A Personal History of First Impression by Marsa Davis Cornell
It all started in April 1979, Washington, D.C. ...
Upon returning stateside from a three year stay in Europe, I thought I'd take a few days off before beginning my job search. I looked in the Washington Post that first morning and saw a want ad for an apprentice engraver. Being an artist, I thought that a definite possibility, answered the ad, got the job and started on Monday.
The company, Copenhaver, was the oldest engraving company in Washington and owned by Phil Sheridan. It is here that I started my apprenticeship as a stationery engraver.
In 1981, learning that I was headed to Kentucky to visit my parents, Mr. Sheridan asked me to visit the new engraving plant for The Jenner Company in LaGrange, Kentucky. Copenhaver sent overflow work there and wanted me to see the facility--a brand new building buzzing with engraving presses stamping in the manufacturing arena and phones ringing in the office. I was quite impressed by the quality work being produced at that plant and felt confident that this was the place to send any work that could not be done in-house at Copenhaver. Mr. Sheridan was pleased with my findings and continued a relationship with The Jenner Company; when he died suddenly in 1982, the company underwent management changes that proved detrimental to the production of stationery engraving in-house.
I was invited to join the Copenhaver management team, and I accepted. I did not know at the time how crucial this move would be for me and my future.
In 1990, Copenhaver asked investment bankers to evaluate the company and suggest how to keep it solvent. One of the first decisions was to release some of the employees; I could stay, but at half pay. I decided to leave Washington and return to Kentucky, nearer to my family.
I first went to The Jenner Company, hoping to be hired in the industry I'd grown to love. I applied there, but was told I was not management material without college credentials. They asked if they could retain my application and I agreed; needless to say, I was disappointed.
In the meantime, Copenhaver contacted me and asked if I'd be interested in the tools and equipment in the engraving room; I could have it all for $500, a small amount to start a business. That is when First Impression was born. I decided to go into business for myself, renting a house with a full basement and engraving dies and plate for companies across the United States that had presses but no engraver.
About four months later, The Jenner Company called and asked whether I'd found a job; how pleased I was to report I'd found a job; how pleased I was to report I'd started my own engraving company, First Impression.
My husband and partner, Don Cornell, fortunately joined me in Kentucky in May 1990 to pursue a life-long project: manufacturing engraved stationery--not just engraving dies and plates. He, too, learned his trade in Washington. Always mechanically inclined, he was quite interested in how die-stamping presses functioned. His apprenticeship was not easy; it was difficult to find any career die-stampers willing to share their knowledge, so fearful were they of losing their jobs. Don was intrigued by the presses and the beautiful images they produced. If he could only figure out how it all worked by observing; it was highly unlikely the old veterans would teach a potential replacement what they gained through a lifetime of hard work.
Don did learn everything about those presses--how they operated, how to take them apart and put them back together and, most importantly, how to produce a high quality image using them.
Fast-forward to 2011. The 29,000 square foot production plant, The Jenner Company, sitting on 5 acres belongs to us! We purchased the business, equipment, building and land, and moved First Impression to its new location in March 2011. We are trying to revive the century-old Jenner Company while keeping our grass-roots company, First Impression, thriving.
We are passionate about this craft and proud of our company, employees, customers and, most of all, our product.