Friday, December 2, 2016

Who was J.C. Higgins?

Collectors of guns, bicycles and older folks who grew up before the 1970s will recognize the name J.C. Higgins.

In 1908 Sears decided to use a brand name other than Sears, Roebuck and Company on their outdoor related items.

The first items to carry the J.C. Higgins name was baseballs and baseball gloves, sold by the Western Sporting Goods Company in Chicago, two years later the trademark was used on basketballs and footballs. 
By the 1940'a Sears was labeling every one of their sporting goods including fishing equipment, camping equipment and bicycles.
After WWII, Sears began using the J.C. Higgins name on firearms. Most were built for the company by major gun makers like Mossberg, High Standard, Winchester, Marlin and Savage.

This was not unique, as other retailers like Montgomery Wards who used the brand name "Western Field" and "Hawthorn",  Western Auto Supply who used the brand name "Revalation" and JC Penney who used "Foremost" on their firearms. 

So who was J.C. Higgins? Was he a real person or did someone make up the name?

The answer is a bit complicated. The person did really exist and he did work for Sears, but he was not (as far as I could tell) involved in the development or marketing of Sporting Goods.

John Higgins was an Irish born employee at Sears who immigrated to Chicago in his teens and began working at the company's headquarters in 1898.
He had been with the company just 10 years when an executive suggested using his name as the company's sporting goods brand.
It is also unknown if John Higgins was a sportsman or was even interested in sports.
An interesting note, John Higgins was not given a middle name at birth, the "C" in J.C. Higgins was added by Sears execs.

A person can't help but speculate if it was not trademark infringement against the retailer JC Penney (a competitor of Sears Department Stores).
I looked into it and found that this is just a coincidence as the JC Penney brand name was unknown in 1908. James Cash Penney (the founder of JC Penney) reorganized his company (the stores original name was "Golden Rule") and began using the JC Penney name in 1913, some 5 years after Sears began using the J.C. Higgins brand.

Back to Mr Higgins.......John Higgins spent his entire working career at Sears, he was even Vice-President of the company for a time. 
John Higgins retired after 32 years of service in 1930 as the Head of Bookkeeping.

John Higgins passed away in 1950, but Sears continued to use his name for another 12 years.
In 1962 Sears signed an agreement with the professional baseball player Ted Williams, allowing the use of his name on sporting equipment, including firearms. 

In 1980 Sears discontinued the sale of firearms and ammunition.

When doing the research for this post I found no less that 20 famous (or infamous) people with the name John Higgins....of course there was also Jonathan Higgins, the stuffy British caretaker from the Magnum PI TV series.

If you do a Google image search for J.C.Higgins, you may see a few guns, but mostly you'll find bicycles, which are becoming serious collectors items.

When new, the J.C. Higgins guns were a "value priced" line, often with fit and finish that was of lower grade than what you got from a Winchester or Marlin branded gun.
Today the guns can be had for a bargain, but that may be changing. Collectors have begun collecting these brand labeled guns and their prices have been slowly increasing.

I did find some pictures of the guns and gun related products, and ads:

Sears & Roebuck