Get Ready for National Umbrella Day!

Posted on February 9th, 2015 by

UMBRELLAS section heading from the 1900 Baltimore Bargain House catalog. JMM 1991.33.1, museum purchase.

UMBRELLAS section heading from the 1900 Baltimore Bargain House catalog. JMM 1991.33.1, museum purchase.

Tomorrow, as I’m sure everyone knows, is a very important holiday: it’s National Umbrella Day.  This seems the perfect opportunity to take a look at some of the umbrellas and related material in our collections.  After all, Baltimore has a long history with this useful accessory.

Anna Smotritsky (1884-1960) of Baltimore in 1902, shortly before her marriage to Jacob Kornblatt.  Her knot-handled umbrella completes her fashionable ensemble. JMM 1988.140.49, gift of Joseph Meyerhoff Library of Baltimore Hebrew University.

Anna Smotritsky (1884-1960) of Baltimore in 1902, shortly before her marriage to Jacob Kornblatt. Her knot-handled umbrella completes her fashionable ensemble. JMM 1988.140.49, gift of Joseph Meyerhoff Library of Baltimore Hebrew University.

Many sources have claimed that the first umbrella ever seen in the United States was brought to Baltimore from India in 1772.  That story is difficult to confirm, but it may stem in part from this tidbit published in 1874, in J. Thomas Scharf’s The Chronicles of Baltimore; Being a History of “Baltimore Town” and Baltimore City from the Earliest Period to the Present Time:

“1772. In this year the first efforts were made in Baltimore to introduce the use of umbrellas as a defence from the sun and rain. They were then scouted as a ridiculous effeminacy. On the other hand, the physicians recommended them to keep off vertigos, epilepsies, sore-eyes, fevers, &c. Finally, as the doctors were their chief patrons, [umbrellas] were generally adopted. They were of oiled linen, very coarse and clumsy, with rattan sticks, and were imported from India by way of England.” (JMM 2000.135.5, gift of Robert L. Weinberg)

Whether or not the city was host to the first umbrella on these shores, it was indeed the home of the first umbrella factory in the US, started by Francis Beehler in 1828. Other Baltimore companies manufactured umbrellas and parasols throughout the 19th century, and by the 1920s the city could boast of being the “Center of [the] Umbrella Trade” (as proclaimed in a Baltimore Sun headline on September 30, 1922). The 1926 city directory listed 13 manufacturers and wholesalers, and claimed that “Baltimore manufactures over 5,000,000 umbrellas annually with a value of approximately $7,000,000.”

Umbrella and Parasol Manufacturers and Wholesalers listed in R.L. Polk & Co’s Baltimore City Directory for 1926. JMM 1992.164.6, Museum purchase.

Umbrella and Parasol Manufacturers and Wholesalers listed in R.L. Polk & Co’s Baltimore City Directory for 1926. JMM 1992.164.6, Museum purchase.

The 1926 list includes some familiar names.  Polan, Katz & Co., founded in 1906, was one of the better-known manufacturers; the company was in existence until 1981, when Charles Katz – son of one of the founders – retired. The JMM has a number of mid 20th century Polan, Katz & Co. umbrellas in our collections, from plain, serviceable examples to some that are a little more fanciful.  My personal favorite is this one from the 1940s, a 23” long umbrella with a clear plastic handle and a nylon canopy of golden brown, in a nice (and once again fashionable) ombré, decorated with jacks.

JMM 1988.57.1 Museum purchase

JMM 1988.57.1 Museum purchase

Another local brand, Gans Brothers (founded in 1888), was known for its charming slogan: “Born in Baltimore, Raised Everywhere.”  The company dealt in inventions as well as manufacture; family members and employees patented a variety of machinery designed to improve the umbrella-making process, as well as the finished products themselves.

Gans Brothers advertisement, from The Jews of Baltimore by Isidor Blum (1910). JMM Library collections.

Gans Brothers advertisement, from The Jews of Baltimore by Isidor Blum (1910). JMM Library collections.

