The Butler Brothers wholesale catalogs: are they good Czech glass ID tools?
Before we delve into the validity of using Butler Brothers’ wholesale catalog publications as an identification and dating tool, we should study this firm and it’s business ventures in the USA from 1920 to 1940, two very important decades.
Butler Brothers was founded in 1877 in Boston, as a mail order business by Georges H. Butler, Charles H. Butler and Edward Burgess Butler. The wholesale of merchandise as a traditional way of having stock shipped by rail to most American town and city merchants at the time. Prosperity and increasing competition by large department stores, Butler Brothers or BB decided to open two chains of stores called Scott, and LC Burr. In this manner, they still acquired the goods wholesale purposes, filled their retail outlets with them, and increased their overall profit margin.
A stock balancing act was necessary for both areas of the company to thrive, such as keeping track of the orders in certain locations, deciding what would be for the wholesale or the retail end of their enterprise. Since most of the BB stores were built in small communities, this was easily accomplished and avoided competition.
There was no Czech decorative glass imports shown in ‘The Drummer’, BB’s wholesale catalog from 1920 to 1928 (exception in 1922 - 2 pitchers) while continuing with the domestic USA glass ads. Yet, there was a massive amount of Czech glass imported to the USA during this time, and Butler Brothers was one of the largest of the wholesale/retail American companies. The quality and quantity of the innovative Art Deco Czech glass produced during this decade was meant to be an asset for a retail store, and that would mean the Scott and Burr stores would have received this merchandise directly from the Butler warehouse distribution centers of Chicago, New York, St. Louis, Dallas and Minneapolis.
After the stock market crash of Sept. 4, 1929, Butler Brothers had to accommodate the loss of many commercial establishments and the shrinking American customer base. Their two store chains were combined as Scott-Burr Stores Co. The free wholesale catalog continued to be offered, with several thousands types of affordable goods, a large percentage of which were imports from countries with a cheaper labor force and raw materials.
In 1931, they initiated the first American retail franchise business with two ‘five and dime’ store chains: Ben Franklin (2,600 stores in 1936) and Federated (1,400 stores). Here again, the Czech glass imports disappear from the catalog after 1932. For the same reason, the goods were being offered directly to the franchises and no longer available to any other retail entity from BB as wholesale.
These situations created large gaps in the number of Czech glass imports which were documented by Butler Brothers, making the catalog publications and the few pages available today a meager representation of what was available, at what time, and which Czech glass company was involved with them or not. In fact, the same Czech glass pieces are repeatedly offered over a span of four years from 1928 to 1932. A theory at the West Virginia Museum of American Glass by Tom Felt, who was instrumental in creating a BB Czech glass sale compilation in their Monograph 121, is that these glass pieces were overstock items from the earlier 1920s. One might venture the reason these very large glass assortments were offered at a discount by BB, (identified as F. Welz, and W. Kralik products), were not well received in the 1920s conservative American retail gift domain.
The Chicago Tribune newspaper wrote an article about BB’s affairs in 1960, after six years of being purchased and re-purchased to finally become part of the City Products Corporation. BB executives explained the difficulties in dealing with so many facets of merchandising within one enterprise as it grew in complexity. The article also confirmed that BB was always the merchandiser for all of it’s retail establishments.
As a tool, these catalog copies have poorly defined drawn illustrations in black ink, very short decor descriptions with sizes. The large assortments containing up to sixty pieces advertised, show a ratio of very few images (from 6 to 12 pieces). We can’t be completely sure, after several years, that the Czech glass advertised was still grouped by original company, since the assortments few images vary from catalog to catalog and from year to year. We do not know if other Czech glass companies were represented by BB, or their glass sold directly to their retail divisions.
In the end, the attributions that are feasible using Butler Brothers ‘The Drummer’ catalogs are minimal if you consider the huge quantity of decorative and utilitarian glass items imported from Czechoslovakia over these twenty years. The inference that most of the glass was either produced and exported by W. Kralik and F. Welz is questionable. The F. Welz glass attributions themselves are highly suspect, as this single plant could not
have managed to fill these large orders by themselves, no matter how efficient their master glass craftsmen were.
Some other business arrangement may have been possible, such as using sub-contractors. Many glass plants existed and provided large amounts of finished glass to the Palda
and Hosch companies, for their Czech wholesale catalog exports.
ANTONIN RÜCKL & SONS 1919-1939
Including WILHELM KRALIK & SONS Czech Glass
A sample of a 1930s Czechoslovakia decorative glass ad page, containing
72 pieces (not all shown), from export glass companies, mostly W. Kralik. See page MoreCzech - KralikIII, for additional BB ads and their Kralik glass items.