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F. W. Boerner Company: Paramount Mail Orders

quotes collected by Alex van der Tuuk



Paramount Records October 1930 Dealers' List
Paramount Records October 1930 Dealers’ List

Fred Boerner and his brother-in-law Maurice Supper, who originally both worked for the New York Recording Laboratories in Grafton, found out that selling records became a profitable situation by 1924 for the New York Recording Laboratories. In that year the Wisconsin Chair Company had a lease agreement with Harry Pace’s Black Swan Records to use the metal masters for a special block of Paramount issues in their Paramount 12000 series.

On 31 January 1925 Fred Boerner, Maurice Supper and his wife Viola Boerner-Supper formed the F. W. Boerner Company, a mail order business, with an initial capital of $50,000. Maurice Supper died in 1943, and Fred Boerner and his sister Viola kept the company going. By the late 1930s the company went into irrigation systems under the name of the Ideal Irrigation Company. Viola remained vice-president of the company as late as 1967. After the death of Fred Boerner in 1980, the company dissolved in 1981.


late Paramounts in Boerner catalogue
late Paramounts in Boerner catalogue

John Steiner (1997):
They [Boerner and Maurice Supper] started the mail order business in the first place because an uncle or something worked at Paramount. They started it more or less as an experiment. They were encouraged because they were familiar with the advertising results they were getting from one of the newspapers and decided it was worth an experiment to direct with sales.

Bob Koester (2003):
They [F.W. Boerner] would insure them and send them by parcel post, not well packed, so they would get the insurance money and still sell the records to the customer. Because the customer had to wait until the second batch arrived. That’s cheap. That’s not even nice. No wonder his mail order business dwindled (in the end). He kept on doing that and conceivably he did.


scrap records postcard
scrap records postcard

Ambrose Mayer:
The mail-order business was located on 540 West Grand Avenue, Port Washington. He was with Fred Supper and they got into some salve crème to make black people lighter. They got busted for that for false advertising and using United States Mail for that. I don’t know if Fred Boerner did go to prison, but Fred Supper did go (Fred Supper was Maurice Supper’s son, who initially set up the mail-order business with Boerner).

I knew Maurice Supper. I remember him having outside that store in the back a lot of broken records they got over from handling or shipping. That was way before World War Two, I was just a kid. They were still shipping records then. There were still a lot of records in the back. There was also a lot of that cream, bottles and bottles, bushel baskets full of broken bottles.. At that time we didn’t know what it was all about. It’s only in later years when you hear, see and read what happened there. They were good people though.

During the Depression everybody bootlegged everything for the Dollar and they found a way doing it with that stuff and got busted. Everybody got tangled up the same way with that stuff. Employees of the Wisconsin Chair Company made boxes made under spare time or whenever they could sneak it in that the bosses didn’t see them making them.

Howard Bostwick (2000)
(Fred Supper) he graduated with me in 1935, so I believe Maurice already had gone back to New York at that time. Maurice Supper was married to a Boerner girl here in town, Viola. They had two children, Fred and a daughter that was handicapped. I know that Maurice was back in New York as soon as Fred graduated. He headed east, for what kind of business I could not say [Maurice Supper never left Port Washington].

Brian Wilburn (2002) about Supper-Boerner family
Maurice Supper lived right next door to McCarthy. We moved up to Wisconsin from Chicago in 1934 and Maurice Supper by that time was no longer involved with the WCC.

John Steiner (1997):
Fred Boerner had already gone into irrigation before he got out of the mail order business and just kept the mail order as an off-in-the-corner by itself. He wasn’t doing very much with it. And most of the mail order cataloguing, the materially mail-out composed by clipping something from years before so he destroyed all of his own records by cutting them up, making a new poster.

He was selling records into the 1940s. He was putting out lists advertising to a few loyal customers who continued to buy through mail order, but when those dwindled to 100 or 300 he realised he couldn’t mix. It wasn’t worth his time. He used to have 1,300 clients. They could get as many as 1,300 replies, nearly for 5,000 records or something. Boerner used Port Washington’s post office. Up into the 1940s Boerner still catalogued a very few Paramounts. Boerner ran the mail order business. He may have had a secretary [at that time] or somebody else, but I have the impression that everybody else was working on the irrigating sales, not the record business. It was more or less his project. Because in the winter time there wouldn’t be any irrigation, so most of them were seasonal. So in winter he started his mail order business and in summers his irrigation.

He did not produce records. Boerner had “stress” stock which he couldn’t sell. You know, they [the record companies] sell cheaply to him, like $5 a box, trying to resell to him. In addition to Paramounts he had all kinds of things up to the mid-1940s. His mail order had dropped out so precipitously, maybe 1945. One spring I asked him if he still had that stack of Paramounts out in the back that he had spread around. It wasn’t too hard to find 50 or 100 different Paramounts and I thought it was worthwhile to go through it again. He said: “No I burnt those but there was so much ash!” This was about 1945. He put out mailings, because he was selling a lot of things that would keep him going in addition to the records.


Phonograph records COD sticker
Phonograph records COD sticker

Dennis Klopp
I remember Boerner had that irrigation company. I don’t know if it was one of a Supper relative or somebody’s daughter.
The Ideal Irrigation Co. was part of some Paramount people. A friend of mine, his wife told me that all the stuff that was [of] the Boerner family they donated a lot to the State Historical Society, but nobody seems to ever have seen it. They donated it in 1980 I believe it was.

Bob Koester (2003)
After the close of the Grafton operation didn’t most of the inventory get sold to one of the members of the Board, Fred Boerner? Steiner showed me a cut sheet, you know logo cuts that had King Records as well as Paramount, late Paramounts. One of them was still selling in the 1940s.