Manuscript Letter Copy Book of Adolph Forster Toy Company, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Importer of German made Dolls, Toys, and Fancy Goods, 1904-1912

quarto, 1082 letters, 699 numbered pages, bound in half red leather, pebbled cloth covered boards, spine tips chipped, hinge of spine opening at rear, boards worn, scuffed, corners worn through, otherwise good, letters are copied in ink, on tissue paper, written in English and dated 28 October 1904 to 26 November 1912. These are retained copies of letters written by the Adolph Forster Toy Company mostly to their German suppliers, but which contains letters to their London and Paris suppliers, in addition to an occasional mention of other European cities such as Venice. While the letters are signed "Adolph Forster Co." they were likely written by either William H. Forster, the son of the founder Adolph, or Henry Bauermeister, who married a sister of William and was a partner in the company, or another employee.

While there are 1082 letters in the volume and 699 numbered pages, the index only covers the first 110 pages, which include 192 separate entries for letters that were written to 45 different individuals or companies, leaving 890 letters, and over 589 pages, that are not indexed. The main recipients of the letters, as per the index, were Bernhold & Co. of Paris, France (10), C. & O. Dressel, (19) and August Luge & Co. (10), both of Sonneberg, Germany; J. Heckemann, of Hamburg, Germany (16), Insam & Prinoth of St. Ulrich, Germany (17), and Rosenberg Lowe & Co., of Litchtenfels, Germany (22). (These companies were also written to in the letters that are not indexed).

The Adolph Forster Company of Philadelphia dealt in foreign dolls and toys. Most of the individuals or companies that the Adolph Forster Company wrote to were German toy manufacturers, many well known in the toy community, such as Cuno & Otto Dressel, in business from at least 1789-1942. The German firm of Insam & Prinoth, one of Germany's famous toy makers (wooden dolls, horses and carts), based in the Tirol at St. Ulrich one of the toy capitols of the world, were written to a number of times. They were in business from the 1820s to the 1930s. August Luge & Co. were in business from at least 1881 to 1930 and exhibited at the Columbian Exposition. Forster wrote to this company many times. There are a number of letters and orders to Margarete Steiff for her bears and other toys. Margarete Steiff (1847-1909) was a seamstress who in 1880 founded Margarete Steiff GmbH, making toy stuffed animals. She had been wheelchair bound since childhood after contracting polio. The Steiff Company is still in business today. The correspondence also includes information related to trains, mechanical toys, toy guns and much more. 

Adolph Forster Toy Company

Adolph Forster was born 13 September 1817 at Hanover, Germany. He immigrated at least before 1845 when his daughter Amelia was born in Pennsylvania. There is an Adolph Forster found living in Carter's Alley in Philadelphia in 1842. He was a looking glass manufacturer. An Adolph Forster shows up in Philadelphia City Directories in the 1840s and 1850s as a gilder, later as a glass silver plater. Finally in 1854, Adolph Forster appears in the Philadelphia City Directory at 215 S. 2nd Street, listed as running a "toy & variety" store.

Adolph married Dorothea Klieves, she was born about 1821, the daughter of Conrad Klieves and Frederecka Mestthal. Together the couple had at least five children: Amelia, George, Josephine, William, Cecelia, and Emma. Once in Philadelphia the Forster family became associated with an old German church, St. Michael & Zion, a Lutheran Reformed church.

In 1860, Forster appears in the Philadelphia City Directory at 421 S.2nd Street; his occupation listed simply "toys." The U.S. IRS Tax Assessment Lists for 1863-1866, all show Adolph Forster listed at this same address, where he was living when he died in 1891. In 1863 he was listed in the directories as an importer. In 1865 he was listed as being in the wholesale and retail toy business. In 1870 Adolph was listed as running a variety store, presumably his wholesale and retail toy business. Adolph in 1880 was listed as a merchant. He was enumerated with his wife and five children: Amelia, Josephine, William, Cecilia, and Emma, as well as Emma's husband, Henry Bauermeister who was also listed as a merchant, with William Forster, Adolph's son listed as a watch maker. Adolph's son George either married and moved out, or died.

