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William Hamilton Page

by David Shields. Average Reading Time: about 8 minutes.

William Hamilton Page was born in Tilton, New Hampshire March 14, 1829 to James & Jane Greenleaf Page. Page spent his childhood on a farm in the Connecticut River Valley, and would go on to be the most important American wood type manufacturer of the 19th century.


Page started as a printer’s apprentice at age 14 in Bradford, Vermont. From 1843–1849 he moved from printer to printer in towns and cities in the region including Newberry, Connecticut, Haverhill and Concord, New Hampshire and Boston, Massachusetts. Sometime in 1849, Page moved to Worcester, Massachusetts where he worked as the foreman for two years printing the The Daily Spy1 and then spent a year as a writer for the newspaper. In 1852, he moved to New York City to work at the New York Tribune under the renowned editor Horace Greeley during the Franklin Pierce presidential campaign. The following year Page moved to Norwich, Connecticut to work at the Norwich Tribune. Over the next two years while working for the paper, Page would take up wood engraving, and in February 1855, he moved to South Windham, Connecticut to work as a type trimmer and cutter, manufacturing wood type for John Gaines Cooley.

On November 20, 1855 William Page and Catherine Elizabeth Hovey2 we married. The couple had eight children3 during their fifty years of marriage. It is of interest to note that Catherine Hovey’s older brother, Lewis Hovey, served with George Setchell in the American Civil War and after returning from the war, would work for Page starting in 1867 (Setchell started working for Page in 1866).

In September 1856, Page left the employ of JG Cooley and partnered with James Bassett to purchase the defunct wood type manufactory belonging to Horatio and Jeremiah Bill of Willimantic, Connecticut (a town 3 miles northwest of South Windham). The business, known simply as H & J Bill, had failed in the fall of 1854 and was shuttered by that winter. It is as yet unclear if Page moved the equipment to South Windham, or if the equipment was put to use in Willimantic. In October 1857, Page & Bassett moved their wood type manufacturing concern 13 miles southeast of South Windham to Greenville, the business district of Norwich. In Greenville, Page & Bassett enlarged their production capacity in the warehouse owned by Samuel Mowry of the Mowry Axle & Machine Company. In 1859, their business name, Page & Bassett, was changed to William H Page & Co when Samuel Mowry bought our James Bassett’s4 shares.

A 1862 tax assessment listed the value of William H Page & Co at US$451.37, roughly $10,000 in current dollars when adjusted for inflation. The assessed value would double by 1864, and by 1866 the company’s assessed value was reported as US$4161.00.

Page was an active and engaged inventor, and was granted patents on a number of inventions and improvements to products across a range of industries over the course of his life. His first known patent was for an ornamented border. US Design Patent 2,932 was awarded in February 1867. Page was also a forward thinking businessman for his time. Rob Roy Kelly writes that, “…during the Civil War, Page had hired women because of the manpower shortage, and finding them so adept at many of the operations in the manufacture of wood type, he continued to hire women regularly until the business sold in 1891.”5.

Border No 25, patented in February 1867, and first shown in Page’s April 1867, Wm H Page & Co’s Specimens of Wood Type, Manufactured in Greenville, Conn.

In 1869, Page acquired the wood type manufacturing portion of his former employer’s business. Cooley & Dauchy, as it was by then known, was located in New York City. Samuel Dauchy would retain the other portions of the business and continue in New York under the name Dauchy & Co Printers’ Warehouse & Advertising Agency. The new company would act as agent for William H Page & Co’s wood type sales in the New York region.

In 1871, Page started a non-wood type related business: Page’s City Gardens. William Hovey, Catherine’s younger brother, was listed as agent for the concern. The gardens produced fruits & vegetables, maintained hothouses for fresh flowers, and included a modern diary farm. Records indicate that the gardens flourished well into the 1880s. In the 1873 Norwich City Directory, William Page was also listed as the vice-president of the Norwich Horticulture Society.

Among the numerous type and ornamental borders he designed and patented, Page was also successful in developing and producing a range of chromatic wood types. Chromatic types were designed to print a letterform in two or more colors simultaneously. These types, produced in register as corresponding pairs, were designed so that when printed, one color would overlap another in certain places to create a third color. Chromatic types were shown regularly in foundry type specimen books of the 1840s and 1850s, and were first produced as wood type in George Nesbitt’s 1841 Fourth Specimen of Machinery Cut Wood Type. Chromatic wood type would reach its expressive high point with William H Page & Co’s 1874 masterpiece Specimens of chromatic wood type, borders, &c. manufactured by Wm. H. Page & Co. Greeneville, Conn. — arguably the most beautiful wood type specimen catalog ever produced.

Wm. H. Page & Co. Specimens of chromatic wood type, borders, etc. manufactured by Wm. H. Page & Co. Greeneville, Conn. : The Co., 1874. Electronic reproduction. New York, N.Y. : Columbia University Libraries, 2013. NNC. Columbia University Libraries Electronic Books. 2006.

