Although whaling was on its way out in the late 19th century, depriving New London of a trade it still identifies with today, the waterfront remained a fairly active one. Even today, several marinas, fishing boats, and charter services call the city home. State Pier sees regular visits from international merchant vessels and ferries run a regular route between Long Island, Block Island, and Fishers Island.
It only makes sense, then, that a chandlery specializing in outfitting these ships would keep a steady business. This week's item captures one such transaction in a long-running downtown business, Darrow & Comstock. It is offered by The Jumping Frog, the Hartford used bookstore that has a healthy collection of interesting documents and materials from Connecticut history available on eBay.
The bill from April of 1896 was written for the fishing smack Mama and records a sale of lines, hooks, and other materials. The total damage: $14.05. The letterhead notes how the company is acting as a ship chandlery while also providing engineer and contractor supplies. And, of course, that newfangled long distance telephone.
Darrow & Comstock had already been a New London institution for 20 years at the time they penned this bill. The chandlery began in 1876 as a supplier of both groceries and equipment for ships, with the grocery end eventually phased out. Traveling salesmen helped promote the company across the state and into New York. It all made the company name "a synonym for quality and economy with steamboat, ship and yacht owners, contractors and steamfitters along the Connecticut and in Long Island."
The company's address on the bill, 114 and 116 Bank Street, are the current locations of Hot Rod Cafe and Book-A-Zine. By the time the article was published noting Darrow & Comstock's 40th birthday, the company had moved to 94 and 96 Bank Street. Better known today as the Roberts Audio Video building, this is also the site where The Day got its start in 1881 in a second floor space.
This floor was later occupied by the Jibboom Club, founded in 1871 as an informal group of sea captains. Its incorporation in 1891 also saw regular meetings at club space above Darrow & Comstock, although disagreements with the company over building maintenance led the club to move to the Lawrence Building only three years later. Although the original Jibboom Club dissolved in 1959 due to shrinking membership, the New London Maritime Society has brought it back again as a way to meet for "maritime talk, good friends, and cookies." This takes place from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. every third Tuesday at the Custom House Maritime Museum.
It is unclear exactly when Darrow & Comstock gave up the ghost. The 94 to 96 Bank Street address was still the home of the chandlery in 1962. When it did go out of business, it offered an opportunity for Roberts Audio Video to expand its own space in the building.
The bill measures eight and a half by seven inches. The starting bid is $9.99, with free shipping. The auction ends at about 9:03 p.m. tonight.