imported, as most of those things were. I sold it to a fashionable society woman, who resided down in Cliff Street, which at that time was an aristocratic part of the city. Our entire force in those days consisted of my partner, and errand boy, and myself. The boy had gone for the day, so, when we closed up the shop, I wrapped up the inkstand and carried it down to Cliff Street myself.
"I shall never forget one of my first big purchases, two or three years later. Word reached the city that a consignment of fine Japanese goods had arrived in Boston. It occurred to me that this was a fine opportunity to get some choice new things for our stock ; but we had no ready cash and practically no financial standing. How to raise the money was a problem. I went down to Killingly, my old Connecticut home, and tried to get one of my old associates, who was considered a pretty well-to-do farmer in those parts, to endorse a note for $300 for me. He would do almost anything else for me, with this exception. This rebuff, however, made me only more determined, and I finally found some one with enough confidence in me to endorse the note, which I quickly discounted, and with the money started off to Boston. I invested half of the entire amount in two articles,—a marvellously beautiful Japanese writing-desk and an ornamental table; they each cost $75, and both pieces attracted so much attention, and sold so quickly, that I was sorry there were not more of them.
"After we had removed to 271 Broadway, about ten years later, our stationery department had so developed that we took orders for stamping paper and envelopes; and, as Mr. Cook, the Vice-President of the company well remembers, our facilities were for a long time limited to a little hand-press with a set of block-letters. The whole outfit very much resembled the modern toy printing presses. To-day this branch of the business is almost as well known throughout the world as our dealings in diamonds and other precious stones. By way of illustration I may mention that our foreign mail this morning brought us orders for two thousand visiting-cards from Mexico, and some drafts from other foreign points for stationery orders recently filled; while orders from Japan, Hawaii, Venezuela, and remote parts of the earth are of frequent occurrence.''
Tiffany Co.'s stationery department is to-day practically a business by itself, embracing many distinct departments, occupying almost their entire fourth floor and a large part of the fifth, and requiring a skilled force of over one hundred and fifty men and women. Among the latter are several artists constantly engaged on water-color and illuminated art-work. The other branches of the service include designing, heraldry, copper-plate engraving, steel-die cutting, lithographing, commercial work, printing, stamping, paper-cutting, envelope-making, etc.
Its increasing prosperity is a development of sixty years growth, and a natural result of applying the same business methods and the same standard of work that continues to be the ruling force of the entire establishment.
Source: Journal of the Military Service Institution - 1898