Illfelder Importing Co., 131 E. 23rd St. at Lexington Ave. (2002)

The Illfelder Importing Co. that moved to 131 East 23rd St. in 1938 dated back to Berolzheimer, Illfelder & Co., pencils, at 97 William St. in 1861.

Leopold Illfelder, with Daniel Berolzheimer, had founded the Vera-Bleistift-Fabrik (pencil factory) in Fürth, Bavaria, Germany in 1856, and the New York business became their USA branch in 1861. By this time Daniel Berolzheimer (died 1858) had been replaced by his son, Heinrich Berolzheimer (1836-1906).

Leopold Illfelder and Bernhard Illfelder (1843?-1888) (he was Bernard in the U. S.), along with Heinrich Berolzheimer (he called himself Henry Berolzheimer in the U. S.), were variously involved with pencils, stationery, and importing (mostly at 60 John St. in lower Manhattan) throughout the 1860s and 1870s. Around 1870 the name, Berolzheimer, Illfelder & Co., was shortened to B. Illfelder & Co.

Around this time they were joined by Bernhard Illfelder's brother, Max Illfelder (1854-1943) so that there were three Illfelders until 1888 when Bernhard died.

In March 1888 this ad for B. Illfelder & Co. appeared in The American Stationer, announcing the death of Bernard Illfelder.

The following obituary of Bernhard Illfelder appeared in the same issue of The American Stationer, "Bernhard Illfelder, senior member of the firm of B. Illfelder & Co., wholesale and importing stationers, 60 John street, died suddenly on Wednesday, February 29, at his home, 823 Lexington avenue, New York, aged forty-five years. The funeral will take place on Friday (to-morrow) from his late residence at 10 A.M. The deceased was born in 1842 at Fuerth, Bavaria, and came to this country in 1864, when he was employed by the firm of Berolzheimer, Illfelder & Co., in which his step-father was then a partner. He next became associated with John C. Richards, who had some time previously left Berolzheimer & Co. and established himself in business under his own name, and the two afterward became merged into J. Reckendorfer & Co., of 60 John street. In the year 1866 Reckendorfer retired from the firm and the firm became known as Illfelder, Richards & Co., until Mr. Richards retired and joined the American News Company. The deceased leaves a widow, and his aged father still resides at Fuerth, where also his brother Max is engaged in the manufacture of lead pencils on the original site of the Eagle Pencil Factory."

B. Illfelder & Co. around 1890 moved to 524 Broadway and in 1895 to 97 Bleecker St. where they were located until 1917. At around the turn of the century B. Illfelder began a specialty of importing toys from Europe, particularly dolls. Many antique dealers, etc. on the internet refer to Illfelder as a major importer of dolls from European makers.

In the mid-1920s the principals at B. Illfelder were Lewis Levy, Moses B. Schmidt, and Franz Illfelder. Franz Bernard Illfelder (1888-1960) was Max Illfelder's son. The Illfelders seem not to have established permanent homes in New York. Franz Illfelder, for instance, appears in both the 1910 and 1920 US Censuses, but each time as a boarder in somebody else's home. He did, however, become a naturalized citizen, and registered for the World War I draft in 1917 while working as a "Buyer B. Illfelder & Co. 29 Union Square, NY City." A photograph dated 1928 by Percy Loomis Sperr (1890-1964) in the Digital Collections at the New York Public Library shows a sign reading B. Illfelder & Co / Imported Domestic / Dolls / Toys / Fancy Goods on the building at 29 Union Square West (southwest corner 16th St.).

In the early 1930s the name changed to Illfelder Importing, dropping the B. The Illfelder Importing Co. was located here at 131 E. 23rd St. from 1938 to 1968/69. They continued in business some years after (until the late 1980s).

Early in the Illfelder company history their pencils were given the name Eagle Pencils. The Merchants' Directory published in 1866 by J. Harford & Co. listed, "Berolzheimer, Illfelder & Co., Manufacturers of the Eagle Pencils (Patented April 3d, 1860), 60 John street, Henry Berolzheimer, Furth. Leopold Illfelder, Furth. Joseph Reckendorfer, New York." Eventually the pencil manufacturing division of Illfelder became known as the Eagle Pencil Co. This company name first appeared in New York city directories in 1872.

In 1874 The Eagle Pencil Co. was also known as Berolzheimer, Illfelder & Reckendorfer, the partners being Henry (ie, Heinrich) Berolzheimer, Leopold Illfelder, and Joseph Reckendorfer. This company was located at 73 Franklin St. In 1885 Eagle Pencil Co. was reformatted as a stock company and purchased property on East 14th St. for manufacturing. The main office remained at 73 Franklin St. until 1897 when they moved to 377 Broadway. Twenty years later the office moved to 703 E. 13th St., where a number of new additions had been added to the original 14th St. location. President of Eagle Pencil Co. from 1883 until his death in 1922 was Henry Berolzheimer's son, Emil Berolzheimer (1862-1922).

