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EDITOR’S NOTE: Imagine Nashua: Then & Now is a weekly photo column by Don Himsel. Each week, he will feature an old photo within a more recent photo, along with the story behind it.

It made for a good story, an entertaining tale to be told and retold over the years. Like many things in life, it got better with age.

Alas, no playing cards for miners were ever printed at the card shop in Nashua, but as the (very) old proverb says, “need taught him wit.” The principals pressed on and set the foundation for a very successful operation in Nashua that lasted, in various forms, for decades.

Gill and Co., formed with C.T. Gill, C.P Gage, J.H. Gage and O.D. Murray. The plan was to print playing cards for miners out west. However, the Rhode Island supplier who was supposed to furnish card stock, a clergyman, pulled out of the deal after finding out what his material would be used for.

Edward Everett Parker’s history of Nashua published in 1895 reported, “It so chanced that within a year from commencing the business, Mr. Gill deceased. As no other member of the firm had any knowledge of the playing card market or any inclination to study it, that business dropped out without any printing having been done, and the big iron cylinder round which the rolls were to be arranged was thrust out doors to rust in the rains and snows of passing seasons, while the copper rolls – perhaps expensive would be the proper term – were confiscated by some enterprising thief.”

Owners, names and locations blended and changed over the years. Men named Gilman, Pierce, Marsh and others ran operations on Water Street and Pearson Avenue. Throw in, too, the Eagle Card Company on Water Street. Eventually, the big building on Franklin Street was erected.

Death and the retirement of principals reformed the operation yet again, as Parker’s reported:

“In 1888, H. O. Bixby secured control of the business, bringing a new element and new ideas into the management. Competition was becoming fierce, new methods and machines were being adopted in other factories and the time had come when changes must be made if the business was to be held. Wisely or unwisely, a radical change was decided upon. With characteristic energy, Mr. Bixby pushed the building of a new plant on Franklin street beside the railroad, where the factory, which is the pride of our city, was erected, and in which was placed every device that human ingenuity could devise for the rapid and economical manipulating of the material used. As a result of this push and enterprise, we have the largest and most perfectly equipped plant of its kind in the world.”

Nashua Card and Glazed Paper ran up debt and was bought out by a Boston competitor, who moved stock and machinery to Nashua. In 1904, the Nashua Gummed and Coated Paper company was born. Wax paper manufacturing was added to the lineup; bread wrapping, thanks to Henri Levigne’s invention around 1911. A fourth floor was added to the building around then, too. Wartime production brought prosperity. More additions to the building and campus occurred in 1913, 1937 and right after World War II, in 1946.

It all became Nashua Corporation in 1952. Manufacturing and distribution operations were expanded over the years.

Part of the company’s acquired buildings included the former cotton storehouse along the Nashua River. It was the first stop for trains bringing raw cotton north to the Nashua Manufacturing Company. Once unloaded, the cotton would be moved across the river to the mill. The building is now apartment homes, developed by John Stabile. According to the Cotton Mill apartments Website, which traced Nashua Corp.’s history. “By the early 1980s, the company employed about 6,000 persons worldwide, including three facilities in New Hampshire and 14 plants around the world. Nashua Corp. was then made up of four main divisions: photo finishing, coated paper, office supplies and computer products. In addition to Merrimack, major production facilities were located in Omaha, Nebraska, and Jefferson City, Tennessee.”

Since then, the company has slowly discarded some of its operation, but hasn’t completely folded its hand. It retains a Merrimack presence and other facilities for its specialty products across the U.S,

Don Himsel can be reached at 594-6590, DHimsel@nashuatelegraph.comor @Telegraph_DonH.

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