Posted by on Jan 13, 2014 | 2 comments

 

 

While excited to begin unlocking the mysteries held within a stack of century-old postcards, the magnitude of this first step felt overwhelming. “Where do I start?” I asked myself. The answer kept coming back in the voice of my old engineering professor who said, “All you have to do is break a big problem into several small ones. During the course of solving them, you’ll eventually solve the big one.” So, I scanned the postcards for small problems to solve.

I knew that eighty-six of the ninety-nine cards were addressed to Mrs. Elizabeth (Lizzie) Milligan at various addresses in and around Boston. But one address in particular stood out on fifty-four of them:

149 Staniford Street
Boston, Mass
c/o M.C.A. Cigar Company

Why? Did Lizzie work there? Was it common to have mail sent to one’s place of work in the early 1900s?

And so I decided to start my journey by attempting to answer a small question: “What was the M.C.A. Cigar Company?”

Goldsmith, Silver & Co.

A quick Google search produced the project’s first surprise. Evidently, the “M.C.A. Cigar Company” wasn’t a cigar company at all. Instead, “M.C.A” represented a brand of cigar that derived its name from the initials of an organization called the Massachusetts Cooperative Association, a brand that was founded in 1899 1889 by four gentlemen: Isaac N. Goldsmith, Samuel C. Silver, Henry Mack, and Hyman Van Ulm. “M.C.A. Brand” cigars were  manufactured and sold by another organization, Goldsmith, Silver, and Co., which has formed three years prior (1896 1886) by three of the four Massachusetts Cooperative Association founders: Goldsmith, Silver, and Van Ulm.

Page 9 of the Boston Evening Transcript from November 20, 1897 offered a glimpse of the cigar brand and the company that made it.

I loved the language in the description:

  • “…too well known to require further praise.”
  • “…well established in its handsome salesrooms…”

The language, coupled with the correspondence scribbled onto Lizzie’s postcards, added a new perspective for me–the fact that all of my research would lead to documents written in a very different time and place–both of which I had little understanding.

I continued reading. Goldsmith, Silver & Co. ran its operations from two facilities: a sales office and a manufacturing plant. The sales office was located at 44 Summer Street in Boston, and the The M.C.A. Cigar brand was manufactured in two locations: the Lockhart Building at 149 Staniford Street (1890-1916) and 1158 Tremont Street in Roxbury afterwards.

As I looked at the answer to my original question, it became clear how this project would likely proceed–with new discoveries leading to even newer ones. I flipped through the postcards and noticed that the manufacturing dates at 149 Staniford Street (1890 to 1916) bracketed the postmarks on the cards that were addressed there (1904 to 1914). So, based on this new information, would it be safe to assume that Lizzie had something to do with Goldsmith, Silver & Co. for at least ten years? And if so, what was it? Was she an employee? What did she do and how long was she there?

My journey had just begun.

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