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The Hub Axe

  Boston, Massachusetts, established in 1630, is one of United State’s oldest large seaports. By the early 1700s, the city was known around the world as the “New World’s” wealthiest coastal towns, with a steady shipping industry dealing in rum, lumber, ores, salt, and tobacco. By the early 1800s, Boston was rivaled only by New York City as the financial center of the growing United States.  In 1813, Francis Cabot Lowell, a wealthy Boston merchant formed a group known as “The Boston Associates”, and together they used British technology to start a manufacturing facility for cotton textiles. The industry spurred even more financial success for Boston, and the founders of that company, along with other wealthy citizens of the city, developed an aristocratic culture that permeated the growing seaport’s society.

Boston soon became a much talked about city, with influential men of wealth and thought traveling to the area to visit, as well as writing and speaking about the town’s potential. William Tudor, an affluent lawyer and politician from Boston, was quoted as noting his town as the “Athens of America”. In 1858, Oliver Wendell Holmes, an early American physician and well-spoken of poet, referred to Boston as “The Hub of the Solar System,” setting off the thought that Boston was so important that it was simply the center of the Universe. This thought eventually developed into mentions of Boston being “The Hub of the Universe” or just “The Hub”. By the 1860s, this final, short version became a well published nickname for the city.

   The nickname soon saturated Boston, with business names such as “The Hub Paper and Stationery Company” and the “Hub Wire Cloth & Wire Work Company” popping up in the city’s business directory. Products economizing on the nickname became popular within the surrounding area, as the marketing of “The Hub” built upon the aristocratic superiority that was associated with Boston itself. One such product was “The Hub Axe” of Brooks, Baldwin, and Robbins Wholesale Hardware Company.

Brooks, Baldwin, and Robbins was formed around 1883 when a number of Boston based hardware forms combined. The company chose to do business out of 113 and 115 Milk Street, in the heart of what was known as the city’s “Hardware District”. Being a wholesale hardware company, the business provided tools of all sorts, and axes were one of the tools they provided. They were not a manufacturer, but work with many manufacturers to obtain the goods they would eventually distribute to hardware stores that they did business with. Along with the Hub Axe, the company also distributed the Hub Saw, Hub Files, and even a Hub Lawnmower. Each was marked with its own proprietary markings, many noting “label Companies” as the “Hub Saw Co”. We know that The Hub Axe, at that time, was a paper label offering, with a label that noted that the axe was “made” by “Brooks, Baldwin & Robbins” of Boston. However, no manufacturing facility was directly claimed by the company, and the Sanborn Fire Insurance maps from the times show that the building they were located in was office and shop space (the same location would later be used by the New England Telephone and Telegraph Company). The company also noted multiple times in the press that they supported the “jobber” hierarchy and were not a manufacturer, simply a wholesaler playing a part in the supply chain. On January 1st of 1894, Brooks, Baldwin, and Robbins would undergo a leadership change and stock would exchange hands, leaving the company with a new name: “Baldwin, Robbins, and Company.” The new ownership was made up of Thomas H. Baldwin, John H. Robbins, Austin H. Decatur, and Willam A. Hopkins. A fifth name noted as being important to the company was their lead New England Hardware Salesman, who had been with Brooks, Baldwin, and Robbins since 1888, James H. Jones. Jones was originally from Brooksville, Maine, and had cut his teeth in the hardware trade at George O. Bailey Hardware in Belfast, Maine, prior to relocating to Boston.

The business change in 1894 would change many aspects of the company’s operation, but most important to axe enthusiasts would be the addition of a stamp to The Hub Axe. The new management, for whatever reason or reasons, saw it necessary to acquire axe heads with a specific stamp: Two diamond shapes, one with the word “HUB” within, and the other with the date of manufacture. Stamps as early as 1895 have been noted, though 1894 may be waiting to be found. Over the next 20 years, axes sold under the HUB name would include stamps as such, each with its own year. However, the stamps for each year are not exactly the same. For example, the diamonds for some years are touching, whereas other years have a varying degree of separation between the Hub diamond and the date diamond. Accessory stamps, such as a weight stamp, seem to appear on some heads during certain years and not others. These differences suggest not only small batch manufacturing, but also the possibility of multiple manufacturers over the years of production, which seemed to end around 1914.

