This is the story of an incredible company, its founder, its sales force, its engraving machines and much more. The New Hermes story actually dominates the recent history and development of the worldwide machine engraving industry as we know it today.
As the world’s largest manufacturer of pantograph engraving machines, New Hermes’ name is synonymous with the word engraving. There is hardly an engraver, trophy dealer or jeweler anywhere that has not had at least one New Hermes machine on their premises.
However, this was not always the case. There was a time when the only way potential customers across the country ever heard of New Hermes was through a handful of sales representatives who passed their way once or twice a year. It was largely through the persistent efforts of that dedicated crew of pioneer peddlers that the name New Hermes has now become a household word among engravers everywhere.
The very early history of New Hermes—as described by its founder, Norbert Schimmel (Fig. 1)—began in the late 30’s. “My wife and I came to the United States from Germany in February 1938 with very little money in our pockets. Despite the fact that I studied English in school, my vocabulary was rather limited. In Germany I was in the shoe machine business and had a broad mechanical background, but I knew nothing at all about engraving.
“Shortly after my arrival in the United States, I met Gene Kapp, who was also from Germany,” said Norbert. “Gene approached me with the idea of manufacturing and selling a portable engraving machine. Mr. Kapp had a small engraving machine that he had brought with him from Germany. This machine had been manufactured in Europe for engraving fountain pens. Mr. Kapp’s idea was for us to manufacture the same machine and sell it here.”
The idea of starting a business of their own was appealing to Norbert, but before making any commitments, he took some time to study the engraving machine market as it existed in the United States. He was pleased to discover that although there were portable engraving machines all over Europe, none were available in this country. Only heavyduty floor-model engraving machinery was available in the U.S. at that time, e.g. Deckel, Gorton and Taylor-Hobson pantographs.
Satisfied that there would be no problem with existing competition, Norbert carefully examined the machine that Gene Kapp wanted to reproduce. “I found that the European version had too many problems associated with it,” said Norbert. “For one thing, it had a metal belt between the motor and the spindle, which frequently broke and required constant maintenance.”
But in spite of the machine’s obvious shortcomings, Mr. Schimmel agreed to go into partnership with Gene. Together they formed the New Hermes Corporation in 1938, for the purpose of constructing and selling portable engraving machines that even the unskilled could operate. However, this machine was to be an improvement over the original European version.
The name “Hermes” (the ancient Greek God of industry and commerce) was first chosen for the new company but as it turned out, there already was a Swiss corporation by the same name, which manufactured typewriters. So instead it was decided to call the company “New Hermes.”
New Hermes had been in existence only one year when Kapp decided to leave the company. He sold his share of the business to Norbert. A short time later, Norbert, who was slightly short of capital at the time, met Werner Dannheisser (Fig. 2), also from Germany. Werner recognized the potential for engraving and entered the company as an equal partner.
“That same year,” said Norbert, “we got together with a nearby subcontractor by the name of Helmuth Waldorf who agreed to help us develop and produce our first engraving machine. We finally ended up reconstructing the entire machine and solving the belt problem in the process.” As his partner, Werner Dannheisser commented, “This was a new product idea and we had to spend a lot of time and a lot of money just in the development of the machine. In the beginning both of us served as chief cook and bottle washer. We did everything from the paper work and publicity to the shipping, once the machine was in production.”
The result was an early version of the Model G, a very compact, motorized, tracer-guided engraving machine with a 5:1 fixed pantograph ratio. The machine was portable, simple in construction and easy to operate. It also had a direct-drive connection between the motor and spindle holder and a firm base for storage and support. Actually the Model G was similar in size and appearance to the 1980s Model GM. Three months after the machine was developed, Schimmel and Dannheisser opened a small office on 42nd Street in New York City. From there they began promoting their new machine, with Norbert functioning as salesman and demonstrator and Werner handling the financial aspects of the business.
