A Cobleskill native started a manufacturing business in Amsterdam that began with an ingenious way to repair kitchen utensils.
Clarence Collette was born in 1876, moved to Amsterdam as a young man and began manufacturing what he called Mendets, bolt-like contraptions to plug holes in pots and pans.
Collette’s was incorporated in 1907 and in 1916 the firm 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 that made the clip hold papers more securely by notching ridges in the clip, which was then called a gripper clip.
Dave Gordon, who operated Collette’s before it closed, said the patent protected only small 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, including baseballs, footballs and basketballs. Jerry Snyder, a founder of Historic Amsterdam League, said his mother Eileen’s first real paying job was at Collette’s, sewing baseballs by hand.
Snyder said, “Two of the more experienced women on the line helped her out by slipping completed baseballs they had done into her bag when the supervisor wasn’t around. This let her meet quota and she was able to keep her job long enough to learn the tricks that went with it, like putting the cover leather in water to soak the night before to soften it, thereby allowing it to be stretched a bit to make it more workable.”
Sometimes, when there weren’t enough baseballs to sew, some of the workers would lace footballs, which was easier since the football covers didn’t need to be stretched. Snyder said his mother and her fellow workers used to call the factory Collette’s College.
The company was among the first manufacturers 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, Stowitts said, 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 there ranged from 150 to 300 people.
Clarence and Edna Collette had two daughters, Edna and Shirley. They owned a house on Locust Avenue and later built a home on Golf Course Road.
Noryne Dybas of Woodstock, Georgia, said her mother worked as a maid for the Collettes, “Someone in the family was getting a new mink coat and they gave mother the one they were replacing. They also gave her an oak pedestal table and a tapestry when she got married.”
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.
According to an article in 2014 written by Jerry Snyder for a historic tour of Amsterdam’s Rockton section, Collette’s moved to a former Mohasco carpet mill on De Graff Street in the city’s East End in 1976. The company closed in 1989.
Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Anyone with a suggestion for a Focus on History topic may contact him at 346-6657 or [email protected].