Amsterdam

Focus on History:Collette’s – makers of mendet, paper clips and sporting goods

PHOTOGRAPHER:

Collette Manufacturing Company in Amsterdam was famous for making mendets, paper clips and juvenile sporting goods. Mendets are bolt-like contraptions to plug holes in pots and pans. 

Marjorie Eckler of Hagaman was 15 in 1925 when a girlfriend of hers was working at Collette’s, packaging mendets.

Marjorie’s daughter, Arlyn (Lynn) Smith of West Galway, said, “My mother and her friend thought it would be fun to put their names and addresses in the boxes of mendets, hoping someone would write to them.”

A year or two later, Marjorie received a letter from Maggie Arnold who worked at a hardware store in Wilmot, Tasmania, and found Marjorie’s name and address in a box of mendets.

Marjorie and Maggie became lifelong pen pals. In the late 1970s, Maggie Arnold from Tasmania, a large island south of Australia, came to America and visited Marjorie and her family. By then Marjorie had married town of Amsterdam farmer Leland Johnson. In 1980 Marjorie and her family visited Maggie in Tasmania.

Cobleskill native Clarence C. Collette, born in 1876, moved to Amsterdam as a young man and began manufacturing mendets on the third floor of The Recorder building on Railroad Street downtown.

Mendets illustrated the philosophy, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

Collette’s was incorporated in 1907 and in 1916 moved to the former Eighth Ward School on Clizbe Avenue near the Rockton Wye. It subsequently had other manufacturing sites in Amsterdam, Hagaman and other cities.

In 1921 Clarence Collette patented an improvement to the paper clip to make it hold papers more securely by notching ridges in the clip, which was then called a gripper clip.

Dave Gordon, who bought Collette’s in later years, said the patent protected only one size of gripper clips.  The patent did not prevent other manufacturers from making gripper clips of different sizes.

By the 1930s, Collette’s was making juvenile sporting goods—baseballs, footballs and basketballs.  Many local women and men worked at Collette’s at some point in their lives. 

The company was among the first to come up with a way to sew baseballs by machine to keep the cost down. According to a 1940 article by newspaperman Earl O. Stowitts, “The balls which the company sews by machine are not flat-stitched, but have a slightly raised seam.” 

The balls were covered with inexpensive leather and the cores were made from cotton or felt scraps.

Collette’s turned from making a million baseballs a year to products that helped the Allied cause during World War II such as canteen covers, cot covers and foul weather clothing. Mendets continued to be made to preserve cooking utensils in the face of wartime metal shortages.

Collette’s received government contracts for some years after the war for canteen covers and the like. In the 1950s, employment ranged from 150 to 300 people.

Clarence and his wife Edna Collette had two daughters, Edna and Shirley. They owned a house on Locust Avenue and later built a home on Golf Course Road.

Clarence Collette was still president of the company when he died in 1965 at the age of 88 at his winter home in St. Petersburg, Florida.  Executive vice president Eli Robinson became head of the firm.

Collette’s moved to a former Mohasco carpet mill on De Graff Street in Amsterdam’s East End in 1976.

Dave Gordon, whose parents had operated the Toy Tent store in downtown Amsterdam, bought Collette’s in 1978. Gordon sold it to a Boston investment group in 1983 and left the company in 1984.  The investment firm operated Collette’s until closing the business in 1989.

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