Anti-German sentiment was running high in the United States during the First World War. Designated by President Woodrow Wilson, the Alien Property Custodian was charged with rendering all “enemy-held” assets as property of the U.S., which included the New York branch of the A.W Faber Company. The notice above was published in the September 1918 edition of The American Stationer and Office Outfitter, but was likely also to be found in other trade magazines as well.
The New York Times published a brief article about the sale, noting that “only American citizens will be allowed to participate”, and that once concluded, the Custodian’s efforts will have made “the concerns thoroughly American in character.”
The Times article went further however, in making a distinction between A.W. Faber and Eberhard Faber, both of whom had offices and plants in New York. Lothar von Faber, who had taken over his family’s business in Germany in 1839, had two brothers: Eberhard and Johann. Eberhard Faber was sent to the U.S. by Lothar in 1849 to manage the New York offices of A.W. Faber. Along the way Eberhard decided to strike out on his own, and ended up becoming Lothar’s chief competitor in the U.S. (It’s worth noting that Lothar’s other brother Johann would start up his own company as well, in Europe, and the three companies would compete against one another for decades to come.)
Eberhard Faber had every reason to be concerned with public perception, and so that no mistake be made, he had this statement published on the page adjacent to the notice of the sale:
The Faber family tree is complex, filled with several Eberhards and Lothars, but not nearly complex as their relationships must have been. Brothers, competitors, then as this event shows, one side of the family now considered to be the “enemy”. By this time though, A.W. Faber was transitioning to Faber-Castell in Germany, and it was Eberhard Faber II (born in the U.S.) running the Eberhard Faber Pencil Company. I don’t know to what degree the family may or may have not been feuding at that time, but I wonder whether Eberhard II was willing or able to do anything about the sale (I’ll have to do some more looking, but I recall reading that there was cooperation between the Faber companies vis-à-vis raw materials, etc.). Since Eberhard II was an American, did he consider bidding on the assets, or was he concerned with being associated with “the enemy”? Did he steer clear for political reasons, or could he even have been experiencing some schadenfreude at the expense of his competitor?
Those must have been politically delicate and complex times for Eberhard II, both with his family abroad and his business in the U.S. Perhaps the long-awaited Faber-Castell book will tell more of the story.
Apparently the auction was held as planned, and the winning bid was $145,000 by a man called Theodore Friedeburg (in today’s money, that would be in the neighborhood of $2,081,088.50). However, 13 days later Mr. Friedeburg was denied his purchase, as per this executive order from President Woodrow Wilson:
I can’t say that I know anything about there being an approval process for such auctions, much less that one has to come from the president. Wouldn’t there have been some mechanism in place to assure that a minimum value be met, especially with a liquidation of this magnitude? Also, why would the offer need to be declined by the president himself? Couldn’t the Alien Property Custodian—assigned by the president—have had the authority to approve or decline a bid?
Speculating can lead to wildly incorrect conclusions. But I can’t help wondering if Mr. Friedeburg’s German surname didn’t have something to do with this decision, and that in order for the U.S. to back out of the deal (and quickly), it had to be taken all the way up to the president for his signature.
I don’t know what became of the Faber assets; I haven’t seen any other public auction notices past this date. Now I’m even more curious as to what happened.