The J. G. Sterchi Furniture Company Business Records Scrapbook 1911-1914


Deep in the recesses of the Archives of Appalachia, lies an historical treasure.  A very heavy, oversized box, measuring 21 x 25 inches, contains a burgundy colored scrapbook.  The title, Johnson City Press Chronicle, engraved in gold on the cover is misleading, as, inside the scrapbook, there are hundreds of documents dating from 1911 to 1914, relating to business correspondence of the J. G. Sterchi's Furniture Company.  The letters are from various states, but the concentration is in East Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia.  The treasure lies in the preservation of information of historical local businesses and historic hotels in Johnson City, Erwin, Jonesborough, Greeneville, and Knoxville.  Though a few businesses are still in existence today, most have been lost to the annals of time. 

It is quite remarkable to have original copies of the stationery of various businesses, especially local businesses in East Tennessee, from over 100 years ago. Some of the businesses are well known such as Cranberry Iron, Carolina, Clinchfield and Ohio Railway, and Summers-Parrott Hardware.  Others have long been forgotten: Adams & Jenkins General Merchandise, Pactolus, TN (Sullivan County), Dyer and Harrison General Merchandise and Wholesale Produce and Vegetables, Jonesboro, TN, and L. L. Goodwin General Merchandise, Produce and Lumber, Butler, TN.

The focus of this exhibit is on the letterhead stationery designs.  Stationery makes a statement about the company.  Immediate impressions are formed by the first glance.  Is the company reliable, stable, solid?  Color, font, size and illustrations determine the message communicated to customers.  Many of the stationery letterheads are quite elaborate and commercially printed, while some of the stationery is merely a stamp on a lined sheet of paper. All tell a story of the types of products and commodities that were available in the early 20th century, not only in downtown Johnson City, but in surrounding towns.   Every sheet provides insight into the history and advancement of stationery as a marketing tool to enhance and promote local businesses.

A Brief History of Stationery

Stationery has existed since the time of the Egyptians, who, after using parchment made from animal skins for many years, desired a more stable and longer lasting medium for recording historical events.   Paper, the name derived from the plant from whence it was made, papyrus, was the result. 

In the Middle Ages, paper products were sold from storefronts, being too heavy for traveling peddlers to carry from place to place.  Sellers in these stores became known as stationers, because they were in a stationary location.  Over time, the paper took on the name stationery, using the “e” from the name of the stationers. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a stationer as someone who sells books, a printer, or a book binder.  

Rittenhouse Mill in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, built in 1690, was the first paper mill in the United States.  By the 1800s, there were nearly 200 paper mills. Over time, as business and wealth increased, there was an upsurge in demand for more elaborate printing and higher quality paper.  As technology advanced, paper became more refined with a smoother texture, more colors, and a whitening process ensuring the paper was pristine.

Note:  J. E. Crouch Bookseller and Stationer, located at 219 E. Main Street, is listed in the book Johnson City The Way We Were (1909). In the 1911 Johnson City Directory, J. E. Crouch appears again under the heading "Books and Stationery."

The J. G. Sterchi Furniture Company Business Records Scrapbook 1911-1914