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100 Year Old Junk Mail

October 11, 2016

Archival collections can answer many questions, but they can also create many more.  While preparing the records of St. Luke Penny Savings/Consolidated Bank from around 1914-1917 for researchers, I’ve often thought to myself what director Maggie Walker thought reading letter after letter, especially junk mail, addressed to “Dear Sir”.

Or what she thought about all the junk mail in general.

The clerk at least seemed to think they were important enough to keep and file away, but not always important enough to open. Yet, since junk mail is something so many of us toss into the trash without a second thought, seeing it appear in an archives is a rare treat.

So what did junk mail look like 100 years ago?

Well it seems that just about everyone had something to sell to a bank: adding machines, stamping machines, perforator machines, label making machines, coin-counting machines, coin wrappers, coin bags, check files, signature card files, checks (patriotic ones with flags will “curb hoarding” during wartime), bonds, banker’s pins (watch out for those things, they are sharp), safes, ledgers, signs, rubber stamps, inkstands, and fingerprinting kits to name a few. It takes a lot of money to run a bank. Pun intended.

And how did one entice people to buy these products? In many of the same ways we do now.


100 year old click-bait.


Flashy graphics


Gimmicks, such as this flyer that turns into a fan.

And lots of and lots of samples. In fact, if I never see another check sample again it will be too soon. However, not only are there check and check book samples. We found a few other things such as…

“Sanitary” cups


Adhesive labels


And even tile. Yes, there was a piece of tile filed away in the bank’s letter boxes. Unfortunately, I can’t attest to the fact that it holds up perfectly for 100 years.


So did any of these tactics work? It seems so, because amidst the other correspondence I found a receipt for a rush order of 1000 pencils bearing the inscription “St. Luke Penny Savings Bank. You can figure out your savings with this pencil.”

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Jessica Bennett
Special Collections and Art Librarian

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