R W stands for Russel W Robinson. According to an article in the January to June 1907 records of the “American Druggist and Pharmaceutical Record, Robinson entered the drug business in the late 1840’s and formed the firm of R W Robinson & Son in 1870. He died in 1883.
The NYC directories support and add to this information.
- Russel W Robinson was first listed in the 1847/1848 City Directory (the earliest one I could find) at 214 Fulton Street with the occupation of “drugs.”
- Robinson moved to 182 – 186 Greenwich Street in and around 1857/1858.
- The firm of R W Robinson and Son first appeared in the 1870/1871 Directory at the Greenwich Street address. Russel W Robinson continued to be listed individually at that address as well. The business was also listed in the 1877 Rands NYC Business Directory under “wholesale drugs”
- Russel W Robinson was still listed individually in the 1883 directory but was not listed in 1886 (the next directory I have access to). The business continued to be listed at Greenwich Street.
- In the 1897 and 1898 Trow Business Directories for Manhattan and the Bronx, the company remained listed at the Greenwich Street address and an address at 228 Fulton Street was added.
A notice in the November 28, 1903 edition of the New York Times announced that the business had incorporated:
R. W. Robinson & Son, New York, to deal in drugs; capital $80,000. Directors – F.M. Robinson, W.R. Robinson, D.W. Kent, New York.
After incorporation, the company name became R. W. Robinson & Son Company.
In 1906 there appears to have been a split, when several directors and long time employees of Robinson resigned and formed a new company called the C. S. Littell Company. The May 1906 issue of the “Pharmaceutical Era”reported the formation of the new company under the headline “Well Known Drug Men in New Wholesale House”
It was announced by Charles S. Littell, George Thompson and Theodore W. Day that they have resigned as directors of the corporation of R. W. Robinson & Son, Co., severing their connection with that concern, and have formed a co-partnership under the name of C. S. Littell & Co. They will do a wholesale drug business at 228 Fulton Street. The new firm has leased the Fulton Street section of the old building, leaving the Greenwich Street side, which forms an “L” to 186 Greenwich, to the Robinson firm. which will continue in business. The two buildings are, in fact, separate and distinct, being connected by a passageway.
Charles S. Littell, who is prominent in drug trade circles as chairman of the Drug Trade Section of the New York Board of Trade and Transportation, started with the Robinson firm thirty-five years ago as a boy and for twenty years was a partner in the old firm of R. W. Robinson & Son. During the past two years he has been vice-president of the present incorporated company. Mr. Thompson and Mr. Day have both been connected with the business for over twenty years.
It was first the intention of the Robinson Co. gradually to drop their wholesale branch altogether and to confine themselves to their cash jobbing business, which they carry on in their Greenwich Street building, and to the pushing of their laboratory specialties. F. M. Robinson said to an Era representative this week, however, that he had changed his mind about the matter. So much new business has been coming in, he said, that there will be enough to go around between the new and the old concerns without either conflicting with the other. Hence the firm will continue the wholesale department…
There must have been more to the situation than reported in the story because a little over one year later, R. W. Robinson & Son was bankrupt. A bankruptcy notice, that listed assets of $24,184 and liabilities of $156,569 was printed in the October 31, 1907 edition of the N Y Times. A day later, a bankruptcy sale was announced in the paper. The notice provided a description of the business at that time of the sale. It included: a complete manufacturing, wholesale and retail business together with a laboratory. Their property included drugs, chemicals, proprietory medicines, formulas, trade names, office fixtures, typewriters, etc.
C. S. Littell was still listed at 228 Fulton Street in the 1919 Copartnership and Corporation Directory. At some point in the early 1920’s they moved to 330 Spring Street and I don’t see them listed in the 1930’s.
Each year the Robinson Company published an almanac which they referred to as “An ephemeris of the motions of the sun and moon, the true places and aspects of the planets, rising and setting of the sun and the rising, setting and southing of the moon.” The annual almanac advertised the wide variety of proprietary remedies available from R W Robinson and Sons. They were also listed as a dealer for several proprietary medicines in newspaper advertisements over the years. The earliest one I could find is from 1870 for “Hembold’s Buchu.”
Other proprietary medicines they were associated with in advertisements include “Dr. Clark Johnson’s Indian Blood Syrup,” the “Old Squaw’s Cure” and “Dr. M Caldwell’s Dyspepsia Remedy.” An 1873 advertisement for Dr. Caldwell’s from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle is included below.
The 182 -186 Greenwich Street and 228 Fulton Street addresses no longer exist and the location is currently within the footprint of the World Trade Center site.
The bottle I found is a small medicine (approximately 4 oz) with a tooled finish. It’s embossed R W Robinson & Son and fits with the 1870 to 1907 time frame of the company (probably late 1800’s). There’s no address embossed on the bottle.