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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Surrey with the fringe on top

If you suspect a theme of musicals in the titles of my posts, you are right. The previous post was a play on words linking my years as a high school stage crew geek with the subject Conrad Brooks. As I track the visitors to this blog I can sometimes see how they got here. If I wanted to go wild with Google analytics I could certainly see much more detail, but I really don't want to know what color shirt you were wearing when you decided to read my latest post. Look at the Feedjit box in the right hand margin of the blog and you may have already noticed what local server point you bounced off of to get to the Internet and thus my blog. What I see sometimes are the search terms that led random viewers here. The "Conrad" post has received the most random viewers from places like, Japan England, Australia etc. All because they typed in that line from "Bye, Bye, Birdie" and chose my blog for more information on the musical. I'm sorry if I have misled them, but I hope that maybe they were entertained for at least a few minutes.

So, if you think I am goading more musical lovers and random web-surfers with the title of this post, or maybe fans of the scene in "When Harry Met Sally" - well, you're half right. In truth, I really have a hunt-related story that justifies the title. The sale was a year ago across the street from Danbury Hospital, a small house in the process of being cleaned out by an estate sale service. In the living room near the cashier was a ledger. These can be interesting because they establish a an exact record of money paid in and out, usually for a business, and these entries often reveal clues and hints about what was happening at the time. The shame of estate sale services sometimes is that with no connection to the original owners half or all of the background info on an item is gone forever. I enjoy the attempt to reconstruct the story, and take a chance that something exciting happened, though this is rare. Ledgers tend to be dull (no offense to you accounting types out there). For all the ledgers I'd seen and passed up, there was something that drew me to this one, the size.

I could rewrite the scene for Crocodile Dundee: "Thaat's nawt a leeja....(flip) Now thaaats a leja!" That was my best Aussie phonetic translation, hope it worked. This was the mother of all ledgers, it looked like a book with a thyroid disorder and it weighs about 10lbs. This, of course, wasn't the only thing that attracted me, one quick glance and I saw the familiar distorted bumps from papers slid in the pages. "Umm. How much for the book?" I asked. ($5). Done! Because I am a novice cartoonist (see self portrait) anything with a lot of blank pages of high quality would interest me, but the book as a prop alone would look great on any desk. This ledger was special and in the last hour of the sale I am surprised it was still there. I may know nothing about antiques and everything about junk, but the real prize came when I discovered whose records were listed. (Envelope please)

The papers tucked inside were the ledger entries tested out on scratch sheets before being added officially into the record. What did they use for scratch sheets? Without them I wouldn't have known whose this was and the ledger would have been worthless (to me).

Several samples of company stationary, one from the latter half of the 19th century, and the other to begin the new century with both similar but unique designs. Also among the papers were several well used blotters that were left as if the accountant was planning to use them again soon. One of these blotters had an interesting ad on one side for a cocaine laced wine tonic called Vin Mariani. I learned a lot about the abuse of coca leaves in products in the late 19th century (you can too, if you click here). I ask again, how did someone (a dealer) not pick this up? Isn't a 110 year old ledger even just a little interesting? Or am I so blind that I would buy a banana peel if it was from 1890? (I would, but someone famous would have had to slip on it.) As I flipped through the 1000 or so pages (most of them blank) the first 20 have the typical information, "Received" on one side and "Expenditures" on the other. You can see some of the vendors they needed to build and repair "Surreys, Phaetons, and carts" but the more interesting section is the back 30 pages.

Listed are all the clients for the year and the work orders and work completed on each vehicle, including price, paint, lettering, and all. It seemed The Mutual Wagon and Carriage company was doing a booming business and they had a regular flow of the typical local businesses that used these items. Why, though, can I not find even brief mention of them anywhere on the internet? New York History..nothing. Wagon manufacturing history...nothing! I must be looking in the wrong place as this was no small shop. Notice the block plate print of the their building, (Click to enlarge) it's huge! I wish I had time to research all my finds so I could wrap them up in a nice neat package for the reader, but this is part of what led me to this blogging endeavor. Do you know anything about this company? If so... Chicks and Ducks and Geese better scurry...


  1. Just off the top of my head, you might be able to find someone who knows something about this carriage company here:

    If you have no luck there, you could try asking here:

    I've been enjoying reading backwards through your archive :)

  2. Thanks for the comment, and the complement, and the links! gva


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