In 1826 three men, Samuel W. Collins, his brother David C. Collins and their cousin William Wells, formed an axe manufacturing business under the name Collins & Co. They opened a manufacturing facility in South Canton, Connecticut by the Tunxis River. In 1830, the village where the factory was located was renamed Collinsville, and the river was renamed to the Farmington River.
The location for manufacturing was chosen because of the readily available high quality iron produced by a local company, Watkinson & Co. The company made a wide variety of edged tools in addition to axes. The axes gained a particularly high reputation, and were well finished and ready to use out of the box.
Beginning in 1832, the Collins Company began to hire traveling agents to show samples of their products and to distribute circulars. They sold wholesale to George Handy, one of the largest and best known hardware merchants in Philadelphia, where many of the retail stores in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, stocked their shelves.
This letter was written by an agent for the Collins Axe Company documenting his efforts to get the proprietors of hardware stores in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and neighboring villages, to commit to purchases of his employer’s axes for their shelves. The signature on the letter is P. B. Foster who I think may have been Pierpont Beers Foster (1809-1886) of New Haven, Connecticut. Pierpont was still unmarried in 1833. He married Stella Law Bishop in 1838.
Foster wrote the letter to his employer, Samuel Watkinson Collins (1802-1871) who began his company in 1826, producing axes. In 1832, Collins hired 24-year-old Elisha K. Root, who made industrial improvements that both improved the quality of Collins’ axes, and revolutionized the efficiency of their manufacture.
Addressed to S. W. Collins, Eqr., Collinsville, Hartford County, Connecticut
Letter No. 31
May 5th 1833
S. W. Collins, Dear Sir,
Yours of the 9th April I received in this place last week & have noted its contents. I had observed the paragraphs in the papers relative to the axe machine & also the statement of Capt. Moses from which I took the hint & Chase universally denied the existence of any other machinery at the works than that connects with bone & sinew. I have as yet heard of no purchases in the cities for less than $20. My operations since I last wrote you on the 29th April have been as follows.
Monday (April 9th). Called on A. Campbell who buys of O. H. & T. W. Smith & has sold no axes. Has just returned from Philadelphia & had 2 dozen Manns axes put into his bill without his consent which he says that he must try to sell, but that I may depend upon his getting some of ours next August at all events. Called on James Byan who buys of Konigmacher & has sold Brady’s axes which prove good was pleased with my sample & says that he will surely get some 1st opportunity. Rode 6 miles to Bainbridge which contains but one store kept by F. Hipple who has sold no axes — is going to Philadelphia in 2 or 3 days & promises to get some of ours without fail, Rode six miles to Maytown which contains 2 stores & called on Fem & Kanfetts who buy of Bird & Br’s — have sold none but Brady’s axes which prove good — is going to Philadelphia next week & pledged me his word that he would make trial of a dozen of ours. Called on J. M. & E. R. Hastings who buy of C. S. & T. W. Smith & are now selling Simmons axes which cost $1.9 & sell at $2 & has heard of none that proved bad. Had heard of ours & will get some the next time that he goes to Philadelphia. Rode 2 miles to Marietta which contains 4 stores & called on Hertzer & Wilson who buy of Bird & Br’s — do a large business & have sold none but Brady’s axes & had never heard of ours. Is going to Philadelphia in 2 weeks & pledged himself to get 1 or 2 doz of ours. Rode 6 miles to Mt. Joy & called on James H. Fem who has sold no axes but thinks that many of ours would sell in this place. Is going to Philadelphia in July & says that I may depend upon his getting some of them at that time. Brady makes axes in this place but I was unable to learn to what extent. Rode 3 miles & stopped.
Tuesday. Rode 9 miles to Lancaster & called on H. W. Sundacker who has recently commenced business here & is selling our axes & those stamped Hawer said to come from our works & bought of Konigmacher some of which had R. Kings bills in the rye. He has sold but few of our axes as yet but has heard of none that proved bad & will continue to sell them. Also sells our shingling hatchets. Called on John F. Stuman who has sold no axes but S. Hoffmans (who has recently died) which prove good. Would be pleased to sell ours if it did not interfere with his trade with the Smiths. Called on George Louis Mayer who sells our axes & finds them to prove good. Sells 5 or 6 dozen annually & will continue to sell them. He also sells A. Kinsey’s axes which prove good for which he has to pay more than for ours but some of his customers will have them. George Mayer has sold our axes but sells none now but those made in town for fear of injuring his custom. G. Sener makes axes in this town which are very famous. Employs only 4 or 5 hands. The merchants here say that our axes are becoming more generally introduced & approved [and] that the sales increase & think that soon no other axes will be sold here.
