Century-Old Business Correspondence Becomes Unique Collection

A chance find saves a collection of brilliantly-crafted, century-old business correspondence from the burn pile.

| January 2015

When Otho Moomaw decided to clean out storage rooms in a family member’s home, he enlisted the help of a friend, Donnie Walker, Buchanan, Virginia. In the process, Donnie stumbled onto a unique trove of business correspondence dating to the early years of the 20th century.

The letters were addressed to N.R. Moomaw (Otho’s father), owner of a farm machinery dealership in Rocky Point, Virginia, from 1898 to the 1940s. The correspondence consists of letters from manufacturers with details on orders, answers to pricing queries and information on product lines.

The letters display a style and genteel formality that has largely disappeared from today’s business communications. One letter is actually addressed to “N.R. Moomaw Esq.” Most are carefully typed with flawless spacing and tabs; some even shift to a red typewriter ribbon for emphasis.

Produced decades before sophisticated printing technology was even dreamed of, the letterhead itself is perhaps the most outstanding aspect of the collection. Elaborate embellishments, sometimes showing engravings of a factory or an entire product line, were common features. Several were printed in full color, a remarkable investment more than a century ago. Letterhead used by Deere & Co. even sported images of colorful bells and sprigs of holly for use during the holidays, a charming addition almost unimaginable in today’s business correspondence.

The cache of correspondence was destined for the burn pile when Donnie – an enthusiastic collector of antiques – intervened. FC

Farm Collector is indebted to Donnie and his daughter, Margo, who helped get images of the letters to us. For more information, email Donnie Walker: DonnieWalker254@mail.com.