Back in November, we found a letter in the basement fireplace of 97 Orchard Street. It had clearly fallen behind a wall and had sat there, untouched, perhaps as far back as 1933, when it was mailed.
Everyone was abuzz about what could be inside. Friends on Twitter wondered if it was a love letter, hidden where it wouldn't be found. We knew only that a man named Mr. Scher (to whom the letter was addressed) was a mentor to Max Marcus, who ran an auction house in 97 Orchard Street in the 1930s.
On our blog post, we received a couple of helpful comments. James from Inside the Apple looked up PO Box 743, the return address, and traced it to the Biddle Purchasing Company. A few months later, a man with family ties to the company wrote in with more information: "Biddle was a purchasing and buying service for the hardware trades, including Automotive, opening for business in 1879."
So, we had a purchasing company (a middleman) writing a letter to a jobber (another kind of middleman). Was it a business note? Would we find a form letter or perhaps something more personal inside?
Well, a few weeks ago we were finally able to open the envelope. And we found... an invoice and packing slip. Hmm.
All we know about New Aseptic Laboratories is what a quick Google search turned up - that they were a Columbia, South Carolina company that had several cases filed against them in the 1940s for " the mis-branding of absorbent cotton" -- shipping "sterile cotton" that was not, in fact, sterile. We don't know why Biddle Purchasing was sending an invoice from another company.
Okay, so after all that build up, paperwork probably seems pretty mundane. But here at the Tenement Museum, we're all about the mundane, those bits of ephemera that make up our daily lives and those of the thousands of working-class people who lived in 97 Orchard Street. It's the reason we save bottle caps, petrified bagels, love notes, sheet music, handmade scooters, and even crack vials (yup, someday we'll want to tell the story of the 1980s, too).
So yes, we think this packing slip and invoice can tell us something about work and business here at 97 Orchard Street, perhaps fill in some gap later on down the line. And you never know - something amazing could be discovered thanks to this long-lost correspondence.
- posted by kate