Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Franklin Paperweight Factory to Stay Put

The International Paper Company's Paper Mill in Franklin, Virginia is closing next Spring and there's nothing we can do about it.  All the eccentric millionaires in the Tidewater region have passed on the oppurtunity to purchase it.  As the town of 8,400 braces for an impact of unknown severity, it's business as usual at Blumford Paperweights.  The family owned and operated business has been making paperweights for nearly a century  - less than a mile from the huge smokestacks of the paper mill.  Tidewater Log joined Curtis Blumford for lunch at his company's picnic/conference table.

Tidewater Log:  I'm sorry to hear the bad news for Franklin, Mr. Blumford.

Curtis Blumford:  It's sad, real sad, but we're actually having a good year here so... I can't be that sad.

TL:  Does the paper mill's closure effect your business?

CB:  Nope.  There's already enough paper in the world that needs weighing down.

TL:  Will you be able to offer any of the ex-employees jobs at Blumford Paperweights?

CB:  I wish I could.  It only takes 7 people to keep our business running.  Maybe I could hire on or two extra people for the holiday season, but it wouldn't be permanent.

TL:  Have you ever thought about expanding?

CB:  No.  My dad did back in the 70s and it almost wiped us out.

TL:  Was there a greater demand for paperweights back then?

CB:  Oh, yeah.  Novelty type stuff sold really well.  Funny paperweights that said "Sit On It" or had a picture of Darth Vader smoking a joint.

TL:  Wow!  Did you have permission from George Lucas to do those?

CB:  (laughing) Hell no!  Some lawyer called my dad to ask him about it and he just pretended not to understand English and hung up.  We also made a bunch of  "Ringo for President" ones.  Nobody ever called us about those!

TL:  Was your grandfather, Cecil Blumford, still involved with the business at that point?

CB:  Yeah.  He passed away in 1984 and came to work here everyday since he built it in 1919.

TL:  That's incredible.  What was he like?

CB:  A hard worker.  No nonsense.  A good family man.  He had really big earlobes when he got old.

TL:  How old was he when he started Blumford Paperweights?

CM:  20.  He built this factory with bricks he'd been collecting or given as gifts his whole life.  The land was an old Indian trash dump and he bought it for few dollars.  Nobody wanted it.

TL:  Was the business successful from the start?

CB:  It was steady.  He did lots of small custom orders for businesses in Virginia and North Carolina and animal shaped ones have always been popular.  You see, Americans got most of their paperweights from overseas back then - fancy glass ones from Italy, ornate Oriental ones, ivory ones from Africa and India. 

TL:  But, one day changed everything.

CB:  Yep.  December 7, 1941.

TL:  What happened?

CB:  I wasn't alive, but my dad was and he remembers.  Let me call him for you...(yelling) DAD!!  Come out 'chere a second!

The whirring of a machine from inside the factory stops and Mack Blumford, 82, comes out, wiping his hands on a filthy rag.  He sits at the picnic table and lights a cigarette. 

CB:  Tell him about December 7, 1941.

Mack Bumford:  Pearl Harbor got attacked.  In Hawaii.

CB:  Tell him about what happened here.

MB:  My father and I were here and heard the news like everybody else around 3 o'clock in the afternoon.

CB:  Tell him about the phone call.

MB:  The Secretary of War's secretary was from Suffolk and she had a poodle paperweight on her desk that we made.  She called and placed the first of many orders for paperweights to be used by everyone in the U.S. Government and Military.

CB:  There were to be only American made paperweights on American desks from that point on.

TL:  Poodle ones?

MB:  Nooooo sir.  We're talking about very nice, heavy, individually crafted paperweights engraved with the names of generals, boats, forts, admirals, secretaries - everything.  Come in, I'll show you something.

I follow the Blumfords into the factory and Mack points to a picture on the wall.

MB:  There's Truman with Stinson and under Truman's right hand is a Blumford paperweight.

TL:  Amazing.

CB:  And here's a picture of my dad working.

TL:  What were you working on there, Mack?

MB:  Oh, I don't know.  Little frogs, probably.  I loved making those.  Still do.  Here.

Mack reaches into his pocket and pulls out a little frog paperweight.

TL:  Thank you.  So, do y'all still do stuff for the Government?

MB:  Naw.  Those jobs fizzled down after the war and Johnson made it clear that he wanted all U.S. Government desk accessories made in Texas.

CB:  He said that on the plane right after he got sworn in.

MB:  I'd like to think that most of the ones we made are still in use somewhere because they're so sturdy.

TL:  I can tell you take great pride in your paperweights.

MB:  Quality always comes first.  Uniqueness comes in first...and a half.

TL:  Mack, do you have any thoughts about the paper mill closing?

MB:  Well, I'd like to say that we're gonna miss having the paper mill in town.  I hope all those people will be back to work soon.  They're all real good folks.

CB:  Yeah...and I never thought I'd say it, but I'm gonna miss the smell of it.  I like it.

MB:  Mmmm-hmmmm.  Me too.  Smells pure.