The Andrew B. Hendryx Company Knew Why Caged Birds Sing

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

You just never know what you are going to find hidden among the gems of Hagley’s Trade Catalog collection. A few months ago, I received a request for a scan of a 187-page trade catalog of bird cages! I pulled the trade catalog of the Andrew B. Hendryx Company from 1910 and was amazed at what I saw inside; page after page of elaborate brass and tinned bird cages. I found that this catalog must have been created for pet shop owners, as the cages were sold in quantities of a dozen. The small simple cages could be found for as little at $8.00 per dozen, while the more elaborate designs could be obtained for a sum of $120.00 per dozen.

The brass cages were made from brass spring wire. At the time, one could order a new removable drawer base, otherwise plain bases would be sent. The elaborate “Japanned Cages” were made of double-punched charcoal tin plate. Over the centuries, the interest and popularity of keeping birds has risen, and fallen. The ancient Egyptians kept birds caged for their beauty and mystery nearly four centuries ago. When Western traders brought back spices and textiles from the Far East, they also brought the exotic birds as pets. In the American Colonies, birds were much beloved pets, kept in bamboo and wooden cages. By the Victorian era the bird was considered even more than a pet. The decorative cage was seen as an important ornamentation within the Victorian parlor. At the beginning of the 20th century, bird cage manufacturers like Hendryx, stepped up their manufacturing to keep up with the popular canary and parakeet market by producing painted tin cages. The Andrew B. Hendryx Company was founded in 1874 in Ansonia, Connecticut, under the name of Hendryx & Bartholomew, at the time producing some 14 different styles of brass bird cages. Five years later, the company moved to its ultimate location at 86 Audubon Street in New Haven, Connecticut, and changed its name to the Andrew B. Hendryx Company. A publication from 1904, stated that the company manufactured “350 different styles and sizes of brass, bronze and japanned bird and animal cages, and in addition complete lines of fishing reels, artificial baits, chains and wire picture cord.” Much of Hendryx's success was due to his patented inventions and improved methods of manufacturing. Producing numerous birdcage designs, the company also manufactured small animal cages. Hendryx produced an annual catalog, and the goods were distributed all over the United States and Canada, and exported to almost every country in the world. You can view a digitized version of the catalog here. While there are several other Hendryx trade catalogs in other libraries, Hagley owns one of only two copies of this catalog found in library collections.  Hendryx died in 1910 and the company was taken over by his son, Nathan. Into the latter half of the 20th century, the company became obsolete, and sold its assets to the Chicago-based Prevue Metal Products. A conscious decision was made to preserve the Hendryx name. In December of 1996 the last remnants of the New Haven plant were sold at a two-day auction, marking an end to a legendary era of bird cage manufacturing in America.

Linda Gross is the Reference Librarian in the Imprints Department at Hagley Library.