Sunday, November 30, 2008

Collecting Geographically: Don’t short change the United Kingdom.

One area that I like to collect billheads from is the UK. As you can imagine, UK printers printed some really nice elaborate and beautiful billheads. While trade cards didn’t take off in the UK as much as they did here, billheads are the exception. Recently I bought two lots of billheads from a dealer on ebay uk. As the dollar rises against these currencies, look for bargains amongst these European sellers. Be sure to go directly to the websites every now and again as not all items show up on the US ebay.

One example is billhead for James Howden a watch maker and jeweler in Edinburgh Scotland. The date on the billhead is 1824.

HOWDEN, James. Booked apprentice to Alexander Farquharson, Edin.,1764 — admitted freeman clockmaker, E.H., 1775. This well-known maker commenced business at 3 Hunter's Square, which premises he occupied till about 180.9, when he retired. He was succeeded by his son, also named James, who was admitted a freeman in 1809 — in 1825 he was at 56 North Bridge, while another brother, named John, was in business at 9 Waterloo Place — no trace of either after 1836.

A Handbook and Directory of Old Scottish Clockmakers from 1540 to 1850 A.D.
By John Smith p. 46.

Another nice and early billhead is that for Christopher Binks of London. This is a really early billhead dated 1806. Very very nice graphic is the shop with the word New Doyley's written on the outside of the building. The shop sold Ladies' Habit Coats, Gentleman's Cloaths, Liveries & c. completely made on the shorteft notice.

I found a mention of the shop being in Doyley's Warehouses from a London Directory printed in 17917.

Collecting Geographically.

There are many collecting areas to choose from for billheads. From collecting geographically, to business types, and to date ranges. I have scoured ebay and the internet looking at different collections of billheads and I am going to take the next many posts touching on collecting area.

First, lets start with geography. That is, collecting from a certain country, state, city or town. Here is a simple breakdown of collecting billheads geographically:

I. Country
1. 50 States
a. Counties / Parrishes
1. Cities
2. Towns

B. United Kingdom
1. England
a. Counties
1. Cities
2. Towns

2. Scotland
a. Cities
b. Towns

3. Ireland

C. European Continent
1. Spain
2. Germany

D. Cuba

When collecting anything, the narrower you can make your collecting area the easier it is to collect. It might make items harder to find; however, I can spend more money on the rare or seldom scene items because by narrowing my field, there is less out there for me to buy. The broader the field the more that is out there. However, there is also an exception to this as certain counties or cities might not have produced a lot of billheads simply because of the lack of business in those areas. As for billheads, the bigger the city, the chances are you will find more billheads to collect. Take for example New York City. Lots of business and merchants here, lots of printers, and lots of billheads pop up for New York.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Collections of Billheads: Websites & Books


The John Johnson Collection

Roscommon, Ireland

Rhode Island

Norfolk, Virginia

Chesapeake City, Maryland

Am Baile



Glendale, Montana

Central Pacific RR

Ely Billheads
By Pamela Blakeman, Blakeman, Ely Society, Ely Society
Published by Ely Society, 1984

Bought of: Nineteenth-century Sheffield Through Its Billheads & Related Documents
By Mary Chesworth
Published by Sheffield City Libraries, 1984

The Signboards of Old London Shops: A Review of the Shop Signs Employed by the London Tradesmen During the XVIIth and XVIIIth Centuries
By Ambrose Heal
Published by B. T. Batsford, 1947

Some American Billheads from the Collection of Bella C. Landauer at the New-York Historical Society
By Bella Clara Landauer, New-York Historical Society, New-York Historical Society
Published by Priv. issued, 1949

Accounts Rendered: Some Pembrokeshire Merchants' and Shopkeepers' Billheads from the 19th and Earlier 20th Centuries
By Jim McBrearty
Published by Pembrokeshire Publicity Service, 1987

Pictorial Billheads: A Portfolio of Old St. Louis Buildings.
Published by Missouri Historical Society, 1949

Wm. Frost Mobley Presents a Visual History of Trades and Professions: A Unique Collection of Advertising Trade Cards, Broadsides, Business Stationery, Etc. Portraying the Social, Cultural, Commercial and Professional History of Society
By William Frost Mobley
Published by W.F. Mobley, 1981

Billheads & Broadsides: Job Printing in the 19th-century Seaport
By Stephen O. Saxe, N.Y. South Street Seaport Museum (New York, Irene Tichenor, Wendy Shadwell, Elliot Willensky, South Street Seaport Museum (New York, N.Y.), Ginna Johnson Scarry, Kate Gordon
Published by South Street Seaport Museum, 1985

The John Johnson Collection: Catalogue of an Exhibition
By Bodleian Library
Published by Bodleian Library, 1971

A Nation of Shopkeepers: Trade Ephemera from 1654 to the 1860s in the John Johnson Collection
By Bodleian Library Staff, Julie Anne Lambert
Published by Bodleian Library, 2001

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Anatomy of a Billhead.

