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J. Edwin Rich papers

 Collection — Box: 1
This collection consists of two copybooks of outgoing correspondence written by J. Edwin Rich of Rochester, NY. In 1901 Rich was general manager and, from 1907, sole owner of the Ideal Novelty Co. of Rochester, distributor of a small spinning top and several other toys. He was half-owner of the top’s patent, as well as inventor and half-owner of a patent for a musical toy. The correspondence reflects the efforts involved in running a small business, dealing with manufacturers, and soliciting orders from stores and distributors for the novelty company’s toys.

Rich also worked during 1903–1904 as a general agent for the H.C. White Co., North Bennington, VT, which manufactured and sold stereographs. He obtained salesmen for various sales territories and served as their intermediary with the company. From 1910 until the copybooks’ conclusion in 1912, he worked in an unknown capacity for the Standard Plating Company.

The copybooks also contain personal correspondence regarding property lots owned by Rich and others in Denver, CO, along with Rich’s handling of a relative’s estate.


  • 1901 - 1912

Conditions Governing Access and Use:

This collection of papers is open to research use by staff of The Strong and by users of its library and archives. The donor has unconditionally given the papers, together with all intellectual property right or interest (including, but not limited to any copyright, trademark, and associated rights therein), to The Strong.


1 Linear Feet (1 box)

Biographical Note

In 1901 J. Edwin Rich was assigned one-half of a patent (number 684,613) for a spinning top invented by Edwin R. McCall of Rochester. The first copybook began in June 1901, as Rich, general manager of the Ideal Novelty Co., solicited widely for sellers of this palm-sized toy called the Beauty Top. It was manufactured by the James H. Hawes Manufacturing Co., Towanda, PA, and sold retail for ten cents. Available in various colors, including green, red, and purple, with a combination of wide and narrow stripes, the small top bore a lithographed label. During that summer, the label depicted Buffalo’s Pan-American Exhibition, which may have been the impetus for the initial manufacture and sales of the top. Later in the year, a Christmas label depicting Santa Claus and his reindeer was also available.

Rich expended much energy in his solicitation letters describing the top’s virtues and salability: “Pull the cord once or twice, let it rewind each time into the string box, drop it down plumb on either end and you will be THE HAPPY SPINNER of the top rightly named the Beauty Top.” The top’s ability to spin on either end was touted as its major draw. Rich also provided advice on the best way to market the toy. A “bright boy” or a young lady should demonstrate the top in a high-traffic area of the store or shop. “We believe that the way to sell this little article is to have some one call the attention of the customers to its spinning qualities and if it will not sell when spun on one end try spinning it on the other and its antics seems to make it a very good salesman of itself.”

Rich’s letters detail various wholesale ordering and shipping procedures, along with issues around the top’s assembly and availability from the manufacturer. He wrote to stores and jobbers around the country, including F.W. Woolworth and S.S. Kresge, to interest them in selling the top. By late 1902 a “balloon bubble blower” was also for sale.

By 1903–1904 toy sales were slow, and with time on his hands, Rich offered his services to H. C. White Co. as a general agent for their stereograph sales. He obtained salesmen for various sales territories and served as their intermediary with the company. He advised his salesmen that “a $5.00 outfit entitles you to 53 views, a scope, case, literature, &c… The principle thing however is to know your views and be able to point out the interesting things about them.”

During this timeframe, Rich also stayed busy handling the affairs of a deceased relative and the disposition of several property lots in Denver, CO, for himself and some associates. In 1907 he stated he was the sole owner of the Ideal Novelty Co. and also secretary of the Rochester Brick & Tile Manufacturing Co. Ideal Novelty was now selling three toys: the Beauty Top, the Rainbow Buzz (“a musical toy”), and the Rainbow Whirl. Rich had applied for a patent for the Rainbow Buzz in 1907, and it was finally granted in 1910 (patent number 976,695). He was listed as the inventor, and he assigned one-half of the patent to Edwin R. McCall.

Rich sought marketing advice from others while stepping up his efforts to publicize the company’s toys with stores and jobbers. His last letter connected with the company was sent in July 1909. From 1910 until the second copybook concluded in 1912, Rich’s letters concerned the Standard Plating Co.

Custodial History:

The J. Edwin Rich Papers were part of the original estate of Margaret Woodbury Strong.

Repository Details

Part of the Brian Sutton-Smith Library and Archives of Play at The Strong Repository

The Strong
One Manhattan Square
Rochester NY 14607 USA
585.423.1886 (Fax)