Memory of a Pressing Business

Label MakerMy previous post about making labels reminded me of a time when I was but a lad, 5th grade, 1971. My mother’s best friend gave my baby brother and me each Dymo label makers for Christmas. They were the full size gadget, somewhat like this Object at Hand from a yard sale that embossed the labels for the previous post.

But my original one was beige and brown, and didn’t have the metal plating, replaceable fonts, or extra adjustments. My little hand was barely big enough to hold it, or strong enough to firmly emboss the letters. I did not appreciate it much as a toy; it sat unused till the end of the following summer.

As I prepared for sixth grade, in a mysterious different building across from my familiar grade school, where all sixth graders from the district were concentrated, I decided to seriously label all my stuff. The stiff embossed labels did not work on pencils. But notebooks, lunch box, pencil boxes, and so on took the labels nicely.

My peers noticed my bright, embossed labels, and asked where I got them. I confessed to their creation. They wanted me to make them some. Well, I was quite aware of the price of the labeling tape, so I agreed only on condition that they pay me.

In what was either an uncharacteristic fit of business savvy, or an attempt to stay out of the business, I quoted a nickel per letter (a regular candy bar was about 15¢). This  was quite a handsome mark up. But  they went for it! Oh, well. Over the next few months, my hands got stronger and I bought quite a few rolls of label tape, in every possible color. Wood grain was very popular, and harvest gold.

My mother was also a good sport, commissioning quite a few labels for her garden. I had to print many unpronounceable Latin names that I just copied letter by letter from her lists, written in the old German script.

A friend then suggested that we could probably sell this product to others, outside of school. So I drew up a mimeo master flyer by hand, pressing quite hard to transfer the wax well. My father let me in to the copy room in his university department, and I ran off the copies: Ka-chunka, ka-chunka, ka-chunka… sniffff. Ahhh. My friend and I biked around and slipped about a hundred flyers into mail boxes in the nicer neighborhoods near my house. We received no calls, after all those hours of marketing labor. Most adults probably recognized that the cost of a dozen labels would capitalize the industry for themselves.

But this is what flitted through my mind as I finished up my previous post; my first entrepreneurial effort and a hot summer day of stuffing flyers in doors. I wish I had a copy of the flyer. They were hand written by 11 year old me, and printed in fading blue mimeograph style. They could hardly pass for professional.

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