The Future Foreseen

The great patriot printer Isaiah Thomas must have known something was up. After all, his newspaper was named “The Massachusetts Spy,” a weekly dedicated to the cause of liberty. His press, located on the second floor of what is today’s Union Oyster House in downtown Boston, was called “The Sedition Foundry” by Tories. If you go to the Oyster House, which I highly recommend, there are several paintings on the second floor depicting life in Isaiah Thomas’ press room.

Uniion oyster house

On the evening of April 16, 1775, Thomas, loaded up his press and type and supplies and sent them off to Worcester. Comfortable that his investment was in good hands, Thomas headed back to Boston to confront what he must have known was coming – British troops marching to capture military stores in Lexington and Concord. A couple of days previous, Thomas had met with John Hancock and others to express his fear of an upcoming conflict. Just in time, Hancock and Robert Treat Paine headed off to Worcester as well.

Isaiah thomas press

Not likely an oversight, but rather a necessity in his flight from Boston, Thomas had no paper. But he had friends in high places – Worcester.

On April 26, John Hancock addressed a letter to Dr. Joseph Warren and “the other Gentlemen of the Committee of Safety &c &c,


r. Thomas the Printer is here, fix’d his Press & Ready to go on with Business but is in want of Paper. I undertake for him to Desire you will order the undermention’d Quantity to be Sent him from Milton, his being Supplied with it will answer Publick Service. We are not like to have even a Single Person to attend us. Mr Paine is here, his Townsmen who Came with him are Return’d home. My Servants house furniture is in Boston. I should not like to be Demolish’d by a Tory, but I must Submit to be unnoticed – God Bless you,

I am Gentn
Your Sincere Friend
John Hancock

Paper for Mr Thomas
50 Ream Crown Printing
40 d
o. Demy do.
20 d
o Fools Cap do.
5 d
o. Writing —

 JohnHancock_writes for paper.jpg

An excellent telling of this story comes from the American Antiquarian Society in – guess where – Worcester. Founded by – guess who – Isaiah Thomas.

The Liberty Paper Mill Ledger does not show a purchase from Thomas on that date. Since there were only two paper mills in Massachusetts at the time, and this was a huge order, and because we know there are at least eight other Liberty Mill ledgers, we will assume that at least part of that order came from Vose, Lewis and Crane. Most likely the order was not attributed to Thomas, but rather through a member of the Committee of Safety or the Committee of Supplies.

isaiah thomas ledger page

Why did Thomas need paper in such a hurry? He had actually followed the action at Lexington and Concord and wanted to publish a report to his fellow patriots as soon as possible.

Mass. spy May 3, 1775.PNG

Americans!  forever bear in mind the BATTLE of LEXINGTON!  where British Troops, unmolested and unprovoked wantonly, and in a most inhuman manner fired upon and killed a number of our countrymen, then robbed them of their provisions, ransacked, plundered and burnt their houses!  nor could the tears of defenseless women, some of whom were in the pains of childbirth, the cries of helpless, babes, nor the prayers of old age, confined to beds of sickness, appease their thirst for blood! – or divert them from the DESIGN of MURDER and ROBBERY=

You can read his full report here:

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Fearless Ladies

fealess ladies

You might have noticed the asterisk next to the name of Elizabeth Russell in the previous story. I believe she was the sister of Benjamin Russell, printer of Boston’s Columbian Sentinel.

As I noted earlier, it was now personal, and Elizabeth was not the only woman to put herself on the line. They may or may not have been customers of The Liberty Paper Mill, but it’s most appropriate to appreciate and acknowledge these fearless ladies. I have endeavored to get the spellings correct, but some were very hard to read.

Catherine Thompson

Rebecca Walker

Elizabeth Clark

Mary Williams

Elizabeth Nowell

Mary Force

Charlotte Dorr

Elizabeth Greenleaf

Abigail Greenleaf

Ann Hall

Margaret Rawson

Lydia Larmon

Suzanna Renkin

Ann Nolton

Mary Alexander

Martha Park

Abigail Whitney

Suzanna Chambers

Rebecca Thomas

Elizabeth Rickard

Ruth Sinclair

Hannah Ross

Mary Angus

Sally Allen

Elizabeth Parker

Susannah Stevens

Margaret Freeman

Margaret Jepson

Bridget Bridgewater

Rebecca Edes

Ruth Thompson

Sarah Bean

Elizabeth Franklin

Eliza Smith

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The tea pot starts to boil


The Boston Tea Party didn’t just happen. With the help of  Harvard’s Houghton Library and The Boston Tea Party Ship,, I’ll try to put some of the events preceding the big party into context, as well as those who contributed to the lead-up and the party itself.

