BY ELIZABETH SKRAPITS
In the era of flip-flops and slip-ons, it’s hard to imagine a time when shoehorns and buttonhooks were familiar sights on dressers, wardrobes and in bedroom drawers.
Most everyday shoes in the 1890s were at least ankle-high and either laced up or had buttons. Synthetics were a distant future dream, and the majority of shoes were made of leather, usually including the soles.
The J.K. Mosser tannery was for many decades Noxen’s biggest employer. But what underscores just how important its products were is a series of briefs found in 1897 editions of the Boot and Shoe Recorder, a trade journal.
At the time, the related firm of Keck, Mosser & Co. of Lynn, Mass., specialized in leather for shoe soles. Its biggest seller was a high quality brand named after the tannery where it was first produced.
“During last week there was a decided call in Lynn for the Noxen leather which Keck, Mosser & Co. have tanned with such conspicuous success for many years. No leather has been more popular among Lynn shoe men for years past than the Noxen brand, and it is running along much more smoothly and desirably now than at any time in the past. It is constantly being improved,” an article in the Aug. 4, 1897 edition of the journal reported.
A few weeks later, the Aug. 25, 1897 edition carried this anecdote:
“Keck, Mosser & Co. of Lynn report a very spirited demand for leather during the past three weeks … (As) usual, the Noxen leather has had the call.
“One of the most extensive New England shoe manufacturers was talking with Harvey Ruhe, of the Lynn house of Keck, Mosser & Co., the other day, and in the course of conversation he asked Mr. Ruhe what brand of leather had been sent him a few days previous. Mr Ruhe replied that it was ‘the Noxen.’ The manufacturer stated that his superintendent informed him that ‘the leather made up better than any he had ever had in his factory.’ This unsolicited compliment was a strong tribute, indeed, to the merit of Noxen leather, which has made a decided reputation for itself during the past quarter century. Noxen leather means ‘high grade’ every time, and Keck, Mosser & Co. are kept busy meeting the demand on this brand.”
The Mossers got out of the tannery business in 1914, but the Noxen facility didn’t stay vacant for long. The Commercial and Financial Chronicle for March 28, 1914, reported Armour & Co. had just purchased the Mosser Tannery in Noxen, along with three of the company’s other plants:
“An Armour official, as quoted, says, ‘Our recent purchases of four Eastern tanneries signify nothing except that our tanning business is expanding. We are not going into the shoe business.”
It goes without saying that the Armour Co. continued to successfully operate the Noxen tannery for several decades – although shoe sole leather would no longer be a focus.