Varying manufacturers is not unusual for wholesale hardware companies, and is likely the explanation for the differences in HUB axes. Numerous guesses have been made as to who manufactured the Hub Axe for Baldwin, Robbins, and Company, though many of them are significantly incorrect. One such guess has been Hubbard and Company, with one source even claiming that the axe to be the “Hubbard and Company Double Diamond Line”. There are some definite reasons why these axes most certainly did not come from Hubbard and Company. In 1889, Hubbard and Company, led by Charles W. Hubbard Senior, was one of the most invested companies in the formation of the American Axe and Tool Company. Their involvement included splitting their axe manufacturing assets from the rest of the company and injecting them into the new company. This limited what Hubbard and Co. could market without a mention of the American Axe and Tool Company logo, and also negated the creation of any new lines. As the American Axe and Tool Company had numerous hardware business lines, the creation of a new one, with just a mention of Hubbard, in a nonstandard way, for Baldwin, Robbins, and Co. would have been unlikely. The duration of the dated stamps likewise disconnects Hubbard and Co. from the ability to have produced the Hub Axe as well, as stamps for 1913 and 1914 are frequently found, and the axe business involved in Hubbard and Company axe production, led by that time by Charles W. Hubbard Junior through the American Axe and Tool Company, ended in 1912 when C.W. Hubbard Junior retired.

    Two much more likely possibilities for manufacturers who supplied Baldwin, Robbins, and Company with the Hub Axe, at least for a portion of the time they were produced, are the Rixford Manufacturing Company and/or the CAC Axe Company. Numerous historians have noted the “Maine-like” qualities of some of the Hub Axes, including the ornate weight stamps occasionally found under the polls of some heads. The stamp, in an elaborate script and in a fractional format, is similar to a number of Maine makers. Likewise, the Rixford Manufacturing Company of East Highgate, Vermont, used such a weight stamp around the turn of the century. In fact, Rixford’s catalogs from the 1890 distinctly show such weight stamps, and numerous Rixford heads from the early 1900s have scripted weight stamps that match the style used on the Hub Axes that exhibit weight stamps under the poll. Two other possible links to Rixford are the Aroostook line of axes sold by Baldwin, Robbins, and Co, and the Hub Axe date stamps. Numerous makers used the Aroostook name, but one that used it frequently for a specific pattern was Rixford. The Rixford Manufacturing Company was also one of the few early companies that adopted marking their heads with a year stamp, much like the Hub Axes.

HUB Marked Head Early Rixford Head

The CAC Axe Company, based in Boston (sales office) and Holbrook, Massachusetts, (manufacturing facility), had a mixed start that publicly began in 1906 as the Diamond Tool Company. The company’s logo was a Diamond shaped stamp along the poll that included the company’s initials, DTC, a stamp much like the Hub Axe, and its advertised location that year was 83 Pearl Street in Boston. The address it used was a portion of the Chase, Parker, and Company Hardware Company’s building, a company that it held close ties with. Coincidentally, late in the year 1899, Baldwin, Robins and Company had moved from Milk Street to 97-103 Pearl Street, placing them as neighbors of Chase, Parker, and Co and the Diamond Tool Company. The following year the Diamond Tool Company would change its name to the Damascus Tool Company, but they would still use a diamond shaped stamp with the same initials. The following year the Collins Axe Company, which would become the CAC Axe Company, succeeded the Damascus Tool Company. However, the CAC Axe Company would carry one the use of the diamond stamp, just with CAC inside the shape. In summary, not only was the CAC Axe Company started next door to the main distributor of the Hub Axe, but they also had a very similar stamp in the same location on their axe heads.

Another source for the heads used as Hub Axes could have been one of a number of Maine based manufacturers. As noted before, the Baldwin, Robbins and Co’s main “hardware man”, James H. Jones, was a native of Maine, and split his time between his homes there (Belfast, Bangor, and Bucksport in different years) with his time in Boston. His homes over the years, as well as his travels for advertising and sales, would have put him in contact with a large number of Miane based axe makers. Despite this, though, there have been no specific indications that one Maine maker in particular was responsible for providing Hub Axes, and Jones would have just as readily been exposed to the Rixford company in Vermont.

    Advertisements for the Hub Axe were prevalent in New England media throughout the first decade of the 20th century. Smaller hardware concerns, such as George S. Dewey hardware of South Royalton, Vermont, and Gray & Mudgett, of Essex Junction Vermont, advertised the Hub Axe as a staple of their businesses during the early years after the turn of the century. This shows that either these shops sourced their axes from Baldwin, Robbins, and Company, or that the manufacturer was willing to sell the line direct to the distributor, an action that the Rixford Company was particularly fond of and noted as doing in their catalogs.

Manufacturing and sales of the Hub axes continued until at least 1914, as that is currently the most recent date noted by one of their stamps. Notes of the line in media had faded by that point, also an indication of a stagnating line. Baldwin, Robbins, and Company had faded away by then as well, changing to the “Baldwin and Robbins Company” in 1905, and then the “Decatur and Hopkins Company” in 1910. The latter company would see James H. Jones sit as a partner and the secretary-treasurer for the business. This inclusion may well have been the reason behind the continuance of the Hub Axe after the change in business, though it would be short lived, as the line would disappear after 1914, or at least lose its hallmark stamp that keeps us wondering “Who made these things…..”.

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1 Comment

Unknown member
Mar 17

Excellent information and enjoyable read. I am definitely guilty of not questioning a manufacturer when so many offer the same answer. Thank you for clearing this one up for me.

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