Billheads have generally the same anatomy.

Top (Heading): Has a line to handwrite in the date and the name of the person who bought the items. The name of the company appears here usually behind the word “Bought of,” “Bro.” or
See picture below for example.

Usually any graphic is depicted to the left of the name of the company. I have yet to see a billhead that has a lone graphic to the right, usually if it has a right graphic it has graphics on both sides of the name of the company. See below for nice graphic of a rifle from EE Eaton.

Body: Lines to write goods received. It is fascinating to see what is bought of companies. For instance, below is a billhead for Biggs, Spencer & Co. of Chicago showing that Austin Seeley has purchased boy’s guns. I have a whole slew of billheads for Seeley and will have a few posts later about this early Wisconsin gunsmith.

Bottom: Usually indicates who the items were paid for and how the items were shipped. Sometimes proprietors wrote long notes to customers about store stock. See below for an example of this from EE Eaton to Seeley. Eaton refers to having a hard time getting stock in the city, this was after the Great Chicago Fire and I speculate that there were tons of new goods coming in by rail, thus is was a busy time.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Evolution of a Billhead

Taken from the wonderful article entitled:A Survey of Nineteenth Century Rhode Island Billheads by Russell J. Desimone. I have linked to it. You can read it for free through Google Scholar.

Evolution of Billheads:

1800-1830 - Billheads were mainly in manuscript form. Looked very similar to what some might think of as receipts. Billheads from this time period are rare. These billheads tend to be on slips of paper and unevenly cut.

1830s - The start of pre-printed billheads and some use of graphics.

1840s and 1850s - Billheads started to appear in color usually light grey to medium blue. The printing was higher in quality and there was a greater use of graphics. An example of a billhead is below. The company was Henry Nazro. When Wisconsin was new, Henry J. Nazro and brother opened a medium sized hardware store in Milwaukee. By fair dealing an judicious advertising they called together customers from every portion of the State. As the State increased in population their business has increased in magnitude, until it is second to none in the West. They have, during the two past seasons, built a block of stores unsurpassed by any establishment west of New York . . The four stories and basement of this mammoth building are filled with every thing in the hardware line, from a cambric needle to a crowbar, from a fish-hook to anchor, mill saws, agricultural implements or any thing else in their line that can be found in an American or European market. (From The Wisconsin Farmer, and Northwestern Cultivator pub 1856 p. 232).

1860-1880s - The hey day of graphic billheads. Businesses began using billheads as a way of advertising their products and services. These are some of the most sought after billheads today. Below is a picture of the header of the billhead for John Nazro. John was the brother of Henry and took over the business in 1860.

John Nazo . . . was born at Cape Haytien, a seaport town on the island of Haiti in 1826. His parents returned to Boston when Mr. Nazro was about two years old. Here he resided until February, 1847, when he removed to Milwaukee. . . He was a bookkeeper with Nazro and King of Milwaukee for one year. In May, 1848, he bought out JC Cramer & Co., dealers in hardware, and started in business under the firm John Nazro, jun. and Co. In May, 1850, he united with HJ Nazro. In May 1854, HJ Nazro left Milwaukee to reside in New York, leaving the management of the business, which was then considered large, with him. In May, 1860, the name of the firm was changed to John Nazro & Co. Two years later he became the sole proprietor.

Notice the building has remained the same for both billheads.

1890s and beyond - Billheads became more modern looking. More type faces and less graphics.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

What are Billheads?

Some definitions:

From Wikipedia's article:

BillHead receipts were common in business transactions from the late 1860s through the early 1940s... and in some cases, they can be found in present day transactions (although it is a less common practice now.)

Many billhead receipts were illustrated and decorated with fancy steel engravings, while others carried no illustrations... in either case the receipt itself was important, as it was your proof of delivery. In general, most billheads contained: The Company Name & Address, A Unique Invoice Number, Payment Terms, Line Items for Products or Services, A Total, and (optionally) handwritten notes.

From the American Antiquarian Society:

The Billhead evolved from what was known as a "Trade Card," and in the twentieth Century, became known as letterhead. It was created by printing a heading at the top of a sheet of paper, usually from an engraved copper plate. The lower part of the sheet was used for writing a list, a note, or a bill. The standard billhead measured seven to eight inches wide, and four inches or more in length, depending on the need for space for writing the bill. The printed heading usually included an illustration, and sometimes a street address or location of the business. They also included space to write the date and town where the business transaction took place. They were printed on durable rag paper up until the 1860's and 1870's, after which they were printed on thinner woodpulp paper. In general, billheads of this style were in use and remained relatively the same for approximately a 150 year time frame, over three centuries. As historical artifacts, billheads are useful for providing information about tradesmen's products and prices. They help document the types of goods and services that consumers were purchasing.

Source: Rickards, Maurice, The Encyclopedia of Ephemera. New York: Routledge, 2000.