Above is the text of the Boston Non-Importation Agreement. There had been come disagreement about the actual date of the signing, but that was solved in 2013 with an important new find in the

It’s interesting to note that tea is not among the items subject to the boycott. Neither are glass, lead, oil, paint and paper:


non import list of stuff

Tucked in the corner of the notice of the Oct. 28 meeting in Fanueil Hall is this note:


paper and glass


I’m sure that Daniel Vose and Thomas Crane (who signed the non-importation agreement) were paying special attention to these two paragraphs and, perhaps, lobbied for their inclusion, along with Daniel Henchman, one of the owners of what would come to be The Liberty Paper Mill

By signing their names on this document, the increasingly contentious and now crumbling relationship with the mother country became personal. As you might imagine, there were quite a few signers who would become customers of The Liberty Paper Mill:


John Boit

Andrew Gillespie

Paul Revere

John White

John Brown

John Perkins

Thomas Crafts

Samuel Clapp

Thomas Russell

William Billings

James Ivers

Elizabeth Russell*

John Bradford

John Kneeland

Martin Gay

Nathaniel Langdon

Thomas Carnes

Moses Gill

Thomas Cushing

Benjamin Andrews

Ebenezer Hancock

William Whitwell

Joseph Webb

John Brown

John Skinner

Josiah Langdon

Samuel Vincent

James Sumner

William Phillips

Daniel Henchman

Hopestill Foster

Ephraim May

Benjamin Eddy

Ebenezer Seaver

Thomas Spear

Robert Pope

James Cunningham

John Smith

James Thompson

William McAlpine

Samuel Salisbury

Ebenezer Belcher Smith

Benjamin Barnard

Enoch Brown

Thomas Crane

John Gill

John Welch

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The Liberty Tree & The Liberty Paper Mill

Five years of British oppression had been endured by the citizens of Boston and surrounding towns. Five years previous, Parliament had passed the infamous Stamp Act, which required printed materials such as newspapers and legal documents to be published on paper produced in London and have a revenue stamp affixed.

The phrase “No Taxation Without Representation,” which had been part of the conversation for some time, now became a clarion call.

Reaction to the Stamp Act was quick and fierce.


Andrew Oliver could have been excused if he didn’t feel very welcome in his hometown of Boston. After awaking on August 14, 1765, the wealthy 59-year-old merchant and provincial official learned that his effigy was hanging from a century-old elm tree in front of Deacon Elliot’s house. After dusk, angry Bostonians paraded Oliver’s likeness through the streets and destroyed the brick building he had recently built along the waterfront. In case Oliver still hadn’t received the hint, the mob beheaded his effigy in front of his finely appointed home before throwing stones through his windows, demolishing his carriage house and imbibing the contents of his wine cellar.


The violence was fanned by a secret organization known as the Loyall Nine.  The clandestine group of artisans and shopkeepers printed pamphlets and signs protesting the tax and incited the mob that ransacked Oliver’s house. The Loyall Nine expanded and became known as the Sons of Liberty, which formed local committees of correspondence to keep abreast of protests throughout the colonies.

The Stamp Act commissioned colonial distributors to collect a tax in exchange for handing out the stamps to be affixed to documents, and Oliver, without his knowledge, had been appointed the distributor for Massachusetts. The day after his property had been destroyed, Oliver resigned a position he never asked for and one he never held, since the Stamp Act wasn’t due to take effect until November 1.

The resignation, however, didn’t douse the violent protests in Boston. On August 26, another mob attacked the home of Oliver’s brother-in-law—Lieutenant Governor Thomas Hutchinson. The rioters stripped the mansion, one of the finest in Boston, of its doors, furniture, paintings, silverware and even the slate from its roof.