Henry Bauermeister was a German immigrant. He became a partner in the Adolph Forster Toy Company as early as 1874, before Adolph's son William H. Forster was a partner. It was also around 1874 that the company began being listed at 207 Church Street. Henry Bauermeister was also living at the Forster household on S. 2nd Street, presumably having already married Adolph's daughter.

The Philadelphia "Times" newspaper carried an obituary for Adolph Forster on April 10th, 1891, stating that he died on April 7th at the age of 74. He was still living at 421 S. 2nd Street at the time of his death. In the 16 April 1891 edition of "The American Stationer" (Vol. 29) it was announced that Adolph Forster of the firm of Adolph Forster & Co., importers of toys and fancy goods, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was dead.

Adolph was buried at Mt. Vernon Cemetery, Philadelphia, on 10 April 1891. He was listed as a "toy dealer" on his death certificate. When Adolph's wife died in 1913, she was living at the 1323 N. Franklin Street address. The couple had remained members of St. Michael & Zion Church in the Old City section of Philadelphia.

William H. Forster appears to have taken over the company from his father, with the help of his brother-in-law Henry Bauermeister.  William was born on 29 October 1859. In 1900, William H. Forster is found in Boyd's Blue Book, the precursor to the social register. He is listed as living at 1323 N. Franklin Street. He was listed as having a partner Henry Bauermeister, the company was listed at 207 Church Street, with Bauermeister's address being the same Franklin Street address as W. H. Forster. Bauermeister, the husband of William H. Forster's sister Emma, had been living with the Forster family since at least 1874.

Adolph's wife (William's mother) was living at the Franklin Street house in the 1900 Census. Living with her was her son William, who at 40 years old was not married. Also with them were William's sisters Amelia and Josephine, 45 and 51 years old respectively, who also were unmarried. William's sister Emma, had married Henry Bauermeister, she was 31 years old and was also her brother’s partner in the toy company. Emma had no children.

In 1913 we find W. H. Forster of Adolph Forster Toy Company (136 N. 5th Street, Philadelphia) returning from an extensive trip to Europe, where he purchased a complete stock of new toys and novelties for the fall trade. He went again in 1914. In a 1913 "Bulletin of the National Association of Credit Men," the company was listed as importers of dolls and toys. Starting about 1913, perhaps earlier, William made regular trips to Europe to purchase toys, perhaps every couple of years. Forster made at least five trips between 1913 and 1928.

William, Emma, and Josephine Forster were all living together in 1930 at 16 W. Carpenter Street. William and Josephine never married, Emma was a widow. William at 70 years old was listed as an importer of fancy goods. A fourth sibling, Amelia, died in 1928 at age 83, she never married either. Emma Forster Bauermeister died in 1934 while living at 16 W. Carpenter Lane, with her brother William, her husband having died earlier. She was buried at Mt. Vernon Cemetery with her parents. Josephine Forster died in 1938, at 79, she also never married. William H. Forster died in 1939 at the age of 79, he also never married. It is unclear when the toy company went out of business.

Sample quotes from the Letter Copy Book

Below are some short examples from  the letters, their content shows the difficulty of importing toys, some are fragile and break, and at other times the entire orders were lost due to a steamer exploding, or from other vicissitudes. The letters show the importance of shipping items well in advance to the states in order to have them arrive on time for various holidays, events, etc. The letters show the variety of available toys for the American market, what was popular, and how they were marketed to the American market. Most are short business letters; in some cases they run several pages when Forster was placing large orders.

"We herewith send you an order for some masks.  Will you kindly ship what you can at once without delay so that we will get them about the middle of December…?"

