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TRENCH MFG – CORPORATE HISTORY & IDENTIFICATION GUIDE

A unique aspect of understanding the history and origins of pennants is to know what companies manufactured and distributed them. It is curious to me that little information is available about where pennants came from or how they were made. In the world of trading cards Topps, Upper Deck and Panini are recognizable brands with loyal supporters. Many people have dedicated considerable hours to researching the size and distribution of certain sets produced by these companies so that some insight could be gained on exactly how many copies of a particular card may have been produced.

Few people understand or even pay attention to where a pennant was manufactured or how to differentiate pennants between manufacturers. These insights are key to filling in significant gaps of information that exist within the pennant collecting hobby. Information related to the size of print runs or number of variations available for a particular vintage pennant is a pipe dream at this point in time. This article sheds light on the corporate history and identifying factors of one of the most prolific pennant and sports apparel manufacturers in the United States for 75 years, Trench MFG in Buffalo, NY.

Trench Manufacturing, Inc. was founded in Buffalo, NY in 1920 and began exclusively producing felt pennants and banners. Trench remained a small, locally based company for its early history until 1958 when Thomas W Storm purchased all property and assets, becoming CEO. Storm dramatically increased Trench’s presence in the world of souvenir production, securing a license to produce pennants for the NFL in 1960.[1] Trench pennants from the 60s are gorgeous. Most are recognizable as a “big logo” style, featuring a large printed mascot on the left side, the NFL shield in the bottom corner, the city name in script and team name in block lettering running left to right towards the tip. Finding these flags with the retail tags still attached is next to impossible, as most were removed when the pennant was tacked on the wall. Some Trench pennants from this era have a tag sewn on the back of the spine that identifies the manufacturer as Trench MFG, Buffalo, NY. This tag is pictured here. The felt from these flags has a special feel and appearance. The felt is soft and floppy, it appears to be a more coarse pressed material than other pennants from the era printed on linen or canvas. The typical price for a pennant was relatively high compared to other sports collectibles available at the time. A youngster might have to shell out as much as $2 for a pennant, equivalent to the cost of 40 packs of baseball cards, or even a ticket to a game!

Trench ramped up production throughout the 60s, creating a number of college, MLB, NBA and NHL pennant lines in addition to the NFL. NBA and NHL examples from the 1960s are very rare and were likely produced in far smaller quantities than MLB and NFL memorabilia. Manufacturing continued to expand into the 1970s to include countless minor leagues, high schools, colleges and even the rival pro sports leagues like the World Hockey Association and World Football League.

The appearance and feel of Trench pennants underwent several subtle changes during this time as well. The felt used was a stiff, coarse material, more durable for mass production. White cotton thread was used to attach the spine to the pennant. This was a cheaper overall product than pennants manufactured in years prior. A definitive characteristic of 70s era Trench flags is the presence of a small mark near in the bottom left corner near the spine. A few examples are pictured here. This distinct logo appears on nearly all Trench pennants produced during the 1970s and only appears on flags made of this type of felt.

A significant part of collecting information related to the age of these pennants or the evolution of production comes from minor league or defunct teams from this era. In some instances, these teams existed for less than a calendar year. This fact creates a very specific window on how many and when these pennants would have been manufactured. The Virginia Red Wings pennant pictured is a key example. This team played for only 3 seasons between 1972 – 1975. The California Seals flag featuring their mascot Sparky Seal was designed in 1971. This pennant featuring Sparky has the distinct feel in addition to the unique mark that designates it as a Trench MFG pennant. Another pennant featuring the distinct mark on the bottom left corner comes from the Cape Cod Cubs. The Cubs played 2 seasons as a minor league affiliate to the Bruins between 1972-1974. For three seasons between 1972 and 1975, the now Sacramento Kings split their home games between Kansas City and Omaha. This KC-Omaha pennant also has the distinct mark in the bottom corner.

I was able to create a consistent time frame of how Trench’s manufacturing style evolved over time by using pennants that featured obscure teams and little known logos. Innumerable sports organizations, no matter how big or small seemed to have contacted Trench about producing pennants. Trench’s ability to design a consistent product bolsters the case that these flags were all manufactured over the same period of time.

By the late 1970s, Thomas Storm’s son John was involved with the company. In addition to pennants, production now included licensed apparel such as hats, jackets and tshirts with team and league logos. Trench’s manufacturing output continued to rise and peaked in the late 1980s. Products from this decade are usually marked TRENCH MFG alongside a copy write date. The felt stock is changed from what was used in previous years, there is still a stiff, coarse feel but it is noticeably lighter and whiter than examples from the 1970s. The cotton threading in the spine is replaced by synthetic clear nylon threading.

The years between 1986 and 1994 are characterized in the world of sports collecting as a huge boom and bust for the entire industry.[2] Many companies produced sports memorabilia in the 1980s with anticipation of high demand, only to learn that expectations were drastically overestimated. For memorabilia manufacturers like Trench, the issues related to overproduction combined with challenges that each of the major sports leagues were facing related to labor negotiations and quality of play. Between 1987 and 1995, each of the major North American sports leagues had a player strike or lockout that impacted significant portions of the playing season, public dissatisfaction with pro sports was at an all time high.