Their original intention was to sell engraving machines. However, this did not turn out to be the case. Mr. Schimmel went to F.W. Woolworth Co., an international chain of dimestores, hoping to interest them in buying machines for personalizing fountain pens. The ball-point pen had not yet been invented and most of the fountain pens at that time were made of plastic. But instead of making a sale, Mr. Schimmel received a proposal from Woolworth’s to lease their machine—250 machines to be exact—under a one year contract. As part of the contract, he agreed to go around to Woolworth’s various locations and teach their employees how to engrave and maintain the machines.
Woolworth turned out to be New Hermes’ first big account and in a manner of speaking gave New Hermes its start. It also marked the beginning of their rental program, which lasted well into the mid 40s. Following Woolworth’s lead, department stores and specialty shops around the country also leased engraving machines from New Hermes. This gave New Hermes the exposure they needed.
Soon they were working directly with manufacturers, helping them to organize special engraving promotions which were held in department stores throughout the country. For example, as a Christmas promotion, Coro, a large costume jewelry manufacturer, created a special line of jewelry items specifically designed for engraving on the New Hermes machines. Some of the other manufacturers New Hermes worked in cooperation with were: Elgin (watches and ladies compacts), Eversharp (pens) and National Silver (flatware).
In conjunction with these early promotional efforts, New Hermes also made quite a few design changes and adaptations to their machines to accommodate the manufacturers’ products. Special jigs were designed for centering jewelry. They also designed a workholder for flatware. In addition, New Hermes developed the EF machine which had a special fixture for pens. They developed self-centering workholders and later developed a machine with two separate pantographs (both were fixed ratio pantographs—one engraved at ratio 2-1/2:1 and the other at 5:1).
In 1940 with their leasing program well underway, New Hermes moved from their tiny office on 42nd Street to 5th Avenue and 23rd Street, where they rented office space in the “Flat Iron Building” (a famous landmark in New York).
About a year later, just as the company was beginning to grow, things changed rather rapidly following the U.S. entry into World War II. Mr. Dannheisser was drafted and went into the Army as a private in the infantry division. The production of nonessential items and equipment came to a halt as the country turned its efforts toward products essential to the war effort. And as jewelry merchandise became scarce, engraving promotions came to a sudden halt bringing an end to many of the company’s lease plans. The department stores immediately returned all their engraving machines. Only Woolworth continued to lease machines from New Hermes.
Fortunately New Hermes was flexible enough to change with the times and the war situation presented new opportunities for them to pursue. The first opportunity that came their way was an enormous engraving job for the New York school system.
In 1942, out of fear that the city might be the target of a bomb attack, the New York City Board of Education decided to have metal dog-tags made for every school child in the city. But due to the shortage of metal, the Pentagon insisted on plastic tags. As a result, the Bakelite Corporation of America received a contract to make 3 ½ million phenolic identification tags.
“In turn, their vice president, Mr. Zimmerman, who had apparently seen one of our machines in operation at Macy’s Department Store, went there and obtained our name,” explained Norbert. “He asked if we had the facilities to do the engraving. We didn’t at that moment, but I agreed to form a subsidiary company, Hermes Engravers. Immediately we went out and rented 4,000 square feet of space at Broadway and 12th Street, strung some electrical wires and lined up a hundred engraving machines on used tables. This was enough to get the order. People were hired and trained to do the engraving. George Berlant was hired as shop foreman (Fig. 3). He had an outgoing, gregarious personality and proved to be very competent in this position. In fact, George stayed with the company from 1942 to 1981 and eventually became vice president of engineering.
As George Berlant recalls, “The one thing New Hermes had at that time that no one else had were engraving machines available to do this large of an engraving job. They had all the lease machines that had been returned plus some new machines. Anything that could operate was used to engrave those 1” diameter tags (Fig. 4) which were all engraved in script to reduce engraving time.”
