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A Day in the Business Life of the Coppes Brothers Company

Bill Warner
December 20, 2018
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Welcome to another Bill’s History Corner. Sorry, no picture this week. I was beginning to think I was running out of new interesting things to write about, then I thought of the company ledgers that we have in the Coppes Commons collections. At random, I chose one old ledger and then one page that had several entries for one day. My idea is to discuss the entries for that one day. See if I can make sense of what I read and explain it to you. I need to make a disclaimer here, some of the names are difficult to read. I’ll use ??? when unsure.

The page I picked was June 30th, 1886 - summertime with lots of activity. There are 13 different transactions listed for that day.  The three Coppes Brothers, Frank, John & Sam were working together to run the company in 1886. They had recently built the 1884 box factory on East Market St. They were also operating the sawmill with retail and wholesale divisions and beginning to build the Flour Mill on South Main, certainly a busy time.

First transaction ---  L. M. Best - by cull lumber – 3.00

L.M. Best paid $3.00 for Cull lumber. Cull lumber is lumber with defects like cracks, warps, etc. - lumber not good for very much. What L. M. Best planned to do with the  ”cull” Lumber is anyone’s guess. It should be noted that in the winter the sawmill sold firewood (side slabs, cutoffs, etc.) by the “load” for one dollar a load.

2nd transaction ---  B. Uline – By resawing 955 ft. Ash @ $3.00. -   2.86

This is most likely Barney Uline, who at this time was operating the Uline Butter Tub factory, later to become Nappanee Lumber and Mfg. Co.  A line of children’s furniture, card tables & chairs was a later product of this company. Still later they produced wooden farm silos. The "@ $3.00" is the listed price for resawing 1000 ft. of lumber.  Mr. Uline only had 955 ft. resawed so the price was 2.86.

3rd transaction --- Muzzy Starch Co.

                                By 200/1 - @14c  --- $28.00   

                                By 370/2 -  @ “     --- $51.80

                                By 300/3 -  @ “    ---   $52.00

                                By  340/5 - @12c ---   $40.80

                                By  500/6 - @ “     --- $60.00

                                By  1200 /4 - @6c  --- $72.00

By 100   Lenates?? @10c - $10.00             Total  = $341.60         

Muzzy Starch Company was one of the Elkhart companies that Coppes Bros. regularly shipped wooden boxes to from their new brick box factory on East Market St. What the first line means is that Coppes made 200 of the No 1 size boxes (1 lb. size??) at a cost of 14 cents each for a total cost of $28.00 for that size box. Each line is a different size of box. These would have been shipped by horse and wagon in 1886. Can’t read the word in the bottom line but maybe it is "Centers," which would make more sense.

4th transaction --- L. Babcock  by 150 lb  Chop.         $1.50

Chop (I think) is horse feed. Why the Coppes Bros. were in the business of selling horse feed is likely because they purchased chop in large quantities for the number of horses that Coppes kept as both workhorses and personal teams (my estimate is 20 - 30 horses at any one time in the Coppes stables). They may have had a surplus of feed or felt they could make some money by selling chop at a higher price than they paid when buying in large quantities. Or possibility they let friends have some chop at cost because they were good guys.

5th transaction --- G + G + G + G   leo  ????   

                                7000 ft 3” = 24 ft sheeting

                                423 ft 3” = 20 ft       ‘ ‘                   @ 20.00 ---- 7423 ft     =    $148.40

                                Less freight

                                B  &  G   # 2742

This one is more of a puzzle. I think that LEO is a freight train station west of Nappanee. The business was selling 3-inch-thick lumber that could be put down and used as strong solid SHEETING. Either in 24 foot or 20-foot lengths. The price was $20.00 per 1000 feet for a total price of $148.40. There was no freight cost because the train company provided a train car for transportation. That train car number was 2742.

You may be wondering how lumber is sold. Not by the piece, not by the length, not by the width, but a combination of these dimensions. The standard unit of sale for lumber is called BOARD FEET. One board foot of lumber is equal to a piece that has 144 cubic inches of material, no matter what the shape of the board. It could be long and thin or short and thick, as long as it contained 144 Sq. In. of wood it is equal to one BOARD FOOT.