By 1993 Trench was significantly scaling back production of licensed sports products. In 1994 Trench eliminated production of pennants all together by selling off the novelty division of the company to Texas based Tandycrafts, or TAG Express. The Trench brand survived the sale and the name was still used on pennants printed some years later.[3] Trench employed as many as 200 people during what would become the company’s final year of operation in 1995. Company leaders attempted to revitalize the business by brokering licensing deals from outside the pro sports world. In March 1995, Trench negotiated a multi year exclusive apparel contract with Gold’s Gym. This deal was believed to be nothing short of a saving grace for Trench. The Buffalo News reported, “the new manufacturing agreement is expected to result in more than $50 million a year in annual sales for Trench, whose bottom line has been severely dented by the Major League Baseball strike and National Hockey League’s lockout. In a normal year Trench would expect its total sales to be in the $50 million range.”[4] Trench’s financial problems obviously ran much deeper than officials were letting on. Just weeks after the announcement of the contract with Gold’s, the company announced its sale to a group of investors on the condition that the business stay based in Buffalo. The sale did not improve Trench’s prospects. Trench was forced into Chapter 11 bankruptcy in October, 1995 after more than 200 creditors seeking to collect $5.5 million filed a lawsuit.[5] Trench then began the process of liquidating all remaining inventory and closed its factory retail outlets on December 31, 1995 marking an unceremonious end to one of the more colorful chapters in the history of American sports.

Even though some collectors may not realize it, original Trench pennants and apparel are still among the most popular vintage items available today. The influence that Trench has had on pennants is in many ways comparable to the way Topps became the standard bearer for baseball cards. Large scale manufacturing standardized the size of pennants to the familiar 12”x30”, 8”x24” or 4”x12” dimensions similar to how Topps popularized 2 ½” x 3 ½” edges to a card. Trench is seminal in the world of vintage collectibles. The company’s influence on how we identify and cheer for our teams cannot be understated.

There is still much more for me to learn about Trench and it’s history. Much of this information was gleaned from public corporate records, articles published in the Buffalo News and my own notes about the materials used for certain pennants.

Thank you for reading! Please direct any inquiries, comments or additional information about Trench MFG to my email, thefeltfanatic@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] http://buffalonews.com/1995/03/20/investors-acquire-trench-manufacturing-government-agencies-provide-assistance-in-deal-that-keeps-firm-in-wny/

[2] https://www.economist.com/news/christmas-specials/21636506-how-childrens-hobby-turned-classic-financial-mania-baseball-card-bubble

[3] http://buffalonews.com/1994/09/20/trench-mfg-to-sell-unit-to-fort-worth-company/

[4] http://buffalonews.com/1995/01/09/trench-wins-50-million-pact-with-golds-gym/

[5] http://buffalonews.com/1995/12/14/trench-mfg-going-out-of-business/

SEPTEMBER 2017 NEWSLETTER

Check out the very first edition of The Felt Fanatic Monthly, a newsletter that will document all of my latest finds and announce where my popup will be appearing next. If you see something you like be sure to contact me for purchasing and potential discounts!

Don’t forget to use the coupon code!

Click below to open the newsletter:

http://us16.campaign-archive2.com/?u=a7ad22bda62d9bc2b5eb26adc&id=6d53362ca5

Enjoy!!

Zach

THE FELT FANATIC OFFICIAL CONDITION GUIDE

The Felt Fanatic Condition Guide

 

In the world of vintage collectibles, the condition of the item can play a significant role in determining the value of the item. Pennants are no different. These are the terms and descriptions I use to evaluate and determine the value for each pennant I have in stock. Every flaw on an item is considered when evaluating its condition. Finding certain pennants in high grade condition are among the rarest sports collectibles available in the hobby, and therefore command a premium. It is extremely important to have a consistent, transparent process for grading so that buyers understand exactly what they are adding to their collection.

 

UNSOLD STOCK – Brand new pennant, either never distributed to retailers, or distributed but never put on the sales floor. These pennants have no flaws of any kind and still maintain a crispy new feel despite their age.

 

NEAR MINT (NM) – A pennant with no significant flaws. May have been priced for retail sale but never sold or sold to a collector who took very good care of it. A near mint pennant could have one of three flaws. There could be slight splitting at the tip of the pennant, the result of prolonged storage in bent/folded position, creasing that could be flattened out with appropriate storage or some slight unraveling of the threads at either end of the spine.

 

EXCELLENT / NEAR MINT (EX/MT) – A pennant with 1 or 2 minor flaws that would be difficult to notice with the naked eye. A pennant in EX/MT condition might also have some slight yellowing that would be consistent with its age. The screen printing on an EX/MT is still in superb condition and does not show any kind of cracking or chipping. A pennant in EX/MT condition would have TWO of these potential minor flaws. There could be a small pinhole at either end of the spine, staple holes in the spine from where a retail hanger was removed, splitting at the tip, a pinhole at the tip, creasing throughout from being folded in storage, unraveling of the threading at either end of the spine or slight yellowing along the edges of the felt common in pennants from 70/80s. The yellowing should not detract from the look of the pennant and would be difficult to see in some lighting or from a distance.

