Royal Reels: Gambling


Tool companies usually make good use of their envelopes to spread the word about the superiority of their tools. Although the present cover is not as flamboyant as others, Disston saws in particular have almost a cult following in their frequent listing on Ebay auctions. The front of this cover is adorned with a fairly ordinary “If not called for in five days return to HENRY DISSTON & SONS INCORPORATED, P.O.BOX 1552, SYDNEY, N.S.W., AUSTRALIA” return address, with a routing ‘Via ‘Frisco, per “Aorangi”, February 21st, 1914’ and a blue 2½d roo on map of Australia stamp, postmarked with a roller SYDNEY, NSW cancel. It is addressed to the Corvel Manufacturing Co., Benton Harbor, Mich., U.S.A. (Figure 1).

The reverse has definitely more persuasive advertising with “IN COMPETITION WITH THE WORLD, SAW TOOLS, STEEL AND FILES, DISSTON, plus in a circle, Quality Seller (Figure 2).

Very early in the history of the company advertising was colourful, profuse and often educational, and the 1939 Saw, Tool and File Manual exemplifies this (Figure 3).

Not only are the old tools sought after at auction sites, but these manuals and adverts are also listed for sale. Their advertising spreads to other objects, with adverts placed on the front and reverse of watch fobs. On researching the firm one immediately recognized that this was a well respected, long standing American tool company, but information concerning a Sydney address was difficult to find.

The reason for this became apparent when a website known as the Disstonian Institute was found which provided an encyclopedic description of the history of the company, its tools, and its founder Henry Disston (Figure 4).

The family was traced back to Henry’s grandfather William Disston, a mill owner and operator near Tewkesbury, England, to the father Thomas Disston, a skilled mechanical engineer, and thence to Henry (1819-1878), a pioneer industrialist inventor who inherited their native business and skilled mechanical engineering abilities. Henry sailed from England and landed in Philadelphia in 1833, and after an apprenticeship he started a business of his own in 1840. Soon after a century in the tool manufacturing business the company went into decline and was incorporated into the H.K. Porter Company in 1955.

In a question and answer section of the above website, the first hint of the Sydney company emerged when a reader asked for details about a saw found in New Zealand with Toronto Canada etched on the saw. The answer was that Disston had a factory in Toronto, Canada from 1910 until at least the 1950’s. This allowed Disston to sell in the British Commonwealth without paying tariffs. “Disston also had a factory in Australia which opened in Sydney in 1926, probably closing in the 1950’s”.

In reply to my email question about this cover, I received the following information: “In 1914, Disston had a branch office in Sydney as well as a dozen others in the US and Canada. The office in Sydney would have been a place for sales representatives, not a manufacturing plant at that time. The factory opened in 1926. The Covel Company was a machine manufacturer that made lathes (as well as) a machine that perforated sheets of postage stamps. My guess is that the Disston branch in Sydney was not selling Disston products to Covel, but some other business was being conducted..”

This valuable information about the Sydney Disston office on the cover was forthcoming from Erik von Seidern’s Disstonian Institute, which incidentally is an informative read (

Categories: Advertising Covers