The following appeared in the New York Times, 26 May 1922, pg. 19, "Emil Berolzheimer, for thirty-five years President of the Eagle Pencil Company and a brother of City Chamberlain Philip Berolzheimer, died suddenly yesterday morning of heart disease in his home on the White Plains Road, Tarrytown, N. Y., following an illness of two weeks. He was born in Fuerth, Bavaria, about sixty years ago, of a family of pencil makers. In 1883 he came to this country, his father having already founded the Eagle Pencil Company here. In 1885 he was made President of the company." A biography of Emil Berolzheimer (including photograph) appeared in Geyer's Stationer, 4 May 1922. This is available as a google book on the internet.

Another important figure at both Illfelder and at Eagle Pencil was Joseph Reckendorfer (1836-1883). Henry Hall's America's Successful Men of Affairs, 1895-96, summed up Joseph Reckendorfer's life as follows, "Joseph Reckendorfer, manufacturer, who originated in Furth, Bavaria, Sept. 18, 1836, dying in Long Branch, N. J., July 7, 1883, made his reputation for fortune by coming to the United States at the age of eighteen and embarking in the lead pencil industry. While the beginning was exceedingly modest, he succeeded so well that in a few years' time he was able to compete with foreign manufacturers strongly and forced a reduction of the prices of lead pencils. For many years, he manufactured only the well known cheaper grades of his goods, but in 1878, added patented automatic action and aniline pencils to his productions, the latter proving especially popular. The industry grew rapidly and to large proportions. For many years, the business occupied a factory on East 14th street, covering nearly an entire block. Mr. Reckendorfer lived in a handsome residence at No. 20 East 74th street. The year before his death, he took great interest in Russian emigration and acted as treasurer of a society which has the matter in charge. He was a devoted student, spending his entire evenings over his books, and was one of the directors of the Home for Aged and Infirm Hebrews and of the Harmonie club. In 1860, he married Babette, daughter of Samuel Frank, and was the father of Mrs. Daisy R. Strauss and Louis J. and Samuel J. Reckendorfer."

Joseph Reckendorfer's sons, Louis Joseph Reckendorfer (1866-1928) and Samuel Joseph Reckendorfer (1870-1949) were also pencil manufacturers. In 1885 they purchased the American Lead Pencil Co. from its founder, Edward Weissenborn, who had started the company in Jersey City Heights, New Jersey in 1864. The American Lead Pencils Co. retained manufacturing facilities in New Jersey (for many years the factory was located at 590 Willow Ave., Hoboken) but also opened offices and showrooms in New York. The American Lead Pencil Co. manufactured Venus Pencils. This ad for the American Lead Pencil Co. dates from 1921, when their offices were located at 220 5th Ave., New York City.

Following 1917 at the height of anti-German feeling in the U. S., the Reckendorfers changed their surname to Reckford. So it was as Louis J. Reckford that this obituary of Louis J. Reckendorfer appeared in the New York Times, 23 March 1928, pg. 21, "Louis J. Reckford, President of the American Lead Pencil Company, died yesterday at Mount Sinai Hospital following an operation for which he had gone to the hospital the previous evening. Mr. Reckford had been ill only a few days, and his ailment was not considered serious enough for an operation until Wednesday. He was 62 years old and had been President of his company, which was founded by his father, Joseph Reckendorfer, since his graduation from Columbia in 1886. He was also President of the Pencil Makers' Association. He is survived by his widow, Louise King Reckford; one son, John King Reckford, Treasurer of the company, and two daughters, Mrs. Louis J. Grumbach and Miss Adelaide Reckford. The funeral arrangements will be announced today."

Samuel J. Reckendofer's obituary (New York Times, 17 June 1949, pg. 23) also appeared under the name Reckford: "Sam J. Reckford of 30 East Sixty-eighth Street, Chairman of the board and a founder of the American Lead Pencil Company, manufacturers of Venus pencils, died Wednesday night in Mount Sinai Hospital, after a brief illness. Born in New York 79 years ago. a son of Joseph Reckford, former president of the Eagle Pencil Company, and Babette Frank Reckford, he became a Columbia University student and left the university in 1887 to found with his brother, the late Louis J. Reckford, the American Lead Pencil Company. From a small beginning, the brothers built the business into one that was world-wide. Mr. Reckford served as president until he became chairman of the board fifteen years ago. He was a director of the Venus Pencil Company, Ltd., of London ; the Venus Pencil Company, Ltd., of Canada; the Societe du Crayon Venus of Paris, the Essex Lumber Company of Sacramento, Calif., and the Essex Corporation of Charlottesville, Va. Mr. Reckford leaves a son, Joseph S., president of the American Lead Pencil Company; two daughters, Mrs. Marion R. Mack and Mrs. Richard P. Limburg, and six grandchildren. His wife, Mrs. Florence Lewisohn Reckford, daughter of the late Adolph Lewisohn, financier and philanthropist, died in 1907."

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