Louis “Berkie” Berkowitz, 1912 - 1995
The Elbee Company was established in San Antonio Texas in 1948 by Louis “Berkie” Berkowitz. Originally, the Elbee Company was a novelty and magic shop but in 1950, Mr. Berkie saw an ad in Billboard magazine that read, "100 wooden nickels for $1.50." Berkie responded to the ad and, after some correspondence back and forth, the man from the ad agreed to sell the business to Berkie for $50.00. The acquisition of the Wooden Nickel business included 3,000 blank disks and two rubber stamps; one of a buffalo design, the other of an American Indian design. In the first year the Elbee Company produced 10,000 wooden nickels, all stamped by hand.
After the first year, Berkie purchased an 1885 Chandler and Price Letter press and a type case to create custom stamps, and started mass producing customized wooden nickels. By the mid-1990’s, the Elbee company was producing over a million custom wooden nickels each year.
In 1995, Berkie passed the torch by selling the Wooden Nickel business once again to his friend and colleague, Herb Hornung. Louis “Berkie” Berkowitz passed away later that same year at the age of 84.
Herbert “Herb” Hornung, 1947 - 2008
Herb grew up in Queens, NY and attended Brooklyn Technical High School. After graduation, and a brief stint at a local community college, he enlisted in the US Air Force where he worked as a radio technician in Security Service. His time in the Air Force took him all over the world but of all the places he traveled to, it was San Antonio, Texas that made the biggest impression so, in 1985, when he retired from the Air Force, San Antonio was where he decided to make his home.
In the early 90’s, Herb started a business he named Red Letter Computing. He built and installed computers for individuals and businesses and, as the internet became more widely used, he started designing websites for his clients. One of his clients was the Jewish Community Center and that is where he first met Louis Berkie. Mr. Berkie hired Herb to build a computer for Elbee Co. and to work as a freelance typesetter/graphic designer for the custom wooden nickels he produced.
A few years later, in July of 1995, Herb purchased the Wooden Nickel business from Mr. Berkie and the Old Time Wooden Nickel Company was born. He moved the company to its current location just outside the Fort Sam Houston Army Post and the first thing he did was modify his newly acquired antique printing press with a motor and pneumatic controls which allowed him to print both sides of six different orders at the same time! But he didn’t stop there. Over the next 10 years, Herb developed a new printing process and became the only wooden nickel manufacturer to offer wooden nickels with a full color imprint.
In 2008, Herb passed away and left the company in the capable hands of his daughter and son-in-law who have breathed new life into this time honored tradition of minting custom wooden tokens. And so, our story continues…