A Slightly Belated Straw Hat Day Appreciation Post!

Posted on May 17th, 2018 by

Did you know, May 15th is Straw Hat Day?

Straw hat with black band made by the M.S. Levy Co. as a sample, n.d. The sample was sent to Harry Levinson in Indianapolis, in a brown cardboard box with internal components designed specifically for this hat and returned to the company at a later date. Gift of Ellen Levy Patz, JMM 1997.93.1a

Straw Hat Day is the traditional day to switch from felt hats to straw! You can read more about Straw Hat Day here (and about the Straw Hat Riot of 1922 here).

You should also check out this early blog post from JMM Director of Collections and Exhibits Joanna Church on some of the fabulous straw hats in our collections.

If that’s not enough for you, we’ve got two great titles on the Levy family, Baltimore’s premier straw hat manufacturers, for sale at Esther’s Place!

The Levys were active in leadership and volunteer roles in the Baltimore Jewish community and leaders and innovators of Baltimore’s once-thriving straw hat industry. Each book is authored by a member of the Levy family, one by Alfred H. Moses and the other by Lester S. Levy.

Betsey and Michael Simon Levy. Gifts of Mrs. Lester S. Levy, JMM 1972.15.4-5.

Michael Simon Levy, the founder of M.S. Levy & Sons, was born March 11, 1836, in Mur-Goslin, Germany. Early on, after running away from his tailoring apprenticeship, Michael met up with his brother Ralph in Manchester, England who was manufacturing hats. Michael joined the business and learned the trade quickly, opening his own shop by the age of 20. It was in Manchester that he also met Betsy Jacobs, and they were married in March of 1856.

After losing everything in 1860 due to a bad speculative investment, Michael emigrated to the United States. His family soon joined him in New York before all heading to Baltimore in 1866, where the opportunities for work were brighter. Baltimore proved to be a welcoming new home for the Levys and their hat business. (See the Maryland Historical Society’s Introduction to “M.S. Levy and Sons Account Books, Records, 1884-1958, MS 1091″ for more info.)

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“Baltimore, the Liverpool of America” – In Which Trillion Was Right All Along

Posted on January 26th, 2018 by

A blog post by Collections Manager Joanna Church. To read more posts by Joanna click HERE.

As always, it’s the odd little hidden gems in the collection that warm a registrar’s heart.  I recently happened upon this book, and – being a sucker for municipal encomiums of the past – I took a closer look.  Here for you today we have a Souvenir of Baltimore, printed in 1898 by A. Hoen & Co. of Baltimore, “compiled expressly for the American Pharmaceutical Association” in dedication “to its members in commemoration of the forty-sixth annual meeting, held August, 1898” in Baltimore.

Souvenir of Baltimore, 1898. Museum purchase. JMM 1987.140.1

Alas, the Jewish community is not featured with any prominence in this volume, in the photographs that make up the bulk of the book, the history of the city, or the contemporary statistics and achievements.  We can’t be ignored altogether, of course:

Among the photos of commercial institutions is this one of “Joel Gutman & Co., Dry Goods and Notions.” From Souvenir of Baltimore, 1898. Museum purchase. JMM 1987.140.1

Featured religious institutions include both “The Oheb Shalom Synagogue” (i.e. the Eutaw Place Temple) and “The Associate Reform Church.” From Souvenir of Baltimore, 1898. Museum purchase. JMM 1987.140.1

The Hebrew Orphan Asylum is listed here with other “Charitable institutions,” and Oheb Shalom and Har Sinai are listed amongst the city’s “400 churches [sic], representing nearly all denominations.” From Souvenir of Baltimore, 1898. Museum purchase. JMM 1987.140.1

We’re also represented in a less obvious – but still financially important – way, as the concluding statistics touting “the leading industrial and distributive trades” in the city include $15,000,000 for “Manufactured Clothing,” and $6,000,000 each for “Shirts, Drawers, and Overalls” and “Straw Hats” – all trades in which the Jewish community was quite active, if not indeed the leaders.

To me, though, the most striking thing about the book is this proclamation on the first page:

“Baltimore City, The Liverpool of America.” From Souvenir of Baltimore, 1898. Museum purchase. JMM 1987.140.1

Well okay, then.  Perhaps this mostly struck me as peculiar because I had just, less than an hour previously, been talking about Liverpool with a former resident. And I know only a very few facts about the city of Liverpool, most of which have to do with either music or football … neither of which topics bring Baltimore immediately to my mind (“Baltimore Hit Parade” and the Ravens notwithstanding). It’s clear that this comparison would have meant something to its readers in 1898, but this book never actually explains it.

Thus, as always, to the internet we go! It turns out this was not just a one-off comparison. Our friends at A. Hoen & Co. had earlier published a map of the city, with the same title, as a newspaper supplement in 1872; the Mercantile Advancement Company published a 231 page book, Baltimore: The Gateway to the South, the Liverpool of America in 1898; and in 1894 a local newspaper doubled-up on the city’s nicknames, publishing a two-volume celebration titled The Monumental City, the Liverpool of America: A Souvenir of the 121st Anniversary of the Baltimore American.

Title of the 1872 map by A. Hoen & Co.

More helpful, however, is this April 1875 article from Scribner’s Monthly (“An Illustrated Monthly for the People”) which makes the comparison more explicit, focusing on Baltimore’s industrial strengths, rapid rise in population, and “remarkable development of its terminal facilities” (i.e., the harbor and the railroads). Not only did that make us the Liverpool of America, it apparently made us “the fashion.”

I didn’t find the phrase used in the 20th century (at least not on an internet search), but in some ways the comparison stayed true, if progressively less flattering, as industry dwindled and each city’s future become rather less rosy … and then, in the late 20th century, an arts scene helped bring each city back to life.  But here’s Trillion to talk more knowledgably about it!

I lived in Liverpool for about ten years, initially for University but I stayed when I met my husband. It is a wonderful city, with a fascinating history and amazing people. If you ever have a chance to visit Liverpool I would highly recommend taking the opportunity, you don’t need to love The Beatles, but you will hear them almost everywhere you go in the city. I didn’t anticipate finding similarities between the two cities but as soon as I arrived in Baltimore they quickly became apparent. The biggest similarity is history, both cities were important ports meaning there was a huge amount of wealth at one point and an international community. The impact of this can especially be seen in architecture, both have some amazing historic buildings highlighting their status as international cities, plus they both have wonderful museum collections gathered from around the world.  Adding to this however both cities experienced trouble during the twentieth century and have seen this impact the way in which they are viewed nationally and internationally. It seems though that the local communities of both have come together to develop a thriving arts and culture scene that attracts visitors from around the world, bringing back just a little of that former glory.

 The cities have their differences, but I frequently find a certain comfort in the similarities, making Baltimore feel not quite so far away from home. ~Trillion

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