“Pedlarized”

The evidence of Mesker storefronts’ enormous popularity is that they were widely imitated. Thanks to the Association for Preservation Technology’s Building Technology Heritage Library, an impressive and ever expanding online collection of building trade catalogs, another Mesker imposter has been identified. The 1911 and 1914 catalogs of the Pedlar People, Limited of Oshawa, Canada, show renderings of window caps, cornices and a metal front that are identical to those manufactured by Mesker Brothers Iron Works of St. Louis, Missouri. The imitation is made even more obvious because Pedlar’s renderings of these designs were lifted directly from Mesker’s catalogs. An objective inquiry might ask whether it’s possible for Pedlar to be the originator and that Mesker was in fact the imposter. After all, Pedlar People, Limited was an older company (established in 1861) and—based on its impressive catalog lines of pressed metal ceilings as well as other metal building products, and its many warehouses in Canada and abroad (Japan, Australia and South Africa)—appears to have been capable of producing its own cornice and metal front designs. However, Mesker catalogs featuring these designs predate those by Pedlar, feature many more designs and are rendered very consistently, as opposed to the haphazard drawing and presentation techniques of the Canadian maker. More importantly, the Mesker catalog renderings are a very faithful representation of the products themselves, seen on countless buildings and confirmed to have been of Mesker manufacture. Without additional evidence, everything points to Pedlar “borrowing” these designs from Mesker and not the other way around.

Interestingly, Pedlar chose to imitate Mesker’s much older catalogs. In the 1910s, Mesker Brothers was still offering galvanized sheet-metal fronts, cornices and window caps but the renderings were updated and drawn differently. The designs and products may have been labeled as modern, but at least in presentation style, Pedlar’s 1914 catalog was nearly two decades behind. As the 1910s wore on, both companies’ galvanized sheet-metal product lines would become outmoded.

As with most of this kind of research, these Pedlar catalogs lead to more questions than answers. Why did Pedlar choose these designs? Was it aware of Mesker’s popularity and tried to steal away some of the market share or simply replicate some of its success in Canada? Did it use Mesker’s renderings in order to capitalize on the familiarity or simply to save cost? What did the manufactured products actually look like? Were they exactly the same as Mesker’s, just as the catalog renderings suggest? Could Pedlar have ordered some of these designs from Mesker in order to make exact replica stamping dies of its own or were the renderings just loose inspiration? While these questions will likely never be answered, the most apt summation is a twist of Pedlar’s own marketing slogan. In its 1914 catalog, the company referred to the transformation of an old building with Pedlar’s products as being “Pedlarized.” At least when it comes to the Mesker designs, perhaps “plagiarized” is more appropriate. However, who can blame Pedlar for literally borrowing a page from Mesker’s book? Effectiveness always inspires copies.

Comparison of the two companies’ designs. The 1914 Pedlar People, Limited catalog (left) exactly reproduces a metal front design from the 1898 Mesker Brothers Iron Works catalog (right). Pedlar shows only one metal front drawing, while Mesker depicted a couple dozen. Pedlar catalog image courtesy of the Building Technology Heritage Library.

Galvanized cornices by Pedlar People, Limited (left) and Mesker Brothers Iron Works (right). Pedlar’s 1914 catalog exactly reproduced Mesker’s 1898 drawings, including the page arrangement. Pedlar catalog image courtesy of the Building Technology Heritage Library.

All six galvanized window and door cap cuts from Pedlar’s 1914 catalog (left) can be found in Mesker’s 1898 catalog (right). Pedlar catalog image courtesy of the Building Technology Heritage Library.

“The Evolution of an Old Building” in Pedlar’s 1914 catalog contrasts the image of an outdated building with one after being “Pedlarized”. Image courtesy of the Building Technology Heritage Library.

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