This first big engraving job continued throughout the war years as new tags were made for children starting school and lost tags were replaced. Hermes Engravers also went on to do other types of engraving, but for the next several years most of these were under government contracts. For example, they engraved Purple Hearts for the Quartermaster Corps in Philadelphia on the New Hermes machines. In addition, other large engraving jobs came their way which required extreme accuracy. “For this, New Hermes purchased about 15 Gorton machines,” explained George Berlant. “These larger machines were used for engraving 36” x 36” acrylic plotting boards for radar. We also had to set up special fixtures for indexing and rotating these boards on the machines.”
By 1943, Werner Dannheisser had completed his tour of duty and returned to New Hermes Machine Corporation, where he immediately assumed the position of vice president in charge of credit. Dannheisser commented, “I was never involved to any extent with the engraving. Hermes Engravers was started by Mr. Schimmel while I was in the service.”
Although Hermes Engravers was doing quite well, their engraving machine business was almost at a standstill. New Hermes could only manufacture their pantograph engraving machines with a priority for the Armed Forces and approval from the Pentagon. This was the only marketing direction New Hermes could take at the time, but it proved to be enough to keep them going. Eventually every U.S. battleship and destroyer was equipped with a New Hermes machine on board to engrave new instruction panels as needed and for shipboard signage.
In 1946, after the war was over, Henry Susskind joined New Hermes. “In those early days,” explained Henry, “I worked on inside sales. The company was no longer leasing machines.” Henry was also taking care of correspondence and customer contact, creating much good will with the customers. In later years, he became vice president of sales.
Now that the war was over, the company had to start all over again to seek new markets for their engraving machines. “The first place we turned was to the jewelry market,” said Norbert. “I remember a telephone call we received from a jeweler stating, ‘my hand engraver died—please send me a machine’.” Hand engravers were becoming harder to find and New Hermes had already sold several engraving machines to jewelers who had leased machines before the war. The few jewelers who were familiar with the New Hermes machine now began to look at it as a present possibility rather than a thing of the future. However, most jewelers around the country had never even heard of New Hermes and had no experience with any type of engraving machine. At that time hand engraving was still the most widely accepted means of personalization.
As a result, New Hermes decided to put together their first sales force to go on the road promoting their name and selling their engraving machines. Their first salesman, hired in October, 1945, was Paul Kahn (Fig. 5) who, although retired and living in Florida, will still try and sell you a New Hermes engraving machine. Since retiring from the sales force, Paul has been retained as a sales consultant and instructor.
When Paul became New Hermes’ first salesman, he had no territorial limitations or specific responsibilities. “I went wherever I was needed,” Paul explains, “and even worked for a while as a purchasing agent. Later on, as New Hermes hired more sales representatives, I trained them in their own territory. This took me by train to Denver, Chicago, Kansas City, Dallas and other cities.
“The machine we were selling at that time was an updated version of the Model G,” he said. “It was a portable, inexpensive, well-built motorized machine with rotating cutters and came equipped with either a 5:1 ratio or a 2-½: 1 ratio arm. The Model G (Fig. 6) was intended for the retail field and had a number of special workholders available.”
The determination and dedication of New Hermes early sales force is particularly impressive. New Hermes’ original sales force consisted of Paul Kahn, Joe Flamm, Jean Jaffe and Maury Kaufman. A short time later, Ivan Landstrom, Jack and Bob Domito joined the sales force. And there were others like Bill Kamin, Max Wolfson, Bill Rosenfield, George Collins, Harold Schoenberg, H.G. Davis, Anna Ritchey and Joe Gideon, Bill Haws, R.H. Laird Jr. and R.H. Laird III and Leon Ruben who also deserve special recognition either because they date back to the early years of the company or were with the company for 20 years or more. “In Allen Rosenfield, we have a 3rd generation employee,” said Norbert. “Jack Domiteaux, Richard Altonaga, Paul Groth, Jr. and Bill Walkling III are all 2nd generation employees.” Through the years, New Hermes’ colorful crew of sales representatives have included: a retired businessman, former policeman, jewelry manufacturer and several retail jewelers, pilot, politician, tennis bum, football player, Rabbi, Deacon, concentration camp survivor, teacher, engineer, fireman and even a gambler.