The only Gans Brothers example in our collections, a 38” long, black silk umbrella from the late 19th century, shows some of that innovation.  The handle is of repoussé silver in an elaborate floral pattern, striking in and of itself. Closer examination, however, shows function within the style. The wrist strap – rather than the typical fabric cord – is a sturdy chain that can be tightened by feeding it through a hole in the knob at the end of the handle. The tip-cup (where the handle connects to the shaft) has a lip that holds the ends of the ribs in place when the umbrella is furled; it slides down to release the ribs when needed. It’s not surprising that this useful bit is marked “Patent Applied For”, though I’ve not yet matched it with a successful patent (in my defense, there are over 50 “umbrella tip-cup” U.S. patents to choose from).

JMM 1988.184.1, gift of Dr. Emanuel Bernstein.

JMM 1988.184.1, gift of Dr. Emanuel Bernstein.

The handle has another interesting element: an engraved mark. In addition to a printed “Born in Baltimore, Raised Everywhere” label on the inside of the canopy, the manufacturers added an elaborately entwined “GB” on the end of the knobbed handle. The donor of this piece, Dr. Emanuel Bernstein, informed us that it was owned by his grandmother Bertha Gans, wife of company partner Moses Gans; it was thought that perhaps the initials were meant as B.G. for her name. However, Gans Brothers company letterhead and invoices from the turn of the last century show an official GB logo like this one. That’s not to say, of course, that this wasn’t in fact Bertha ‘s umbrella; and perhaps she got a kick out of having her initials on the handle, however coincidentally.

JMM 1988.184.1, gift of Dr. Emanuel Bernstein.

JMM 1988.184.1, gift of Dr. Emanuel Bernstein.

I hope these photos and artifacts have inspired you to celebrate National Umbrella Day, and that you’ll be sure to wield your favorite umbrella tomorrow. No rain in the forecast? Use it as a parasol or sunshade. No sun, either? (Based on how this winter has gone, that seems likely.) Well, an umbrella can still be handy, especially if it’s a nice substantial size. Use it as a walking stick, or just carry it around and pretend you’re a 19th century lady or gentleman.  I’m sure no one will look at you oddly; after all, everyone knows it’s National Umbrella Day!

Pre-Valentine’s Day Bonus Photo; Or, The Best Umbrella Photo Ever? 

Abraham and Carrie Katz Weinberg, in Atlantic City (perhaps on their honeymoon?) around 1896, did not let accessories like hats and umbrellas get in their way. JMM 1991.65.3, gift of Edgar Wolf, Jr. for the Estate of Carolyn Weinberg.

Abraham and Carrie Katz Weinberg, in Atlantic City (perhaps on their honeymoon?) around 1896, did not let accessories like hats and umbrellas get in their way. JMM 1991.65.3, gift of Edgar Wolf, Jr. for the Estate of Carolyn Weinberg.

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

 

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Once Upon a Time…05.30.2014

Posted on February 3rd, 2015 by

The Baltimore Jewish Times publishes unidentified photographs from the collection of Jewish Museum of Maryland each week. If you can identify anyone in these photos and more information about them, contact Joanna Church at 410.732.6400 x236 or email jchurch@jewishmuseummd.org

 

2001.113.013Date run in Baltimore Jewish Times:  May 30, 2014 and October 10, 2014

PastPerfect Accession #:  2001.113.013

Status:  Identified! National Council of Jewish Women members. Left to Right: 1. Hannah Kotzin 2. Adel Rubin 3.  Rosalie Berman 4. Rita Shenker (Cohen) 5. Barbara Sackler. Photograph taken at Knesseth Israel Congregation. 

Special Thanks To: Rosalie Berman, Sheldon Zeller, Lynn Reiter Kay, Alice Kuryk

 

 

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




Once Upon a Time…05.23.2014

Posted on January 27th, 2015 by

The Baltimore Jewish Times publishes unidentified photographs from the collection of Jewish Museum of Maryland each week. If you can identify anyone in these photos and more information about them, contact Joanna Church at 410.732.6400 x236 or email jchurch@jewishmuseummd.org

 

1995189668

 

Date run in Baltimore Jewish Times:  May 23, 2014

 

PastPerfect Accession #:  1995.189.668

 

Status:  Unidentified – do you recognize any of these “Walk for Israel, 1981” participants?

 

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




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