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Hot-Selling History?

Mar 1, 2011

Even 150 years later, the Civil War has the power to move minds and hearts. As the sesquicentennial approaches, one company is uniquely positioned to serve consumers with an interest in Abraham Lincoln and the War Between the States. Historical Documents Co. is an outfit based in Philadelphia that sells antique looking prints on parchment. "Right now we're approaching the 150th anniversary of the Civil War," says company Vice President, Matt Buber. "Lincoln and the Civil War is our number one category." With roots back to the 1920s, Buber says, Historical Documents has a history of its own. "We're a small business, family owned for decades," he says.

The five employee company uses a particular process for creating its old looking prints, and its techniques are carefully guarded. "We put it through a process which is pretty much a secret," says Buber. Historical Documents puts that process to good use, creating a wide range of documents, from the ancient to modern. "We use a thicker parchment paper that feels old. It is actual parchment paper," says Buber. "A lot of our documents are either educational or reproductions of original documents. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are our number one sellers." Other top sellers, as listed on the Historical Documents Co. website, include Colonial and Confederate Banknote sets, the Bill of Rights, Civil War Map and Document sets, the Four Documents of Freedom set, History of Famous American Flags, and Presidents of the United States, from George Washington to Obama.

The website,, serves an important purpose for the company. "We started the website in 2005," says Buber. "It's an informational tool we use to show customers our product lines. The site's biggest strength is that it gives my customers, or potential customers, the visual of each document. We do have a catalog, but there are only a few pictures in there, just to keep costs down. To minimize costs on a hard print catalog, we incorporated the website to use with the catalog or in place of it. Customers can get the visual effect of each document, as we have about 90 percent of our products online." That's 90 percent of a product offering that includes 500 different items. The website is designed to make browsing simple. "For easy navigation of the website, we try to categorize our documents," says Buber. "Some documents are placed in multiple categories." In addition, the company offers a custom service in which buyers can take any document and make an antiqued version of it. Historical Documents has worked with customers to create an early company advertisement, a company's mission statement or corporate charter, or even a stock certificate or license.

Historical Documents Co. uses two Internet addresses for its site. "Once I took control here," relates Buber, "the website name changed to, but we also have If you go to one or the other, it links you to the same thing. Some buyers already knew us as, so we kept it that way." The site does not show prices or allow online purchases, and that's a deliberate design decision. Historical Documents Co. has a special strength in its phone support, and the company wants to use the website to drive customers to place a call. "We want to develop a relationship in which customers are intrigued by our products. We want them to call us and place orders that way," says Buber. "It's more personal, instead of just going through the Internet and not knowing anybody, who they are, or who to speak to. We want people to call in so we can give them more information about the company." The company has made a deliberate tactical choice about its pricing policy. "We are a wholesaler, so we don't publish our prices," says Buber. He mentioned that he does not want end consumers to compare the retail prices they pay to the wholesale prices paid by a retailer. "That's another reason we want people to call in and talk to us," he explains. That pricing is very competitive, and offers attractive margins for retailers. A single page document wholesales for 75 cents, and suggested retail would be anywhere from $1.99 to $3.99. "Our high margins are a selling point," says Buber. Another selling point is the low minimum order, at just 36 copies of a single title.

Some of the company's customers include historical sites, historical gift shops and museum gift shops, as well as wholesalers and a few customers, such as teachers, who buy in quantity. The company's popularity among academic customers is natural. "We offer a great product that's educational and collectible. It's very inexpensive and made in the United States, which is a good selling point," says Buber. Historical Documents offers customers a wide range of shipping options via UPS Ground. "We have them folded in an envelope; rolled and tied with a red, white, and blue ribbon, in a poly sleeve or even a hard plastic tube," says Buber. "We leave it up to whatever the customer wants." The economy has had an impact on the company's fortunes, says Buber. "We're definitely down, no doubt about it." However, he says that the economy and Historical Documents Co. are doing better, and where the company was down 20 percent in 2009, that figure was only ten percent last year. Looking ahead, as the Civil War anniversary approaches, Buber expects that rising trend to continue.

For more information:
Historical Documents Co.
2555 Orthodox Street
Philadelphia, PA 19137
Tel.: 215-533-4500
Toll Free: 888-700-7265
Fax: 215-533-9319

Topic: Company Profiles

Related Articles: Civil War  collectibles 

Article ID: 1423

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