One thing these salesmen all had in common was that they were all go-getters. Instead of sitting around waiting for customers to come to them, they went out and sold the entire country on New Hermes engraving machines. And this was back at a time when engraving machines were almost unheard of and travel was not as easy as it is today. As one of their top salesmen, Joe Flamm (Fig. 7), who retired in 1970 remarked, “Those were hard traveling days at the beginning. I couldn’t just hop a plane to get up to Seattle from Los Angeles. Instead it would take me a week to drive up, visiting customers enroute and selling three or four machines along the way. Then I would take a different route back and repeat the same process all over again. At one time, I worked out of the Los Angeles office covering the West Coast including California, Arizona, New Mexico and for a while, Washington and Oregon.”
These early salesmen criss-crossed the entire country, traveling many a back road, in their Cadillacs, Packards, De Sotos, Studebakers, Fords, Lincolns, Buicks, Jaguars and even a private plane. And sales were not always made after one call. It often took two or more calls to make a new sale. It took hard work and a long time to demonstrate and then convince the retailer that having a machine on their premises would actually create more of a demand for engraving. However, once a machine was placed in one store it was easier to make a sale to the other stores in town. Leads and recommendations were readily available from those who already had a machine.
“In the 40’s and early 50’s the name New Hermes was still relatively unknown and engraving machines were looked upon with great suspicion,” explained Maury Kaufman, “and it was up to us to change all this.” Maury (Fig. 8), who started with New Hermes as a salesman in 1946, became their National Accounts Manager. “At that time a salesman had to carry a machine with him for demonstration purposes. He usually had eight or nine states to cover. It was not unusual for a salesman to travel 500 miles a day. Like many of the other salesmen, I did this for years, often working a 70-hour week.”
As Paul Kahn explained, “During the day I would make ‘cold’ calls and in the evening I consulted the Yellow Pages to prepare the next day’s itinerary.”
The New Hermes sales representatives virtually lived and breathed engraving machines in those early days. No doubt, it was their strong belief in what they were selling and their dogged persistence that later proved to be important factors to the company’s widespread recognition and success. And there were salesmen, like Leon Ruben, who helped the other representatives perceive certain merchandising aspects of the jewelry business. He once had his own successful jewelry store (East Liverpool, OH) and did his engraving on a New Hermes. He was so sold on the machine’s merits, that after retiring, he decided to sell them. As a well-known personage in the jewelry industry, he was quite successful in selling other jewelers on the many advantages of machine engraving.
At the same time, there were some major engineering breakthroughs in the machines’ design that suddenly opened the doors to greater sales. Probably the greatest breakthrough came in the jewelry field in 1947, with the “accidental” discovery of a better way to engrave jewelry using a non-rotating cutter. Up to that time, all engraving had been done with a motor and rotating cutters.
As company legend has it, one day someone was demonstrating a machine to a jeweler from Philadelphia and forgot to turn on the motor. Upon seeing the “scratch cut,” the jeweler who had earlier objected to the cutter marks produced by the rotating cutter said, “That’s the look I want!” Shortly thereafter the non-rotating graver (a steel forerunner of the diamond graver) was born.
This new engraving tool soon revolutionized the jewelry engraving industry. The cut was clean and brilliant—far superior to previous rotary engraving results which frequently left tool marks. “Diamond Drag,” as this new method was later called, removed most of the objections some jewelers had to machine engraving and opened the doors of the finest jewelers to New Hermes.
The year 1947 brought another major step in the company’s history. Norbert founded Hermes Plastics, Inc. The war years, in particular making phenolic I.D. tags for all of New York’s school children, proved that there was a market for plastics engraving. At that time, the only type of laminated plastic available for engraving was rigid laminated phenolic. Still used today, phenolic is brittle and rather difficult to fabricate and it was virtually unavailable in those days cut to size and beveled. Thus Norbert perceived, quite correctly, that in order to open up this market, the company had to supply the material as well as the machines, thus kicking off the materials division that would ultimately surpass the parent company in sales.
