The Library of Virginia recently acquired business records of Ephraim Baker (1836-1919) of Mount Olive, Virginia (Accession 51052). Baker, born on 13 December 1836 in Topnot, Shenandoah County, Virginia, was the son of Lewis Baker (1808-1889) and Anna Dellinger (1811-1879). He operated a general store in Mount Olive for most of his life. The store was used as a hospital during the Civil War. Ephraim Baker was married twice, and died on 19 June 1919. He is buried in St. Stephen’s Cemetery in Strasburg.
The majority of the collection consists of correspondence, accounts, and accounts of sales to Baker from commission merchants in Alexandria and Baltimore. The correspondence includes information on market conditions and current prices of goods being sold. There are also circulars, advertisements, and price lists from various merchants. Baker was an agent for the Davis Sewing Machine Company of Watertown, New York, and the collection contains correspondence and invoices from the company’s headquarters. Also included are customer orders from local residents requesting goods from Baker’s store.
Among the records is an 1871 Green & Brother catalog with annotated prices. Nineteenth century furniture catalogs or price lists are fairly unusual to find, and this one has particular importance for the furniture making business in Virginia. As early as 1820, English born cabinetmaker William Green was advertising his furniture in the Alexandria Gazette. From their beginning, the Green family emphasized providing furniture to country customers. The shipping of flour from the Shenandoah Valley to Alexandria helped provide a connection to these customers. By 1834, the Green furniture business, then headed by William’s son James, purchased a three-story brick building on the corner of Prince and Fairfax Streets in Alexandria. In the same year, a steam engine was installed for sawing and turning wood. By 1857, the business was run by James’s sons John W. and Stephen A., and the company became Green & Brother. By the 1850’s, merchants from the Shenandoah Valley were a large customer base for the company. In 1868, John W. Green was replaced by his brother James E. Green. The company continued operation until 1887. The price list has detailed descriptions of a variety of furniture forms with options available to customers. For more information on the Green cabinetmaking business, see The Green Family of Cabinetmakers : An Alexandria Institution, 1817-1887 (Alexandria, VA : The Lyceum, 1986 ).
The Ephraim Baker Records, cataloged as Accession 50152, are open to research at the Library of Virginia. In addition to the business records, there is also personal correspondence from Baker’s family, and numerous photographs, mostly of the Frye family of Woodstock, Virginia. Click here to view the finding aid for the collection.
-Chris Kolbe, Archives Reference Coordinator, and Jim Greve, Senior Collection Development Archivist