The Guild Co. Turns 100

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When Edward Proctor, Jr, started working as list broker for the Guild Co. in 1931, lists were going for $3 per thousand and orders were fulfilled by hand copying with a stencil. Sixty-eight years later, Proctor, 89, still comes into the office three times a week to file orders for lists that now rent for an average of $135 per thousand.

Proctor will have a celebration to attend May 1 as the Guild Co., formed on Nassau Street in Manhattan and now based in Haworth, NJ, commemorates its 100th year of operation. It's believed to be the oldest list brokerage still in operation.

Guild was formed in 1899 when Charles H. Guild, while selling space ads for mail-order publications, kept getting requests from companies that need mailing lists and ones that had lists they were willing to rent. Guild hired Proctor's father as the company's first employee to coordinate these list requests.

Within a year, Guild had dropped space ads to concentrate on list brokerage. Early clients included Sears, Roebuck and magazine publishers that rented names to boost circulation. The junior Proctor remembers his father taking an order from publisher John C. Winston on Armistice Day, 1918, for a yet to be completed book about the history of the world wars.

The elder Proctor took over the company upon Guild's death in 1920 and after his death in 1945, the younger Proctor took over the list brokerage that was now based in Englewood, NJ. Proctor sold the firm to Bob Dale in 1969, who sold it to current owner, the list management firm Mail Marketing Inc., in 1975. Guild, which supported mostly catalog clients through Proctor's tenure, now specializes in the BTB and newsletter areas.

Looking back on his years in the list brokerage business, Proctor is surprised that it has seen such spectacular growth.

"We had a small, little organization of brokers," he said. "There were six [companies]. A seventh wanted to get into it and we fought it like crazy."

Back then, overnight mail delivery to certain locations was guaranteed.

"The postal service was very reliable," he said. "We had a Chicago office and used to drop a letter in the box for the Chicago train. The mail would in Chicago the next morning, we could count on it."

Despite the advances brought on by computers, Proctor has a bleak outlook on the future of list brokerage.

"I would never suggest anyone start in this business right now," he said. "It's had its day."

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