“In the early days, plastic sales were relatively small,” explained Ben Werfel (Fig. 9), a mechanical engraving salesman who later became vice president in charge of New Hermes’ Plastics and Engraving companies. He explains, “But there were a small number of machine engravers out in the field that needed plastic materials cut-to-size and the company was actually drawn into plastics fabricating by customer demand. And as machine sales grew the demand for plastics and plastics engraving just grew along with them.
“At that time, ‘Hermes Engravers,’ the engraving division, was doing mechanical engraving for the trade, engraving on dials and cams and manufacturing master copy type,” explained Mr. Werfel. “They were also engraving point-of-purchase displays, e.g. electric and non-electric engraved acrylic signs for fashion displays.”
By 1948 New Hermes had abandoned their earlier subcontractor (Waldorf) and turned to Gerard Gruettner for assistance in the design and construction of their machines. Working closely with New Hermes, Gruettner developed a whole series of design changes for New Hermes beginning with an adjustable pantograph. This turned out to be their Model GM with ratios ranging from 2-½:l to 6:1. Now the engraver could reproduce 15 different sizes of engraving from the same master template.
In the 1950’s, Gruettner’s design ideas for improving the New Hermes ring engraving machine led to the first really practical inside ring engraving machine in the industry. For the trophy industry he was instrumental in the development of a larger engraving machine with the capacity to handle Revere bowls and large trays.
By the mid 50s, with the advent of the plastics division and the introduction of larger more versatile machines, New Hermes was now able to pursue many new markets, including trophies, signage and the industrial field.
“As fast as New Hermes came out with bigger and better machines, we sold them,” said Joe Flamm. “First there was the Model G (which was also called ‘Industrial A’), then came the GM and the GT and the ring engraving machine along with a host of new accessories and type styles.”
By the early 50s New Hermes had entered both the trophy and the industrial field. With the introduction of the Model H in the late 50s and the Model VB in the early 60s, New Hermes really became a full-line industrial supplier.
At that time, Maury Kaufman felt that there were many industrial applications for engraving that were going unnoticed. And so he was put in charge of developing the industrial field in the East and New England states. Maury began by selling the idea of plastic engraved signage to sign people. “These people were accustomed to making cardboard signs and hand painted lettering,” said Maury. “What we were then selling was a whole new concept in signmaking. We also went to airplane manufacturers, electronics people, hospitals and even visited the military, selling various types of badges and signs.
“I went to factories where they knew nothing of engraving. To them, there was no such thing as industrial engraving. If they needed engraving work done they sent it out to a hand engraver or for hot stamping.”
What New Hermes really had to sell first was the idea that the factories could do the engraving themselves. Many factories mistakenly thought that an engraving setup would probably cost them $10,000 and require special engineers to run it. They didn’t realize that it was a simple, tracer-guided process that almost anyone could do, nor did they realize that their actual setup costs would be so low, e.g. only a few hundred to a thousand dollars.
Bill Kamin (Fig. 10), who began his career as a salesman for New Hermes in the early 50’s, laid the groundwork for the establishment of Hermes Plastics Midwest. He was originally assigned as a sales representative for several North Central states and began stocking supplies—particularly plastics—in his Chicago office. Later he organized and managed the Hermes Chicago plastics fabricating plant and continued to represent New Hermes in Cook County (Chicago), IL, until his retirement in 1971.
During the 50’s, while the salesmen were out in search of new markets for their plastics line as well as their engraving machines, a major change was taking place in New York. A Frenchman, by the name of Marcel Vitoux, had approached Norbert with a very attractive offer to manufacture parts for the New Hermes engraving machines at his plant in France. He also wanted to represent New Hermes in Europe. Vitoux owned a huge textile plant with a machine manufacturing plant on the side which he was anxious to put into full operation.
