Friday, June 4, 2021

The End of W.S. Hicks - Revealed at Last

I was so close.

In “Tasty Crow” posted earlier this week (https://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2021/04/tasty-crow.html), I laid out all of the information I could find regarding the final years of William S. Hicks –  William S. Hicks’ Sons, as it was known by then.  It felt like something was missing.  All the pieces of the puzzle appeared to be there, but it just didn’t look like it made a complete picture after I assembled it.

Richard Keith figured out why.

Richard emailed me to point out something I included in my article that was right in front of me -- something that I didn’t notice which explains everything.  I’d shared a picture of the building at 88 Parkhurst in Newark, New Jersey to which W.S. Hicks had been relocated (sometime before 1940, according to a New York City Directory reference I found):


There is a name on that building, above the door: Larter & Sons.


Richard tunneled a little deeper into who Larter & Sons was – which led him straight to another article I posted here some time ago titled “Hicks Family Oddities II” (Volume 4, page 207, still live at https://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2016/10/hicks-family-oddities-ii.html).  Between my recent article and what I wrote in Volume 4, all of the pieces of the puzzle fit perfectly and it all makes sense – but only because Richard noticed the name on the side of the building.

According to the company obituary published by National Jeweler in 2015, Larter & Sons was founded as Larter, Elcox & Co. in 1865.  The company was a fixture on Maiden Lane in New York, where its showroom was located at 15 Maiden Lane.  Larter’s manufacturing facilities, however, were located in Newark, New Jersey.  Through 1908, Larter’s factory was located at 49 Chestnut Street, Newark; the 1909 directory reports that Larter had relocated to 86 Parkhurst, Newark.  The partners were Fred H. Larter, Halsey M. Larter, and Harry C. Larter.  


By 1922, when our story begins, the address for Larter & Sons had been changed to 88 Parkhurst in the Newark city directory.  Meanwhile, the 1922-1923 New York directory continues to list Larter & Sons showroom and offices at 15 Maiden Lane.  The partners were Frederick H. Larter, Halsey M. Larter, Harry C. Larter and Warren R. Larter:


William S. Hicks’ Sons is also listed in the New York directories for 1922-23 and 1925.  The firm’s address in both directories is 235 Greenwich, but the partners, Edward D. Hicks and William M. Hicks, have residence addresses in Cranford, New Jersey - about 11 miles or so southwest of Larter’s manufacturing facilities in Newark:


In “Tasty Crow,” I accurately reported the listing for William S. Hicks’ Sons in the 1933 Manhattan directory . . . but I didn’t catch the significance of what it said:


Hicks has been relocated to Larter & Sons’ address at 15 Maiden Lane, and Hicks’ sons, Edward D. Hicks and William M. Hicks, have been replaced by “H. Monroe & Warren R. Larter,” which I completely misread when I wrote my previous article.  The first named partner is not H. Monroe – it is Halsey Monroe Larter, who appeared in the “Hicks Family Oddities II” article in Volume 4 because of this:


Halsey Monroe Larter applied for patent number 1,808,171 on November 7, 1929, and the patent was issued on June 2, 1931.  Although this patent was assigned to Larter & Sons, it came to light because I had found a surviving example of Larter’s pencil:


It is marked Cartier, accompanied by “Pat. Pend.” and a Hicks hallmark:


Yes, Virginia . . . some time between publication of the 1925 New York Directory and June 2, 1931 (when the Larter patent was issued), Larter & Sons acquired William S. Hicks’ Sons.

And, of course, there’s more.

In “Tasty Crow,” I dutifully reported that in the 1940 New York directory, Hicks is listed at a new address: 88 Parkhurst, which we now know was the manufacturing facility for Larter & Sons.  

I was otherwise derelict in my duties.  Say what you will about Newark, New Jersey, but don’t you dare criticize the city’s library, which beats the New York Public Library’s online resources by a blue mile.  It has a complete collection of Newark telephone directories, and they are infinitely more user-friendly.  

Hicks is absent from Newark City Directories until 1937, when it was listed at 10 Austin.  As revealed in “Tasty Crow,” that’s the residence adjacent to and around the corner from 88 Parkhurst. The listing further establishes that Hicks had been fully absorbed into Larter & Sons.


Hicks appears in Newark directories through the 1943 edition; there’s a gap in the library’s collection, and the library’s site indicates that city directories were not published annually after 1943.  The next available edition is from 1947 - and Hicks is no longer listed.

Now it all makes sense.  Jewelry firms such as Tiffany and Cartier wouldn’t have minded a Hicks hallmark on their writing instruments, since Hicks was primarily a writing instruments manufacturer and none of these high-end jewelers ever held themselves out as pencil makers.  

A hallmark by a competing jeweler such as Larter & Sons on a pencil marked Tiffany or Cartier, however, would be a different matter – so Larter continued to use the Hicks name after it acquired the company in order to continue discretely supplying other jewelry firms.  After Larter abandoned the Hicks name, Larter couldn’t substitute its own hallmark, which is why later pencils obviously made using Hicks’ equipment and clip bear no hallmarks at all.  

But wait . . . there’s even more.  Recall that Edward Todd & Company failed in 1932 (see “Narrowing the Gap” on May 31, 2021) – that was after Hicks had already been acquired by Larter & Sons.  Edward Todd, which was supplied by Hicks in its later years, could not have been acquired by Hicks.

The story, now much more detailed, is summarized as follows:

At some point during the 1920s, as Edward Todd & Co. declined, William S. Hicks’ Sons took over Edward Todd’s manufacturing.  Sometime between 1925 and 1929, Larter & Sons bought Hicks and moved the firm to Larter’s existing showroom and offices at 15 Maiden Lane.  In 1937, Larter moved Hicks’ manufacturing to Larter’s existing factory at 88 Parkhurst, Newark, New Jersey, and set up Hicks’ offices at the residence around the corner at 10 Austin.  Larter abandoned the Hicks name between 1943 and 1947.

How does Louis Tamis & Son fit into the story?  I had concluded in “Tasty Crow” that Louis Tamis and not Larter & Sons had made Hicks-style writing instruments without hallmarks, since Tamis eventually wound up with Edward Todd’s equipment.  My analysis missed a step – an intervening owner, Larter & Sons, is that missing step.

It wasn't a clean succession; there was some overlap between when Larter & Sons discontinued the Hicks name and when Louis Tamis started production of Hicks-style writing instruments.  I've just received some new information about Tamis from Richard Keith, Larry Liebman, and David Nishimura, and I'm trying to figure out how these additional pieces fit into the story as we now know it.

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