The History of Mercantile Press

In 1871 at the age of 12, Harry Bye invested $7.00 in a crude printing outfit, and with the help of a friend, began publishing a monthly paper called “Youth’s Banner” with a subscription price of $.10 a year.

Harry, now 25, was working as a shipping clerk in Philadelphia. One day, Harry stopped in at the real estate office of Hawkins & Company, located at 712 Market Street in Wilmington. William E. Hawkins, the proprietor, had been a schoolmate of Harry and shared Harry’s interest in printing. Hawkins had purchased some used printing equipment, installed it in a room over his office, and was preparing to go into the printing business. The prospect fascinated Harry. He offered to buy the equipment and rent the second-floor room. Hawkins reluctantly scuttled his own plans and accepted his offer. Harry’s venture was little more than a hobby at the time. He continued with his job in Philadelphia and puttered around his print shop in the evenings. Before long, Harry was taking orders for printing and turning out work that pleased his customers.

The year is now 1884. Harry gives up his position as a shipping clerk and hangs a sign in front of his Market Street location that read “The Mercantile Printing Company”. Suddenly his hobby was now a business. One year later, Harry advertised in the Wilmington City Directory. The ad promoted Mercantile as doing “all kinds of job and book printing…in the very NEATEST and BEST manner, at MODERATE PRICES and in a great variety of styles”. This ad is still available to view at The Public Library on Rodney Square in Downtown Wilmington.

In 1887, Harry’s youngest brother, Elmer, joined the company as treasurer. Soon after, the other two “Bye Boys”, Benjamin and Charles, joined them. In 1889 Mercantile was incorporated as “Mercantile Printing Company” with Harry C. Bye, president; Benjamin T. Bye, vice-president; Charles C. Bye, secretary; and Elmer T. Bye, treasurer.
By 1890 business was booming and required larger quarters. They relocated to 109 West 6th Street. In 1911 they moved again, this time to 10th and Walnut Streets (now the site of the Walnut Street YMCA). In 1933, at that location, Coleman Bye, Sr., nephew of Harry Bye, joined the family enterprise. The business was reorganized and Mercantile Printing Company became The Mercantile Press, Incorporated. Coleman made the changes needed to keep the business solvent during the hardest times of the Great Depression.

In 1939, Mercantile once again moved its operations to 411 East Front Street and in 1949, Coleman contracted with Cantera Construction Company to build a facility specifically designed for a printing company. That location, 3007 Bellevue Avenue, is where the Company still resides today. Its’ motto, “Delaware’s Fine Printing House”, was placed on a sign on the new building. That same sign has been preserved and is displayed on the building today.

In December of 1962, Coleman Sr. passed away suddenly at the age of 64. His longtime friend and vice-president of the company, James Cole, assumed the role as president. Coleman’s widow, Edith Bye still maintained ownership of the company.
In 1963, Coleman Jr. began working for the company in the camera room processing film negatives for making the offset plates. After attending night school at the Philadelphia School of Printing in 1966, Coleman Jr. became vice-president of the company. In 1968, both James Cole and Edith Bye passed away and Coleman Jr. officially took over as president.

In 1978, Coleman the 3rd, oldest of Coleman Jr’s three children, started working summers in the bindery and finishing area of the company. In 1984, Coleman the 3rd graduated from Rochester Institute of Technology, College of Graphic Arts and Photography with a Bachelor of Science degree from the School of Printing. In 2001 he became president and C.E.O. of the Company.

Today it has evolved into a full service print communications company specializing in product labeling and direct mail printing for the agrochemical, medical device and pharmaceutical industries. The Company currently employs 20 full time people from Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

A Number of Delaware Firsts
• 1956 – Delaware’s first lithographic offset press
• 1957 – The first printer to process their own lithographic plates
• 1966 – The first commercial printer to print on DuPont Tyvek
• 1973 – Delaware’s first photo-typesetting equipment
• 1994 – Delaware’s first film image-setter
• 1999 – Delaware’s first full size computer-to-plate device
• 2004 – Delaware’s first 40” 6 color press with inline coating capabilities
• 2009 – Delaware’s first auditable ISO 9000, cGMP compliant commercial printing company
• 2010 – Delaware’s first 40” digital press
• 2011 – Delaware’s first rotary UV letterpress with inline onsert capabilities