T. James Clarke

Thomas James Clarke was born on May 7, 1875, at Hastings, Trent Hills, Northumberland County, Ontario, Canada, son of Thomas Borman Clarke, a carpenter, and Clarissa Sweet Clarke. In 1894 Clarke moved to Batavia, New York. There he worked for his uncle John M. Sweet. In 1895 he began to work as a salesman for E. N. Rowell Paper Box Company. In 1900, he founded Clarke-Dorman Drug Box Company. Although Clarke sold his share of ownership in 1902 to William Koehl, Clarke remained with the William Koehl Company until 1916.
The census shows T. James still living with his uncle John M. Sweet and his Aunt Julia in Batavia in 1900 but the 1909-1910 Jamestown City Directory shows the Sweets living in Jamestown at 918 Newland, and T. James rooming at 111 E.2nd – the Vandergrift Building. It also shows the Sweet-Clarke Co., with J.M. Sweet as President, William Koehl as VP, and T. James Clarke as Secretary/Treasurer. They were manufacturers of hardwood specialties located at 104 E. 2nd. This lasted until 1916 when Clarke started his own business, the T. James Clarke Box & Label Works, located at 38 Charles Street.

The 1911-1912 City Directory shows the Sweets living at 42 Charles Street. This was an important move in the life of T. James as his aunt and uncle now happened to live next door to the Olof Johnson family which included Olof, his wife Clara and their daughter Hazel Clarabel. On June 26, 1912 T. James married Hazel Clarabel. T.James moved in, and from then until the day he died he lived at 38 Charles Street.

Clarke had a civic side. He served as a Director of the National Chautauqua County Bank for well over a decade. He was awarded The Grand Lodge 50-Year Merit Award at the first fall meeting of the Batavia Lodge 475 F&AM, at the Masonic Temple in September 1951. And he was Life Member No. 37 of the American Numismatic Association, serving as 20th President of the ANA from August 1935 to August 1937.

Clarke was also an avid collector, collecting a wide variety of items including autographs, glassware, Indian relics, postage stamps, coins, paper money, watches and weapons. There is a picture of him in the January 24, 1952 edition of the Jamestown Sun showing off a watch he owned to members of the Chautauqua Coin, Stamp and Curio Club. The watch formerly belonged to “Diamond Jim” Brady.

Clarke had a massive coin collection which was sold in four separate auctions prior to his death and seven posthumously. Among his coins were a 1796 Liberty Cap Cent which is the finest one known today, a complete set of Massachusetts Colonial Silver, and a certain gold piece which got him a visit from United States Secret Service Agents in April 1944. Clarke had a 1933 Double Eagle. 1933 Double Eagles ($20 gold pieces) have an interesting story. 100,000 pieces were minted by March 24, 1933 but FDR issued an Executive Order on April 5th before any had officially been released and those still at the Mint ended up being melted. It had long been accepted for collectors to bring older coins of equal denomination to the Teller’s window at the mint in exchange for new ones and this apparently happened before the Executive Order. The few that survived traded in the coin market openly until a Stacks Auction in 1944 when seizure of them began. They were seized because the Government took the stance that as they were never officially released then any outside of the Mint must have been stolen. Clark must have been surprised, having bought it from a coin dealer named Ira Reed in 1941. He even had a receipt, having paid an amazingly low price of $550 for it. He lost it anyhow…

The T. James Clarke Box & Label Works was his creation. It started out as a cottage industry, being located at the back of 38 Charles (his home) until 1926. At that time it expanded to cover 38-40 Charles Street. It was a supplier of drug packaging including small cardboard pill boxes, labels, prescription pads, ointment tubes, glass syrup bottles, glass jars etc. After WWII it developed a plastic container for packaging prescriptions and received a patent for its renowned “Green Neck” prescription pill vial. The T. James Clarke Box & Label Works was state of the art.

Mr. Clarke died on July 20, 1952. At the time of his death the Box & Label Works was still located on Charles Street, where it stayed until 1958. It then got a new address, 45 Norwood, where it grew so that the address became 45-53 Norwood. I say “got a new address” because the only thing that moved was the front door – Norwood being the street on the other side of the block. In 1988 it became the Clarke Container Co. Today, what was the T. James Clarke Box & Label Works is located in Erie Pennsylvania under the name The Clarke Container Company.

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