Author Archives: carljohnson

The Pencil Lead Wars of 1862

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1862 Schenectady Directory Cozzens & Lay stove polish.png

I could put in a phenomenal amount of effort to explain what was going on in the northern New York graphite mines, what sort of a stranglehold Joseph Dixon & Co. was holding over its competitors, and how he who controlled pencil leads held the fate of a free press in his hands. Or I could just explain that graphite from the Ticonderoga area was a key element of stove polish as well as pencil leads, and that Cozzens & Lay of Water Street in Albany really didn’t like Joseph Dixon. Perhaps having created the first wood and graphite pencil made him snooty (whereas stove polishing would make one sooty). Despite setting their prices to suit the times, we all know the “Dixon Ticonderoga” pencil, and their competitor only leads us to imagine a lot of 5th graders snickering when the Cozzens & Lay pencils were handed out.

By the way, the Dixon website seems to think the average American dolt can’t pronounce “Ticonderoga,” and therefore they provide elaborate instruction.

All Hoxsie, all the time

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George Hoxsie Albany Ward 4 1870.pngWhile I’m on this here Hoxsie kick, I might as well mention a little bit more about George Hoxsie, the Albanian with the audacity to think that his name alone was enough to sell mineral water (or perhaps sarsparilla) (or perhaps something else) to Schenectadians. In 1870, shortly after the rooster crowed, George Hoxsie was living in Albany’s Fourth Ward, listing himself as a mineral water manufacturer with real property worth $6000 and $500 in non-real property. For those days, that was a lot, but not nearly as much as his neighbor Abraham Koonz, the carpet merchant, who claimed $80,000 in real property. Wife Jane and mother Anelope (yes, one ‘t’ short of an antelope) lived with him, as did daughter-in-law Libbie (Elizabeth) and grandson Bismark. Yes, Bismark Hoxsie. Throughout the 1860s, George showed up on federal tax rolls, such as in 1862 when he was charged $5.62 in tax on $520 worth of root beer (apparently the soft drink tax is nothing new). George was also the Overseer of the Poor, a politically appointed city position that may have included the oversight of the Alms House. George may have seen better opportunities in the political world than in bottling, for in 1880 he was listed in the census as a foreman at the New Capitol.

And what happened to little Bismark? He won the prize for best speaker in his class at the 20th commencement exercises of Albany High School in June, 1888. He became an osteopath, married a woman named Huldah Van Doren (yes, she became Huldah Hoxsie), and moved to Bound Brook, New Jersey.

Hoxsie! Now with 30 percent more real Hoxsie!

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Finally, a site that’s all local history, all the time. Where my somewhat oddly named site “My Non-Urban Life” is about whatever crosses my mind, I’ve long felt that I needed to make a site devoted solely to local history, both the long, well-researched (well-Google researched, anyway) articles that appear at All Over Albany, and shorter, weirder little bits of advertising and ephemera that catch my eye as I scan through old city directories, institute publications, and old postcards. (Yes, that is what I do for fun).

When I knew I was going to create a site just about Capital District history, taking in the rich heritage of Albany, Schenectady and Troy, a region where my family’s roots go back to The Norman, I knew I needed a name that was distinctive, easy to remember and spell, and that was clearly associated with local history. But instead I fell in love with this picture of a rooster proclaiming “Hoxsie!” and suddenly no other name would do. (Internet lesson 1: Don’t check a domain until you’re ready to buy it. That’s why I’m, and is parked by one of the internet’s parking lot attendants. On the internet, exit fee is set by attendant.)

This ad appeared in the 1862-3 Schenectady City Directory, published by Young and Graham of 111 State Street (now about where the scenic Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet is), and most likely actually printed by the venerable Joel Munsell of Albany. There is no further explanation anywhere in the directory, other than listing Hoxsie among Albany advertisers. In an age when verbosity was an absolute virtue in advertising, that alone makes this ad stand out sensationally. Plus, it must have meant that whoever Hoxsie was or what he sold, he was confident that readers of the directory would know what his product was; it needed no explanation. The Child’s directory of Albany and Schenectady for 1870 gives me a little more to go on, listing Geo. W. Hoxie [sic] & Co. of 25 Hamilton Street in Albany, right down near the old public market, as a maker of sarsaparilla, soda, lager beer and cider. (It also lists a George W. Hoxsie as “overseer of city poor, City Building,” and it’s intriguing to think that in the days before government cheese there may have been government sarsparilla. George also listed himself in the 1870 census as a mineral water manufacturer, so exactly what refreshing drink that rooster is crowing about is left to the imagination.

Much more to come, so set your bookmarks, grab that RSS feed, and provide me with some comments that aren’t about Coach bags or penis enhancement. Unless it’s historic penis enhancement, in which case I’d be totally fine with it.


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