The intimidation campaigns and boycotts worked. When November 1 arrived, the mass resignations of the stamp distributors impeded the administration of the tax. In many parts of the colonies, printers proceeded with business as usual. When it proved impossible to implement the Stamp Act, Parliament repealed it almost a year to the day after it had approved it. However, it also passed the Declaratory Act to reaffirm its authority to pass any legislation impacting the colonies.

(No lesson learned.)

Each year, on August 14, these Sons of Liberty returned to the Liberty Tree to commemorate their protest. This being the fifth, and given Britain’s continued oppression of the Colonies, this gathering carried greater importance than those that preceded.

None other than John Adams tells the story in The Adams Papers housed at the National Archives:

Dined with 350 Sons of Liberty at Robinsons, the Sign of Liberty Tree in Dorchester. We had two Tables laid in the open Field by the Barn, with between 300 and 400 Plates, and an Arning of Sail Cloth overhead, and should have spent a most agreable Day had not the Rain made some Abatement in our Pleasures. Mr. Dickinson the Farmers Brother, and Mr. Reed the Secretary of New Jersey were there, both cool, reserved and guarded all day. After Dinner was over and the Toasts drank we were diverted with Mr. Balch’s Mimickry. He gave Us, the Lawyers Head, and the Hunting of a Bitch fox. We had also the Liberty Song—that by the Farmer, and that by Dr. Ch[urc]h, and the whole Company joined in the Chorus. This is cultivating the Sensations of Freedom. There was a large Collection of good Company. Otis and Adams are politick, in promoting these Festivals, for they tinge the Minds of the People, they impregnate them with the sentiments of Liberty. They render the People fond of their Leaders in the Cause, and averse and bitter against all opposers.

To the Honour of the Sons, I did not see one Person intoxicated, or near it.

Between 4 and 5 O clock, the Carriages were all got ready and the Company rode off in Procession, Mr. Hancock first in his Charriot and another Charriot bringing up the Rear. I took my Leave of the Gentlemen and turned off for Taunton, oated at Doty’s and arrived, long after Dark, at Noices. There I put up. I should have been at Taunton if I had not turned back in the Morning from Roxbury—but I felt as if I ought not to loose this feast, as if it was my Duty to be there. I am not able to conjecture, of what Consequence it was whether I was there or not.

Jealousies arise from little Causes, and many might suspect, that I was not hearty in the Cause, if I had been absent whereas none of them are more sincere, and stedfast than I am.

A delightful and complete account of the gathering was published in the Boston Gazette and Country Journal:

So, what’s the connection between The Liberty Tree and The Liberty Paper Mill? Fifty-one of these Sons of Liberty attending the event would become customers of The Liberty Paper Mill.

Samuel Avis, a mariner

Capt. Benjamin Barnard, a mariner

Nathaniel Barber, Commissary of Boston Military Stores

Joseph Barrell, merchant and privateer

Capt. John Brown, planner of the 1772 attack on The Gaspee

William Burbeck, commander of artillery

Richard Billings, brazier

Enoch Brown, “strong drink” license-holder

Thomas Cushing, Mr. Speaker

John Cushing, commissary

David Cobb, aide-de-camp for Gen. George Washington

William Downes Cheever, merchant

James Cunningham, glazier

Thomas Crafts, painter, Loyal Nine

Ezekiel Cheever, commissary of artillery stores

Thomas Chase, distiller, Loyal Nine

John Crane, commander, U,S. Corps of Artillery

Joseph Carnes, rope maker

Caleb Davis, merchant

Benjamin Edes, printer, Loyal Nine

Thomas Edes, printer

John Gill, printer

Benjamin Green Jr., merchant

Nathaniel Greene, from Private to Brigadier General

John Head, merchant

John Houghton, merchant

Robert Hewes, soap boiler

Duncan Ingraham, merchant

Bartholomew Kneeland, merchant, Boston Massacre witness

John Langdon, New Hampshire merchant

Thomas Leverett, bookseller

Col. Thomas Marshall, tailor

Ephraim May, Major, Boston Militia

John Perkins, militia captain

Robert Pierpont, merchant, Boston Massacre witness

William Phillips, merchant, founder of Phillips Andover Academy

Paul Revere, you know….

