This illustrated cover (front only) has intrigued me for eleven years on account of the unusual names of both the sending and reception companies, the quality of the illustration, the ‘socked on nose’ clarity of the cancellations and the resistance of the cover to meaningful research. The breakthrough occurred after an email to the Walkerton Branch Library, where the research cost was a princely sum of two Canadian dollars.
The cover was sent ‘via San Francisco’ to The American Rattan Coy. of Walkerton Ltd, Walkerton Ontario. The red horizontal ‘Halfpenny Stamp Duty’ QV stamp and a pair of orange ‘One Penny Stamp Duty’ QV stamp as well as the single blue ‘Six Pence Stamp Duty’ QV stamp were cancelled with three fine examples of the duplex SPENCER STREET R.S./ MR 14/ 99/ MELBOURNE with the VICTORIA obliterator. The intricate company illustration had a horizontal banner inscribed LANCASHIRE PATENT BELTING & HOSE CO. MANCHESTER/ CONTACTORS / TO H.M. GOVERNMENT, examples of 20 medals, a large ribbon inscribed ‘25 FIRST AWARDS’, as well as a smaller ribbon inscribed ‘ESTAB. 1860' (Figure 1).
The only other philatelically-related item I have seen for the American Rattan company was found at Maresch Philatelic company site in Toronto (Auction 431, Lot 1073, sold for $375) on a part undated newspaper wrapper handstamped AMERICAN RATTAN, CO’Y and the printed grey half cent ‘CANADA POST’ QV stamp was cancelled with a double oval TORONTO/ 1/ ONT postmark (Figure 2).
The Lancashire Patent Belting & Hose Company, was established in Manchester, Lancashire in 1860 for the production of leather, canvas and other types of belting. The only reference of any import that was found was seen in the digitised Google Book The Paper Trade Review dated July 8, 1887, page 39: The company secured the contract for supply of belting in use in the machinery in the motion department at the Adelaide Exhibition (year not given), and shipped 20,000 feet of Lancashire Patent Hair Belting for that purpose. "We recently visited at "Strangeways (a district in Manchester), and learned with surprise that their season’s stock on the premises if laid end to end would exceed fifty miles in length, and includes a range of sizes from one to seventy-eight inches wide." It is obvious that it was a very large company, and its date of closure has not been found.
Information on the American Rattan Company of Walkerton does not include whether it was related to an American company, and the recorded history probably denies the possibility. In the late 1800s as shown by the 1899 date on the present cover (not early 1900s as in a recorded history), a large furniture manufacturing company, "Canada Furniture Manufacturing Ltd" decided to open a branch factory in Walkerton Ontario to make wicker furniture. The accepted name for wicker is rattan, so the company was called the Rattan Factory. Rattan is made from a species Calameae, a group of climbing palm trees from tropical Africa, Asia and Australasia.
A picture of the factory is found in the 1921 Souvenir Book printed by the Walkerton Bruce Herald and Times which shows a huge factory which was renamed the Walkerton Rattan Factory, and it was managed by Mr. L.C. Benton. The firm originated in Toronto and it relocated in Walkerton largely the result of efforts of Mr. John R. Shaw, a well-known Walkertonian, residing at Toronto. At the height of the popularity of rattan furniture, baby buggies and basinets, the company’s rattan products were shipped to all parts of Canada by train carloads, from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Victoria, British Columbia, and even overseas. The business flourished until the Great Depression of 1929 and the factory closed about this time. The manager, Mr. Benton was considered one of Walkerton’s wealthiest men. A drawing of the American Rattan Company in Walkerton is seen in Figure 3.
The relationship between the two companies is not known, but it is reasonable to assume that sender was the supplier of belts for machinery used in the American Rattan Company, in Walkerton.
I am indebted for the research performed by Tracey Knapp, Supervisor, Walkerton Branch Library, Walkerton Ontario.