"Porzellanfabrik Limbach Dear Sirs, kindly send us samples of the new Biss Dolls you are making with price list…"

"Herewith find check for Frs 1000…Please send us as soon as possible 4537 Jumping Rabbits, cannot you make a better price on these as they are being sold for the same as they cost us to lay down…"

"Greiner and Co Herewith we hand you our order for Shell Boxes and Doll Cord which please forward to us as soon as possible.  Kindly send us a few samples of Jews Harps…"

"Herewith send you an order for Tree ornaments which forward to you about Aug 15th, as to Easter samples we do not want the collection to amount to over Mk 100, do not send any rabbits, nothing but the latest novelties…"

"We herewith send you an order on Biss Dolls which please forward to us at once…"

"Kindly mail us 1/6 of samples each of the auto crane and the 4 paper hats…"

"Rosenberg Lowe and Co the lament to Georg Bruckles is correct and we are sorry that we neglected to notify you of same.  Have you placed the order for Celluloid Dolls for us sent you May 5?"

"We herewith send you an order for China Novelties which please forward to us at stated time.  Kindly see to it that they are packed carefully as the shipment we had from you this summer contained a great deal of breakage…"

"The ordered paper bells we want all red and the color of the enclosed samples, if possible please send with the advance order…"

"Margarete Steiff, We herewith send you an order for Plush Bears etc which please forward to us as soon as possible.  Kindly let us know when you will be able to make shipment of the same."

"Herewith find order for doll stockings which please forward to us as soon as possible. 

We have this day sent an additional order to Margarete Steiff amounting to about Mk 1200…"

"Since writing you last we have received two invoices from you one dated April 25th and the other April 30th we have the Bill of Lading for the April 30 shipment but no word of the shipment that left 5 days earlier.  We also cannot understand why we did not get the complete shipment of Bears.  We find that our competitors have them and we certainly ordered them early enough…"

"Mess Insam and Prinoth…We herewith send you an additional order and should like to have the trains shipped as soon as possible.  The sample sent us of magic lanterns has only 6 slides.  This lantern should have 12 slides and hope that the stock will be alright…"

"Margarete Steiff Bears White, Bears Brown, Monkeys, Cats, Pigs, Dog, Elephant…Buster Brown Dog."

"We herewith send you two orders the one for Doll Parasols we wish to have shipped at once…"

"On examining the horses we find the stock has been sent us without rubber tires while the samples sent us have rubber tires.  Will you kindly advise us how this error has happened as we are having trouble with our customers who have bought some…?"

"We herewith send you our order for boats which kindly forward to us...the White Bear ordered is a 50 article with voice…"

"Margarette Steiff, Please send us at once without delay through Mess Rosenberg, Lowe and Co…35 figures…we must have these here in Philadelphia by Feb 1st as they are for a special purpose and you will greatly oblige us by shipping at once…"

"Margarete Steiff, we herewith send you an additional order which please forward to us as soon as possible…Cats each 1.50 all black, dogs with muzzle, rabbits, fox terrier, bears white…"

"We also send you an order for Easter Toys which please forward to us promptly.  Send sample boxes as usual.  What is the delay with the Kid Dolls and the 3000 J Dolls, we are very much in need of some on a prompt shipment will much oblige…"

"We notice that you have not sent us any of the trains and magic lanterns also you have sent us curved track instead of straight track…"

"We herewith send you an order for Pop Pistols which please foreword to us at the state time… Order for tea sets as your shipment of May 2nd was entirely destroyed by the explosion on the Steamer Arcadia…"

"We herewith enclose an order for dolls which we would like you to ship as soon as you possibly can, your shipment of May 12, was entirely ruined by the explosion on the Arcadia…"

"In your shipment of June 27th which has just come to hand, we find that the Dressed Dolls have not been thoroughly dry when they were packed as all of the arms and legs are moldy.  We have succeeded in cleaning them with the exception of the following for which we must have other shoes and stockings…"

"Kindly note that the trains must have American Locomotives as the 270-165 in your last shipment had English Locomotives which do not sell here…in your shipment of July 18th which had only a squeaking voice instead of the mechanical voice which has hurt the sale of them…"