S.S. Pierce’s Overland

© Tony Hyman, All rights reserved

Added photo January 16, 2013


S.S. Pierce, grocer extraordinaire

    The S.S. Pierce Company began in 1831 Boston when Silas Stillman Pierce (pronounced “purse”) opened a corner grocery store in the city’s West End. According to family legend, Silas vowed “I may not make money, but I shall make a reputation.”  He succeeded in making both by tending to the desires of the city’s expanding upper middle class, offering not only their basic pantry needs, but also tempting them with delicacies from around the world: pâté de fois gras, terrapin stew, Hawaiian pineapples, Kentucky bourbon, French wine, Cuban cigars, pickled reindeer tongue and frozen coquilles St. Jacques (in real shells) ... all in one store.

        S.S. Pierce flourished for 150 years by providing celebrity customers like President John Quincy Adams, Senator Daniel Webster and Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes and scores of other discerning Bostonians with exceptional service and attention.

           Each of the ultimately nine New England stores maintained a large well-informed staff capable of answering arcane food, wine and tobacco questions like how to cook an ostrich egg or extract the flavor from a vanilla bean and the best wine to serve with smoked whale. S.S. Pierce was renown for the fleet of horse-drawn wagons and sleighs
(later trucks) enabling them to offer speedy personalized services, including menu making, party planning and picnic provisioning. Once when a hostess in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., complained that a case of turtle soup had not arrived, an S.S. Pierce salesman took an overnight train to deliver it in person — just in time for her party. Pierce items were always boxed or bagged in stand-out red and sported the company's distinctive “crest of excellence.”

        S.S. Pierce sold more than 5,000 red-emblazoned private label foods,
condiments, wine, liquor, cigars and cigarettes, the largest line of privately packed goods in the world. In addition to nine New England stores, S.S. Pierce goods were available through 3,500 distributors across the U.S., and by mail order worldwide.
        A complete 1886 Pierce catalog can be seen on line courtesy of Harvard University library. That catalog includes one page of domestic cigars and three pages of Cuban cigars, reproduced above for your convenience. Their best-known cigar, OVERLAND, was not added to that list for another quarter century.

       Some time around 1910 S.S. Pierce purchased the OVERLAND brand of cigars from John Gray & Co. and adopted it as their house brand, available through all their thousands of outlets, which accounts for the proliferation of OVERLAND boxes available to today’s collectors. The cigars were originally hand made for them under contract by D. Emil Klein who rolled them for
approximately 40 years in their large Factory #63 at 444 East 91st Street in Manhattan.  Klein, established in 1898, is best known for their nationally marketed brands EMANELO, HADDEN HALL, and NOTTINGHAM, but like most cigar companies, produced custom and limited edition brands as well.
       OVERLAND was sold in more than a half dozen sizes and shapes in boxes of 25 and 50; it is the most frequently seen of all the cigar brands depicting railroads. OVERLAND boxes displayed a progression of different labels reflecting changes in  railroad and printing technology. The earliest label depicted a steam train,


  1. D.Emil Klein, Factory 63  2nd Dist NYC, 1923.

  2. D.Emil Klein, Factory 63  3rd Dist NYC, 1946.

Waitt & Bond, Factory 1031, Scranton, 1954

which became a diesel, which became a pair of trains. An 1880s cigar box depicting a snowbound train bearing the OVERLAND brand name has been reported, but it was not part of the Klein/Pierce partnership. Neither was a turn-of-the-century Canadian-made OVERLAND.  Around 1950 manufacture of the brand was switched to Waitt & Bond, a cigar maker with a half century history in Boston, who had recently relocated to large modern machine facilities in New Jersey. When the company acquired a factory in Scranton, manufacture of OVERLAND was transferred there.

    I got my first OVERLAND boxes from selected California tobacconists and drug stores in the 1950's, indicating distribution of the brand outside S.S. Pierce channels. Box collectors will also find S.S. Pierce's name on book-shaped boxes with Christmas themes, apparently a popular gift item sold by the store in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

    Sadly, the widespread growth of supermarkets in the 1960s took a toll on S.S. Pierce and sales stagnated in the face of increasing competition.  In 1967 the four-generation-family-owned firm was sold to a New York investment banking house. New officers were installed but the  S.S. Pierce name continued to appear on a variety of goods, including wines and cigars. The selling price was a reported $10,000,000 in cash.