Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Derby & Ball Co. - 2

Logo from a 1934-vintage Derby & Ball scythe handle.
I haven't been able to turn up a lot of detail on the Derby & Ball Co., but have found a few interesting facts that I'm including here in the hope that more information may reveal itself. 
Derby and Ball is an example of a manufacturing company that changed with the times and adapted to new markets when their original product was no longer in demand. The company was founded by Albert Derby, one of the principals in a company called Frost, Derby & Co. The company started manufacturing scythe snaths in 1857. In 1882, Franklin P. Ball, who had been engaged in the manufacture of scythe snaths in Springfield, Vt. since 1852, joined the firm which was renamed Derby & Ball. The company had two locations - one was in Bellows Falls, the other in Waterbury. The Waterbury facility specialized in manufacturing the wooden (primarily willow) handles for the various scytes. 
Catalog page showing the various styles of scythe handles offered by Derby, Ball & Edwards Corp. 
In 1920, the Edwards & Edwards Co. merged with Derby & Ball forming Derby, Ball & Edwards Corp.  In 1933 the company was reorganized as Derby & Ball, Inc. In 1933 they started manufacturing baseball bats in addition to scythes. 

The company would last into the early 1960s but not as a manufacturer of scythes or even baseball bats. (The bats were only made for a few years before that business was sold to the makers of Louisville Slugger.) Recreational skiing started becoming popular in the years before WWII, and purely by accident the company started to make skis in 1934. A December 1950 newsletter of the Mt. Mansfield Ski Club explains the story behind how the company got involved in the ski business and explained how the skis were made. 


  1. Marty, Just letting you know that I have using your information and photo posts to build a slice of the Derby and Ball Co. You also mentioned the Mt Mansfield Trolley RR. I used a photo in one of Don Valentines magazines to build the trolley shed and lastly I also built the structure that was across the CV freight house just north of Waterbury station from the photo you posted from the Ambassador. Thanks again, JOHN

  2. Love these kinds of posts - prototype history lesson as well as prototype modeling inspiration! Hope you discover more about Derby & Ball - sounds like a really neat RR customer

  3. I'm actually the fellow that secured the scan of that catalog! Good to see that it came in handy for someone. The original is in a library, and they seem as rare as hen's teeth as the catalog itself directs the owner to destroy all previous copies of their catalogs! Derby & Ball may have used the railroads to ship their product, but the railroads were actually big *customers* of theirs. Post roughly 1920 or so the largest buyers of scythes and snaths were the railroads for maintaining their rights of way. This is part of the reason for so many scythe snaths in the post-1920 era being so heavy and thick. The clerks were doing the buying but relatively unskilled grunt workers were doing the labor. Since a well-made snath is a light and willowy thing not able to withstand much abuse (proper mowing is very low impact--slicing, not hacking) and would be prone to frequent destruction in untrained hands the clerks demanded heavy snaths that were difficult to break. They weren't doing the swinging, so they didn't much care if the tools were tiring to use! I have one snath by them that is so thick in the neck that I can't get my hand around it! However, the No.50 model was their most popular model and what I consider a good general-use snath. They still were a bit overbuilt because they were made for the general scythe-using public rather than the veteran mower, but were well made snaths and my favorite of the *commonly found* vintage scythe snaths.

  4. Thank you for this informative post. Just got a beautiful old Derby and Ball scythe for Christmas so searching for the history.

  5. I also have one, but I fear it lost its label.

  6. Franklin P. Ball was my great, great, great uncle. My great grandfather ran a similar venture several years later in Quebec making Snaths.

    1. That would have been the Dominion Snath Co., eh? If you have any history or artifacts to share I'd be very interested!