Willard Felt was a wheelwright and blacksmith in East Milton, Mass.
According to tradition, he forged the first iron “shoes” or plates
to face the wooden rails of the Granite Railway, America’s first
railroad, constructed between 1825 and 1826 to provide stone for the
Bunker Hill monument.
According to the N.H. Felt Family Association, Willard Felt also
constructed the first railroad cars for this Granite Railway, and some
of these remained in service until the road rights were sold in 1870.
In 1831 Felt abandoned the physical trades in which he had
distinguished himself, and moved his young family into Boston proper,
where he took up the stationery trade at 82 State St.
Two years later, he sold the shop to an employee and followed his
brother, David Felt, to New York City.
In New York, David Felt had also established a stationery store.
David Felt & Co. Stationers’ Hall dealt in blank books and general
stationery. Willard joined his brother’s firm, which was also active
David Felt’s firm established a factory in Brooklyn in 1839, and
David removed to there in 1842 to run the manufacturing plant.
Willard Felt remained behind to manage the retail store at 245
Pearl St. in New York City. David subsequently set up a mill in New
Jersey, and Willard opened a new establishment on his own account at
174 Pearl St. in New York City.
The stationery store occupied several other premises before
Willard Felt retired from the stationery and printing business in 1859
with a net worth estimated at $1 million, a big pot in those pre-Civil
War days. He left his son, Willard L. Felt, in charge.
The firm did a good deal of business in stationery, school and
cleaning supplies with the New York City public schools.
The son expanded the business. In 1860, Willard Felt & Co.
opened a New Orleans branch, but storm clouds were on the horizon.
Louisiana seceded in 1861, and the elder Willard Felt died March 2,
1862. Both branches survived into at least the 1870s.
Heritage Auctions’ September 16, 2006, Long Beach sale offered a
counterstamped 1831 Coronet cent that had “New York / Willard Felt
& Co.” in two lines counterstamped on the obverse.
At the time, this piece was listed in neither counterstamped coin
nor merchant token catalogs.
I believe the 1831 date on the circulated cent was meant to
commemorate Willard Felt’s change of careers in that year from
physical labor to retail enterprise.
Today Felt’s stone cottage in East Milton, Mass., where he engaged
in blacksmithing those many years ago, is preserved as a historic site.
Fred L. Reed iii has been a collector and writer for many years.
Reach him at www.fredwritesright.com.