 

In 1876, Samuel Mowry (1806 – March 11, 1879) retired and the name of the company was changed to William H Page Wood Type Co. Page was listed as Treasurer, George Setchell as President, and John Mowry (Samuel’s eldest son) as Secretary. In 1877, Page’s eldest son William Edward Page, began working in the Type Shop of the William H Page Wood Type Co. Three years later Lewis Hovey Page, his second eldest son, also began working for the company.

Beyond wood type, printing equipment, gardening and dairy farming, Page also became interested in the building of boilers and steam heaters. In 1876, Page incorporated a new business, the William H Page Boiler Co and named Samuel Dauchy of New York, president. After Page patented a steam heater in 1879, he founded another company: The Page Steam Heater Co. William Page was listed as President and William Mowry (Samuel’s younger son) was listed as Secretary and Treasurer. The patenting of a steam radiator in 1882, drove Page to establish The Combination Company, a steam heating supply business.

In January, 1887, William Page wrote a letter to William Baker of Hamilton & Baker in Two Rivers, Wisconsin. The letter broaches the subject of the Wisconsin concern acquiring all of Page’s wood type manufacturing capabilities. Page writes that he is interested in exiting the wood type business to more fully engage in the lucrative boiler and steam heat businesses he has created. While it is not particularly clear who first initiated the buy-out talks, the letter clearly revealed that it was the William H Page Wood Type Co that pursued the merger. The letter also included interesting details of Page’s acquisition of JG Cooley’s wood type company in 1869.

The letter must have been met well, because by 1891, William Page completed the transfer of his wood type business in its entirety to JE Hamilton. By all accounts Page was very successful at the boiler and steam heater business. He continued to be awarded patents for his technical ingenuity over the next fifteen years.

In 1901, the Page Co was incorporated with William Page as president. It is not entirely clear if this company produced any new products or was set up to oversee the licensing of Page’s patent portfolio to manufactures on the east and west coast. though it is not clear what involvement he had in the company after the early 1900s, The William H Page Boiler Co would continue to be a successful manufacturer of heaters and boiler as late as 1932.

Rob Roy Kelly indicated that Page established the New England Boiler Company in Mystic, Connecticut in 1905, and moved the company to New London in early 1906. Kelly also wrote that “[a]t the time of his death [in May 1906] he was scouting a new location for his boiler company in Norwich.”

Page passed away unexpectedly in Mystic, Connecticut May 8, 1906. There was a glowing obituary for Page published in the July 1906 issue of The Inland Printer. “His habits were perfect and he possessed a most amiable disposition that made friends of all whom he met. He has given employment to hundreds of people and always a fatherly interest in his help. He was generous and extremely charitable. As a general thing others than the deceased profited by his skill and talent. Still he did not complain and persevered to the end. His home life was happy. Mr Page’s many friends were surprised and grieved to hear of his sudden death, and know that the world is better on account of the example of his life.”

Kelly wrote of Page “a remarkable individual, [he] was capable, charming, and generous to a degree not always found in the commercial world of the period.” “His continued aim for perfection in all matters that captured his interest should be admired.”

William Hamilton Page is buried at the family plot in the Yantic Cemetery, Norwich, Connecticut6.

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  1. The newspaper changed its name while Page was an employee. The Daily Spy (1845–1850) became the Worcester Daily Spy (1850–1888). William Loy in his article “Designers and Engravers of Type” in the February 1899 issue of The Inland Printer, indicated that Edmund Clarence Stedman was editor during this time. /
  2. Catherine (Kate) Elizabeth Hovey was born October 01, 1830 in Windham, Connecticut and passed away December 24, 1914 in Mystic. /
  3. Eight children, all born in Connecticut.
    – unnamed, 26 November 26, 1856 – November 28, 1856
    — William Edward Page, b July 9, 1859
    — Lewis Hovey Page, July 14, 1861 — December 2, 1943 (married to Mary E Dexter)
    – Hattie Luella Page, August 27, 1863 – August 31, 1864
    – Inez Louise Page, August 5, 1865 – October 11, 1865
    — Frederick (Freddie) Arden Page, April 11, 1867 — 23 September 23, 1893
    – Charles Greenleaf Page, February 27, 1871 – 23 August 23, 1871
    — Helen Inez Page, September 4, 1872 — 16 April 16 1938 (listed as living with William & Catherine in the 1900 federal census) /
  4. In December 1871, the article “Wood Type – Its History and Manufacture” in Printers’ Circular, (p 420–421) reported that “Mr Bassett, is now interested with the task of preparing wood for Vanderburg, Wells & Co” in New York City. /
  5. Kelly, Rob Roy. American Wood Type: 1828–1900, Notes on the Evolution of Decorated and Large Types and Comments on Related Trades of the Period. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1969: 44 /
  6. Yantic Cemetery, Section 116, Lot 23 /