J.F.W. Dorman is said to have been the first to actually commercialize the making of rubber stamps. He started as a sixteen-year-old travelling stencil salesman in St. Louis and opened his first business in Baltimore in 1865. In 1866 Dorman, who had enjoyed a brief career on the stage before the Civil War, learned the technique of manufacturing rubber stamps from an inventor. Dorman made his first stamps under cover of night with his wife’s assistance in an effort to keep the process a secret. Dorman was quite an inventor, and his contributions to the industry were numerous. His eventual specialty was the manufacture of the basic tool of the trade — the vulcaniser. His company continues in business today.
The first stamp-making outfit ever exported from the U.S. to a foreign country was shipped by R.H. Smith Manufacturing Company to Peru in 1873. Back on the home front, companies continued to spring up. In 1880 there were fewer than four hundred stamp men, but by 1892 their ranks had expanded to include at least four thousand dealers and manufacturers. An amazing number of these first companies are still in business today, frequently under their original names or merged with others whose roots lie in the mid- and late 1880s.
B.B.Hill Self-inking stamp. Patented in 1886, US Patent 338,153
It was a small, tight-knit industry, characteristics it retains today. The longevity of the companies is no more astonishing than the attitude of stamp men themselves. Once in the business, people tended to stay loyal to it. During our research, we were amazed at the number of people who had spent forty or fifty or more happy years in the industry.
Early rubber stamping makers tended to be colourful, and many frontiers like exploits dot the landscape. Louis K. Scotford and his companion Will Day set off across Indian Territory to the settlements in Texas carrying their stamp-making equipment in an old lumber wagon. The country was wild and rugged in 1876, frequented by bandits and Indians. L.K. and Will solicited orders during the day, made the stamps at night, and delivered the following day in time for the intrepid pair to harness up and head out once again. It was a romantic adventure and not unprofitable. At the end of their three thousand-mile trek, the two returned to St. Louis with two twenty-five-pound shot bags filled with silver dollars.
Charles Klinkner, who established his West Coast stamp house in 1873, would have been the pride of any modern-day publicity agent. Klinkner was prone to calling attention to his wares in startling, unorthodox ways. He rode around San Francisco and Oakland in a little red cart drawn by a donkey rakishly dyed a rainbow of colours. To make his stamps sound like something extra special, he advertised them as “Red Rubber Stamps,” and people were convinced it meant something. At the time, almost all stamps were made from red-coloured rubber. Ah, the power of suggestion. (Ref: The Rubber Stamp Album by Joni Miller & Lowry Thompson)