John Smith, brazier, Loyal Nine

David Spear, Captain, The Boston Regiment

William Smith, fought at the bridge April 19, 1775

Joseph Sprague, distiller

James Turrell, dismissed, for cause, from the Boston Massacre trial

John Tileston, writing teacher

James Thompson, privateer commander

Ezekiel Tileston, revolutionary soldier

Thomas Tileston, Boston Tea Party guard

Joseph Vose, farmer, then Brig. General

John Welsh Jr., ironmonger

Thomas Walley, merchant

William Whitwell, merchant

William White, Captain, light infantry


I hope you’re getting a feeling for why it was called The Liberty Paper Mill.



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A Wedding to Die For

The phone call likely went something like this:

“Crane Customer Service, how may I help you?”

“Well, we’re putting together an order for a wedding and need some advice.”

“Okay, is there something special you need?”

“Well, the papers will be engraved, but they need to be embossed as well.”

“That’s fine, we can do that. Do you need us to make an embossing die?”

“No, we have the die.”

“Well, you can just ship us the die and we’ll put it together with the rest of your order.”

“It’s Thomas Jefferson’s die.”

(audible gulp)

Jefferson crest

If you stick around long enough, events can tend to occur in circles, or at least loops. Since Crane has been around since 1801, loopy things happen quite often.

During the presidential terms of George Washington, young Zenas Crane made paper at his uncle’s Liberty Paper Mill in Milton, Mass., at his brother’s mill in Newton Lower Falls and at Isaiah Thomas’ mill just outside Worcester.

During the term of John Adams, the Thomas mill had been sold to the Burbank family, and Zenas made his first trek west to find the perfect location for a mill of his own.

When Zenas began making paper on the banks of the Housatonic, Thomas Jefferson was President of the United States.

Back to Customer Service. After much deliberation about shipping and insurance and such, the die was sent on its way by next-day service. There were more than several people – both in North Adams and Virginia – who spent the next morning in anxious anticipation of the die’s safe arrival. And there were more than several ooohs and aaahs as the package was opened and the die inspected.

Once all the pieces of the wedding order were assembled, it was off to the engraving press. I remember a conversation with engraver Ed Boudreau during production. His remarks went along these lines: “This is really an honor. I’ve engraved stationery for lots of celebrities and several presidents, but this is really really special. I had to take a deep breath to settle myself down before I started. Imagine…Thomas Jefferson once held this die.”

And so it goes, in circles, or at least loops.

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Let there be light!

During the recent open house at Crane’s new Technical Materials headquarters, Vice President Dennis Lockyer noted that Crane began experimenting with what we know today as nonwoven materials in the 1950s. But paper was the first real technical material. And the go-to mill for 19th-century innovators was Crane’s.

As a matter of fact, Crane can mark Nov. 29, 1879, as the first successful use of Crane’s papers as non-writing technical materials.

It was that day when Charles Batchelor, chief researcher for Thomas Edison, used Crane’s Parchment to create a long-lasting incandescent light. Edison would demonstrate his success to the media the very next week.

Paper, especially those made by Crane, were used in a wide variety of innovations – from observatory domes to railroad car wheels to boats to printed circuit boards. With a material so pure and so consistent, Edison and others were able to deduce and take advantage of their physical, chemical and mechanical properties for use in explorations using the “Scientific Method,” that is to say – eliminating variables.

One of the most important properties paper brought to the world of innovation is the fact that it is resistant to the conduction of electricity. As such paper could be used for resistance and insulation. Edison took advantage of both those properties.

Resistance came into play in development of the incandescent light. Carbonized Crane Parchment resisted the passage of electricity, thus creating light. It was so pure that there were no defects that would weaken the filament.

Insulation was instrumental in Edison’s creation of the first municipal electric power plant – the Pearl Street Station in New York City, built in 1881. Crane’s Bond was used to separate and

Edison Crane paper YES

insulate copper plates in Pearl Street’s “Jumbo” dynamo.

Soon after Edison made good use the properties of Crane Paper, another young innovator began ordering paper “to be made suitable for the purposes of the Electric Light.” William Stanley was about to move to Great Barrington to continue his experiments with alternating current. He would shortly demonstrate his success by illuminating downtown Great Barrington.