The formula for finding board feet in one piece of solid lumber is (Bd Ft = T(in) X W(in) X  L(ft)  )

6th transaction. ---  Jonathan Yoder   by Oak logs  2174 ft. @ 7??   =   $15.21

I think I got this one. The company purchased Oak logs from Mr. Yoder amounting to $15.21

7th transaction. ---  Frank Walker    by 7450 Clear Shingles  @ $ 2.90     =    $21. 60

This one is easy. Mr. Walker purchased shingles that were priced at $2.90 per 1000 for a total cost of $21.60. Clear shingles was a product that the company was reselling. The Coppes Bros. purchased train car loads of shingles at a bulk price and then sold them at a retail price. This is Business 101.

8th transaction. ---  O. E. Fales      by 10,000  10” Clear Shingles  @ 2.50  2.40       =$25.00   $24.00

Why Mr. Fales was offered a lower price than Mr. Walker and then finally paid a still lower price for the shingles that he purchased is a mystery. Possibly this lot of shingles was in poor condition or maybe there was such a thing as "friends and family pricing."

9th transaction. ---  B. Uline   by sawing 1200 ft.   Ash, Reed, @ $3.00   =  $3.60

This is the 2nd time today Mr. Uline sent lumber to the sawmill to have sawing done. Business must be good at the butter tub factory. I would like to know more about what the company was cutting. Were they sawing Ash logs that Mr. Uline had or cutting lumber into smaller more useable sizes? As for the word that looks like “Reed” maybe this is a mistake on my part and they were writing, Ash Red???. Anyhow the price was the same as earlier in the day, $3.00 per 1000 ft.

10th transaction. ---   Bowser house      By 702 ft Cull Oak s1s   @ $12.00

The Bowser House was a Hotel in Early Nappanee. Possibly the “Cull Oak” was planned to be used as a wooden fence around a stable or back yard. The letters “s1s” is a lumberman’s term meaning the lumber was surfaced smooth on one surface. There are any number of reasons oak lumber could be classified as “Cull” lumber after it was sawed. Could be a bad or uneven color, have cracks, or twists, all of these defects are impossible to see while the lumber is still a log.

11th transaction. ---   Chas. Teal     By Screen Moulding               40

I’m guessing on this one too.  I think “Screen Moulding” is the small strip of wood nailed around the edges of screen on screen doors or windows. The spelling of the word moulding is an older used style, today the word is spelled Molding. Wonder how much you could get for $.40?

12 transaction. ---  Jacob Weygand    By Matching 829 ft. Beech @ $6.00

There is not a final cost recorded for this transaction, that may mean this is just the order to make the Matching 829 feet of beech. It will take some time to fill this order. I think that “Matching” in this instance means making a Tongue and groove wood joint on each piece of this lumber so it could be used as flooring or possible a grain bin where you do not want any cracks between the wood.

13th transaction. ---   B. J. miller & Co.        By s2s     88 ft Bass     @ $3.00

Again, this transaction may be the order from B. J. Miller & Co.  The “s2s” is another lumberman’s term meaning smoothing 2 surfaces smooth. Bass lumber is a very soft wood often used for hand carving. Wonder what they were going to make?

I was looking ahead a few days to see if I was correct about the last two transactions being ordered today for pickup in the future. I did not find any other transaction for these two accounts in the next 10 days. So, it is unclear what they did.

I did find an entry in this book that I have got to tell you about. It does not seem like the Coppes Bros. were drawing a regular paycheck. There are several examples where each of the 3 brothers withdrew cash from the business like it was their own bank account. Often listed as by cash, either for personal items or business items, or nothing noted. On July 2nd, 1886 this is the entry,  S.D. Coppes – by cash – Per Della & Lille (2 of Sam’s Daughters) - .08    Do you mean to tell me that Sam Coppes, the man that would soon purchase the Farmers and Traders Bank & also build the Coppes Hotel, did not have 8 cents to give to his daughters?

There is so much fantastic information in these ledgers that we have to make them available to the public. That is our plan, to purchase a scanner and upload the pages to the web for you to look at. When we do that is still up in the air, but stay tuned, as they say.