Wednesday. Rode 10 miles to Columbia & learned that an agent was there last season. D. Eagle buys of Langstroth & Bolden & just obtained our axes. Has sold 1 dozen which proved very good with the exception of one which was broken in a flaw. He will continue to sell them. J. F. Cottenill Co. & P. Haldeman buy of Martin Craven & Smith & both have supplied themselves with our axes which prove very good. J. F. Co. Co. have sold about 4 dozen. The Smiths in this place are much opposed to our axes & do all in their power to injure their credit & have made a brague that they would in no case repair them which prevents the sale of many. Rode 4 miles to Washington which contains 2 stores & called on G. G. Brush who has sold no axes. Was pleased with my samples. Is soon going to Philadelphia and promises to get some without fail if I would not call at the other store. Rode 8 miles to Millerstown which contains one small store kept by John Bowman who buys of Bowlby & Weaver & has sold no axes. Took a circular but would not promise to get any of the axes at present. Rode 4 miles to Lancaster.
Thursday. Rode six miles to Petersburg which contains but one store kept by Huber & Brubaker who buy of Martin Craver & Smith. Have sold no axes & objects to doing so as there is a Smith in town that makes axes. Rode 8 miles to Sporting Hill where there is one store kept by John Metzger who buys of [Adam] Konigmacher & has sold no axes. Was pleased with my sample & says that I may depend upon his getting a dozen in a few weeks when he goes to Philadelphia. Rode 2 miles to Manheim & called on John Arndt who buys of [Adam] Konigmacher & has sold none but Brady’s axes. Was pleased with my sample & says that many of them would sell there & that he will surely get some of them in a few weeks. P & G Arndt are now opening a small hardware store but have no axes. Buy mostly of [Adam] Konigmacher & say that they will get some of ours in a few days. Rode 7 miles to Litiz (which place was visited last season) & called on J. B. Tshindy who sells about 2 dozen of our axes annually & finds them to prove good buys of [Adam] Konigmacher. Has sold them for 3 years & will continue to sell them.
Friday. Rode 8 miles to Ephrata which contains one small store kept by John Gross who buys of Bowlby & Weaver & has sold no axes. Is going to Philadelphia in August & thinks he will make a trial of our axes but would not promise. Rode 4 miles to Hinkletown & called on Andrew Bush who sells about 3 dozen of our axes annually & has never known one to fail & will continue to sell them. Rode 1 mile to the store of Isaac Stoufer who is now in Philadelphia. Has never sold axes. His father said that he had seen ours & liked them much & would induce his son to get some. Rode 9 miles to Churchtown which contains 3 stores & called on Edward Davies who buys of R. Paxon & has sold no axes. Is engaged in the manufacture of iron & thinks that he can sell many & says that [paper torn] upon his ordering 1 dozen on trial next week. Rode 3 miles to Morgantown. It is a pretty & contains 2 small stores. Called on W. Morris & Son who buy of Martin, Craven & Smith & have sold no axes. This section of country is supplied with Shear steel axes made by a man named Adams in Adams Town which prove good & as they sell him steel they refused to do anything with ours. Thomas Crews buys of R. Buck & Co. & has sold no axes. Thinks that he will try some of ours but would not promise.
Saturday. Rode 7 miles to Waynesburg which contains 2 stores & called on William Hardy who buys of Baker & Moss & has sold no axes. Was much pleased with my sample & says that he will order some with other goods in a few days. Called on William S. Sallyards who buys of [Adam] Konigmacher & has sold no axes. Is going to Philadelphia next week & says that I may depend upon getting one dozen of ours. Rode 9 miles to New Holland which contains 2 stores & called on Smoker & Walker who do a large business. Buys of [Adam] Konigmacher & have sold Hoffmans, Lenus, & a few of our axes which proved good but he got them some time since when the ____ & their customers. Now afraid that they would fail. They liked my sample well & will forthwith get some. Rode 13 miles to Lancaster.
Sunday. Staid at Lancaster. As there are many towns on the roads leading from this place, I have had to reach this place 3 times. I shall now go down into Chester & Montgomery Counties to Philadelphia. Respectfully yours, — P. B. Foster
The best resource available for further research on this subject would be American axes: a survey of their development and their makers By Henry J. Kauffman