Stanley’s U.S. Electric Light Company would eventually become a little outfit called General Electric.

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Two Days in May

As the Liberty Paper Mill was bustling with activity, Abijah Burbank was struggling with his new paper mill, built near Worcester in 1776 to accommodate – among others – the publisher of the Massachusetts Spy – Isaiah Thomas. The need for paper for Thomas and for the good of the country, was so severe that on May 31, 1775, a convention of delegates from the towns in Worcester County convened to pass the following:

Resolved: That the erection of a paper mill in this county would be of great public advantage, and if any person or persons will undertake the erection of such a mill and the manufacture of paper, that it be recommended to the people of the county to encourage the undertaking by generous contributions and subscriptions.

1776 Abijah Burbank Ad

A year later, Burbank took out an advertisement in the Spy to announce:

The subscriber hereby informs the public that his paper mill in Sutton is finished and ready for business. The benefit that such a work will be to this country, at this time is well known to everyone. Therefore, it is hoped they will assist the carrying it on, by saving all their Old Linnen and Cotton Rags for which cash and a good price will be given, at said paper mill.

N.B. Cash and a good price will also be given for old rags at the printing office in Worcester.

The ad is dated May 8, 1777.

Zenas Crane was born the next day.

Their paths were destined to cross.

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A Blast From The Past

A letter from Samuel G. Colt to Orville Wright in 1915 introduces the inventor to the Richmond Iron Works:

“I have honestly believed for a long time that Richmond is the best iron made here for piston and cylinder castings, where strength, close grain, and exceptional wearing qualities are so necessary as in the aeroplane motor. “

The production of pig iron In Richmond began in 1830 when Gates, Pettee & Company built the charcoal-fired, stone stack blast furnace to smelt iron ore found in open-pit and shaft mines in the nearby hillsides.

The Richmond Furnace was one of several dozen within the Salisbury Iron District, which covers northwestern Connecticut, western Massachusetts and central eastern New York, at its peak supported 55 blast furnaces, of which the remains of 11 survive. Richmond’s is the only one in Massachusetts still standing. Richmond Iron Works ended operations in 1923, by which time its production methods were severely antiquated.

Iron produced at Richmond from brown hematite ore was particularly hard, and was sold as a raw material to other ironworks and foundries.

As Colt notes in his letter:  “The iron became famous during the Civil War, when it all went into the Rodman guns, which were cast from straight Richmond, as were the guns on Erricson’s “Monitor” and since then, it has been used by the Pennsylvania Rail Road for car wheels.” 

Not a bad resume…..

A 20-inch Rodman gun


The deck of the Monitor. Note the dents in the Richmond Furnace iron.






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It Wasn’t Quite Wright….

Two years after setting the world on fire with their first sustained airplane flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C., Wilbur and Orville Wright had transferred their operations to Dayton, OH. It was there that they developed the Wright Flyer III (their third powered plane, hence the name). On June 23, 1905, Orville flew the Flyer above Huffman Prairie for the first time, but a couple of months later, a serious nosedive led to major modifications to the aircraft.

The Wright Flyer III in 1905

Those structural and mechanical changes produced such amazing results that by mid-October, Wilbur and Orville were writing to the United States Secretary of War William Howard Taft offering to sell the world’s first practical fixed-wing aircraft.

To protect their intellectual property, the brothers disassembled the plane in November. By 1908, with contracts in hand to make more Wright Flyers for America and France, they returned to Kill Devil Hills, the site of their first successful flight, to make further tests.

But while flying solo, Wilbur moved one of the new control levers the wrong way and crashed into the sand. He was bruised but the plane’s front elevator was ruined, and the practice flights ended. Due to deadlines for their upcoming public demonstration flights in France and Virginia, the Wrights did not repair the airplane and it never flew again.

Enter Zenas Crane Jr. and the Berkshire Museum which he founded and endowed in 1903. Being of a scientific persuasion, Crane had taken great interest in the Wright brothers’ adventures and in November of 1911, wrote to Orville to see if the museum could display the Wright Flyer III. We don’t have copies of that correspondence, but there were several letters back and forth through 1913 that resulted in Crane purchasing a variety of salvaged airplane and glider parts from a shed in Kittyhawk.