 

EXCELLENT (EX) – This term describes a pennant in “average” condition and is the most common condition a pennant is usually found in. An EX pennant served its purpose and was proudly hung on the wall by its purchaser. The screen printing on a pennant in EX condition may show slight hairline cracks as a result of prolonged storage in a rolled position. These cracks would not be noticeable from a distance of more than a few feet. EX pennants do not have any significant flaws outside of a single pinhole at each corner or some very slight cracking in the graphics. In addition to a single pinhole at each corner, an EX pennant might have no more than TWO of these potential minor flaws. There could be splitting at the tip, creasing throughout from being folded in storage, staple holes in the spine from where a retail hanger was removed, unraveling of the threading at either end of the spine or slight yellowing along the edges of the felt common in pennants from 70/80s. The yellowing should not detract from the look of the pennant and would be difficult to see in some lighting or from a distance.

 

VERY GOOD / EXCELLENT (VG/EX) – A pennant in VG/EX condition has no more than 3 pinholes at each corner and age related yellowing might be more pronounced throughout the pennant than just along the edges. The screen printing on a pennant in VG/EX condition may show hairline cracks or slight chipping as a result of prolonged storage in a rolled position. These cracks would not be noticeable from a distance of more than a few feet. In addition to as many as 3 pinholes at each corner, a VG/EX pennant might have no more than TWO of these potential minor flaws. There could be splitting at the tip, creasing throughout from being folded in storage, staple holes in the spine from where a retail hanger was removed, unraveling of the threading at either end of the spine or slight yellowing along the edges of the felt, a small spot stain (no larger than a quarter) away from the graphics of the pennant near the edges or tip.

 

VERY GOOD (VG) – A pennant in VG condition has a combination of TWO significant flaws, most often multiple (4-6) pinholes at each corner, pronounced yellowing throughout or a small spot stain near the edges, corners or tip. The screen printing on a pennant in VG condition may show hairline chipping or cracking that is difficult to see from a distance. Slight moth damage or thin spots might be apparent along the edges or at the tip. In addition to as many as 6 pinholes at each corner, a VG pennant might have no more than THREE of these potential minor flaws. There could be splitting at the tip, creasing throughout from being folded in storage, staple holes in the spine from where a retail hanger was removed, unraveling of the threading at either end of the spine or slight yellowing along the edges of the felt or a small spot stain away from the graphics of the pennant near the edges or tip.

 

GOOD – A pennant in good condition shows apparent wear in the form of several different types of significant flaws. There could be pinholes (7+), pronounced yellowing, multiple small spot stains or spatter stains, creasing/wrinkling and/or small tears or fraying at the tip or corners. The screen printing on a pennant in Good condition might show cracking and chipping wider than hairline level and it could be seen from about 7 feet away. Moth damage might be more obvious, resulting in multiple small holes and thin spots along the edges or at the tip. Small foreign markings such as writing may also exist. In addition to the potential significant flaws already described, a Good pennant might have no more than THREE of these potential minor flaws. There could be splitting at the tip, creasing throughout from being folded in storage, staple holes in the spine from where a retail hanger was removed, unraveling of the threading at either end of the spine or slight yellowing along the edges of the felt or a small spot stain away from the graphics of the pennant near the edges or tip.

 

FAIR – Fair condition pennants are clearly low grade and show obvious distress in multiple areas. There could be pinholes (7+), pronounced and darkened yellowing, multiple small spot stains, spatter stains or signs of water stains, creasing/wrinkling and/or small tears or fraying at the tip or corners. Moth damage might be more apparent throughout the pennant. The screen printing on a pennant in Fair condition might show cracking and chipping wider than hairline level, the cracking/chipping can be seen from a distance and detracts from the overall appearance of the graphic. In addition to the potential significant flaws already described, a Fair pennant might have no more than FIVE of these potential minor flaws. There could be splitting at the tip, creasing throughout from being folded in storage, staple holes in the spine from where a retail hanger was removed, unraveling of the threading at either end of the spine or slight yellowing along the edges of the felt or a small spot stain away from the graphics of the pennant near the edges or tip.

 

POOR – The lowest grade for a pennant. This grade is reserved for pennants with obvious and severe damage worse than described above. Pennants in Poor condition often have multiple significant flaws that greatly detract from the visual aesthetic of the pennant. These flaws can include moth damage that gives the flag a tattered look, darkened yellowing throughout, water damage, dark stains or foreign markings. The screen printing on a poor pennant might show obvious cracking and/or chipping that can be seen from a distance or makes the graphic look incomplete. There could be any combination of minor flaws in addition to the serious flaws already described. There could be splitting at the tip, creasing throughout from being folded in storage, staple holes in the spine from where a retail hanger was removed, unraveling of the threading at either end of the spine or slight yellowing along the edges of the felt or a small spot stain away from the graphics of the pennant near the edges or tip.

 

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