This weekend at the TWDB was mostly about more research into the details of Molle and Bennington. I made a rough stab at laying out a serial number list for Molle, and immediately more info and analysis from our friends Mark Adams and Tyler Anderson flowed in, allowing some very nice fine-tuning to that list.
A picture is emerging of a company that made around 7000 machines, but had a lot of trouble selling them. In fact, I would not be too surprised to find that most of the parts that are in every Molle made were probably manufactured before 1920. There’s strong indications that the enthusiastic leap into export markets in 1919 caused them to build a large stockpile of foreign-keyboard machines that the export market then had problems selling. By the end of 1920, they have 1,200 machines assembled awaiting sale and shipment – most of them basically unsellable in the US market, and parts for at least 1,000 more machines.
1921 begins with Molle appealing desperately to shareholders and citizens of Oshkosh for loans to hire workers to assemble the aforementioned 1000 machines into American-keyboard machines from parts. The machines destined for foreign sale have been reduced by only 100, with around 800 still in stock. Things were looking up though – it seems Molle got that needed investment, assembled the 1000 machines and then manufactured another 2000 machines worth of parts. Series numbers and a lone (somewhat vaguely) documented date machine tells us that as many as 3000 were built in 1921.
1922 sees more foreign distributors added, as Molle desperately needs to unload those machines. It’s not enough, and domestic sales don’t seem to improve much even if Molle has cranked out new machines that still seem to be stacking up in storage. By July they are bankrupt, but list about $78,000 worth of “merchandise” as assets. By my math, at retail price, that would be around 1,500 Molle No. 3s. This seems to add up – Molle, at least after 1919, just seems to have had a problem with building more machines than they could sell.
Does that mean there are 1,500 “Liberty” machines out there? I kind of doubt it. I’m sure Liberty Typewriter in Chicago got a pretty big batch of them, certainly enough to justify relabeling them, but contemporary ads show a number of small dealers also offering “brand new” Molle No. 3’s well into the mid-late 1920’s. I believe it likely the machines were split up into batches when auctioned to satisfy the creditors and sold as lots.
Two interesting notes:
- It’s interesting how willing the smaller manufacturers were to keep a lot of inventory around for a very long time, in order to keep up the “we’re successful” smoke and mirrors going. I ran into this before with the Williams page, and while it’s wildly at odds with modern “just in time” delivery, it seems to have been fairly common in this era of typewriting manufacture.
- The difference between manufacture, assembly and sales. Basically the question “when was this typewriter made?”, the fundamental one that is the baseline of everything the TWDB tries to find out. Usually with the larger manufacturers, that difference is a matter of months, and the TWDB reckons “manufacture” dates and “sales” dates as being close enough that often we can mix the two and use one to confirm the other within a range. For the Antiques, this is much, much less so. A Molle might have been “manufactured” in 1919, “assembled” in 1921 and finally sold (perhaps under Liberty badging – it sure would be nice to know a few Liberty serial numbers) in 1925.
- Given #2 above, well, when *was* a given Molle “made”? The table suggested by Mark Adams appears on the page, and it’s about as close as we’re gonna get to that answer, i think, barring further discoveries.
AND THEN THERE IS that sly bugger Wesley H. Bennington. Slippery as an eel, cursed with a Black Hand – everything he touches dies. Tyler, in this blast of Bennington ads, notably discovers that Bennington advertisement never seems to be about selling typewriters – it’s all about soliciting investment to build a factory. Well, we knew that part of the story, but there was more. The surprise was This tiny notice he uncovered stating that Bennington Typewriter has incorporated in Arizona to manufacture his machine. The date? December, 1920:
Hmmn… He had a new machine to entice investors in Arizona with in 1920/1921? If he did, he had run his course and decamped the Desert State by March of 1922 and re-incorporates as the Xcel Typewriter Co. in New York – about as far away as you can get, assuming the sheriff’s posse was on his tail and he wanted some space. This is around the time that the “William” alias seems to pop up a lot in reports. With him, he has a brand new machine, the “Xcel” to show off, but maybe it’s just a relabeled Bennington #3, built in Arizona? Anyway, by 1922 it was being shown off in the New York offices of the Xcel Company.
Intrigued by Bennington’s sudden connection to my home state, I did a little more digging and found as many as two more incorporations in Arizona for Bennington, this time, in the Arizona Territory in 1905 and 1907. In June of 1907, the Bennington Typewriter Co. of Arizona is raising investment and searching for a factory location in Cleveland. This nicely dovetails with a report we already had of Bennington searching for an Ohio factory location and settling on Cleveland in August of 1907. Thus we now know that the Bennington #2 that was being used to attract investment may not be in Ohio after all, while an Ohio judge probably ordered the bankruptcy, the assets and auction just may have been here in AZ back in the Territorial days.
So far nothing else has turned up, but this sudden trek to Arizona sheds a little light on Bennington’s activities in that 1905/06 period of time that was previously blank, and some interesting light on the 1920-1921 period as well. Still dark is 1910-1919. Nine years where still more Bennington attempts and prototypes might be lurking.. Stay tuned!