The Berkshire Museum, circa 1911

Crane in 1914 was not in robust health, so he enlisted his son-in-law Samuel G. Colt, president of the Richmond (Mass.) Iron Works.

He first wrote to Orville to restate the case for more Flyer III parts so that the plane could be reassembled and put on display in Pittsfield. Orville kept putting him off – letter after letter – saying it would require his personal attention to find the correct parts, and his schedule would not allow. His schedule was still full when Colt wrote in March to alert Orville that he had found some mechanical parts of a Wright plane in Marblehead. “Not having heard from you, we will be forced, with much regret, to do the next best thing by getting the parts…and assembling the machine….”

Somewhere between March and May, Wright was evidently able to convince Crane and Colt not to attempt a reconstruction of the Wright Flyer III. But somewhere along the line, Colt and Crane decided to reconstruct the Wright brothers’ 1911 glider – parts from which had been scrounged earlier from Kitty Hawk. The work was accomplished in the Museum’s basement by a young man named F.H. Prentiss, and the day after visiting Wright in Dayton, Crane sent some photos and diagrams of Prentiss’ work.

The Berkshire Museum’s recreation of Wright’s 1911 Glider.

Wright responded a couple of days later: “We never had any machine of the dimensions given in your sketch. I am at a loss to understand what parts of the original machine secured at Kitty Hawk could have been used in this reproduction, because none of the parts of any machine we ever had at Kitty Hawk could exactly fit into this machine if the dimensions given are correct. We never had any glider of the design shown in the photograph. I should dislike very much to have this machine exhibited in the Museum.”

Evidently, our Mr. Prentiss had never seen an airplane and was going by the description in a book and Wright’s patent drawings.

In Wright’s letter, he did allow that perhaps he should be more helpful: “I will be very glad to cooperate with you in getting together as much as is possible of the original machine of 1905, and exact reproductions of the missing parts, if you wish to undertake it.”

Wright did find some parts and he did visit Dalton and the Berkshire Museum in the summer of 1915, but interest seems to have waned. A couple of letters went back and forth through 1917, including one from Zenas Crane Jr.’s son, Zenas Marshall Crane. But with the death of Zenas Crane Jr. in December of 1917, momentum for the project was lost.

The parts of the Wright Flyer III and the 1911 glider remained in the basement of the Berkshire Museum until 1947, when they were given to Carillon History Park in Dayton, Ohio.

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“The Pleasantest Business Letter We Ever Received”

Historians are pretty much in agreement that it wasn’t Mrs. O’Leary’s cow that started it, but no matter what the cause, the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 was devastating.

The fire was ignited on Sunday, Oct. 8, and wasn’t brought under control until two days later. In its wake, it left more than 100 people dead and 100,000 homeless. The fire covered 2,000 acres on a stretch from Belden Avenue in the north, to 22ndStreet in the south, and leaping over the Chicago River at the Randolph Street Bridge.

A depiction of the Great Chicago Fire crossing the Randolph Bridge after destroying the headquarters of the Western Banknote and Engraving Co.

By the time it reached the bridge, it had already destroyed much of downtown Chicago, including the headquarters of the Western Banknote and Engraving Co. and the homes of its employees.

Western Banknote, founded in 1865 by two New Yorkers – Charles Knickerbocker and Clarence C. Cheney -specialized in banknotes, stock certificates and documents of monetary value that required counterfeit protection. Western at the time was a relatively small, but important purchaser of Crane paper, aiding in the company’s westward expansion.

Shortly after the fire, Western had relocated west of the Chicago River at 10 Jefferson Street. On Nov. 22, Crane & Co. received a letter from a grateful Clarence Cheney.

Gentlemen: Your favor of the 16th is received – and we must say your action and kindness made a deep impression – not so much at what was offered (altho it was very generous) as the manner in which it was done. And I must say that the $100 for our workmen on top of the other – caused it to be one of the pleasantest business letters of we ever received.

Not having been in the habit of giving notes, we would prefer to let the account stand and shall endeavor to pay sooner than the time you are willing to allow.

Eventually settling at Madison and Michigan, Western Banknote remained a loyal customer for many years.

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