As a result of this meeting in 1954, Schimmel and Vitoux made an agreement to form a company together to manufacture the pantograph part of the New Hermes’ machines at Vitoux’s plant in France. New Hermes would then buy the pantograph and continue to have the rest of the machine (the motor, workholder and die cast base) manufactured in the U.S. The actual assembly was then handled by New Hermes. The arrangements were made and the European company came to be known as Gravograph, an international company with agents around the world.
New Hermes had already earned quite a name for itself in the jewelry field and was established to the point that few jewelers would touch another machine. The New Hermes machine was fast becoming the standard of the engraving industry. Most jewelers either sold trophies or had close connections with the trophy industry and it was on their recommendations that New Hermes’ entry into the trophy field was such an easy one. The trophy industry itself was greatly aided at that time by the increasing post-war popularity of bowling and other sports and recreational activities.
In 1963, Hermes Plastics introduced Gravoply, the first flexible laminated engraving stock that would soon revolutionize the plastics industry. By working in close cooperation with Hugh Rowland, Schimmel created a modified acrylic material which was a tremendous improvement over phenolic and could even be bent with the application of heat. Best of all, it was easy to fabricate. The engraver could shear and score it himself and it required no pre-drilling.
When Hermes Plastics began selling Gravoply in sheets by the square inch rather than by the pound (the way phenolic had been sold), engravers found this to be much more convenient. “As a further convenience,” remarked Norbert, “we were able to promise 24 hour shipment when the normal delivery time for cut pieces of phenolic was six weeks.” The impact New Hermes’ Gravoply had on both the plastics and the engraving industry at that time was phenomenal! New Hermes was now keenly aware of the importance of new developments in engraving materials and went on to develop a full line of plastics. By 1977 the plastics division had developed two new materials: one was 2-Plex, which was a duo-color acrylic designed for interior or exterior usage. The other was Gravoply II, Hermes’ first micro-surface engraving stock.
In addition to their plastics line, New Hermes also provided an extensive line of engraving supplies such as nameplate holders, legend plates, luggage tags, badge blanks, etc.
As New Hermes became more familiar with the trophy and sports industry, they directed their attention to meeting these specialized needs. In 1963, New Hermes designed a machine for engraving skis. Two years later, in 1965, they developed the first machine for bowling ball engraving. George Berlant played a key role in the design and development of these two machines.
Throughout the 50’s and early 60’s, there were many machine revisions. By the late 1950’s the GTX-series machines had arrived and met with instant success. This allowed jewelers, trophy dealers and industrial manufacturers to hold larger pieces for engraving, e.g. baby cups, mugs, etc. The GTX was followed by the development of the IL, ITF and IRX-series machines. The whole concept of flatbed machines for signage came about at that time, as evidenced by these models.
Fewer major changes and developments occurred in the ensuing years—mostly machine refinements. One exception is the introduction of their glass engraving machine in 1974. By the late 70’s New Hermes was offering almost two dozen different machines. The machine line continued to grow and additional equipment was added including a strip heater (1977), Safety Saw (1979) and the Thermograph hot stamping machine (1981).
The early years in the history of New Hermes were often difficult. Started on a shoestring by German immigrants, the company saw much of its customer base evaporate almost overnight following the U.S. entry into World War II, necessitating a total redirection in the company’s efforts. Then following the end of the war New Hermes had to again revert to the peacetime pursuit of business, including the building of a sales organization from the ground up.
As rapidly as New Hermes would progress in one direction, the whole marketing scene would change, sending them off in a new and even better direction. But what makes this story so incredible is the fact that this company—still in its infancy in those days—was flexible enough to change with the times, perceptive enough to recognize new opportunities and strong enough to pursue them. And this is only part of the story...
In Part 2 we’ll present a continuation of the story including the evolution of New Hermes’ extensive branch system and a general tour of their main office branch. Of equal interest will be the significant events of the 80s—the company’s entry into the computerized engraving age, a change in the ownership of the company and a preview of changes to come.
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