Tie One On, in Honor of Marvin

A blog post by Director of Collections and Exhibits Joanna Church. To read more posts by Joanna click HERE.

Taste in ties is mostly personal, the selection of a style frequently reflecting the personality and social and economic stratum of its wearer, and sometimes the wearer’s vocation; for some, superstitions dictate selection. -Philip Kahn, Jr., A Stitch in Time: The Four Seasons of Baltimore’s Needle Trades, 1989

Just as it has with so many other plans and schemes, this pandemic has interfered with my hope to create a special miniature exhibit of our tie collection in honor of Marvin Pinkert, our retiring Executive Director Extraordinaire. Instead, please enjoy a modified, virtual version of this celebratory display of one of Marvin’s signature items: the themed necktie.

Five printed tie designs: sailboats, a golfer, beer glasses, abstract circles, and a peacock by a fountain
Here we have designs titled “Boating,” “Golf,” “Beer Mug,” “New Circles,” and “Peacock Fountain.” Museum purchase. JMM 1996.64.45

In 1996 the JMM acquired a collection of documents, photographs, and artifacts from the Resisto Tie Company of Baltimore. The company, founded at the turn of the last century, was originally Silberman’s Standard Suspender Company; when founder Abraham Silberman (1868-1935) developed a super-strong method of tacking his wares together, it became the Resisto Suspender Company. After receiving a contract to make ties for the military during World War I, the company shifted entirely to neckwear and changed its name to the Resisto Tru-Fast Tie Company; the “Resisto” element was the strong webbed interfacing that kept your tie “non-wrinkable.” Resisto remained in the Silberman family for three generations; Abraham’s son Joseph (1890-1968) was President of the company for 51 years, and his son Eugene (1930-1995) followed in his footsteps.

Over time, Baltimore became a major center of tie manufacturing, and part of the last vestiges of the needle trades are the few remaining men’s tie makers scattered throughout the city. -Philip Kahn, Jr., A Stitch in Time: The Four Seasons of Baltimore’s Needle Trades, 1989

Three printed tie designs: a man and woman bowling, a furiously leaping horse on a blue background, and an abstract horse design.
Left: “New Bowling” (as opposed to plain old “Bowling”). Right: “Van Horse,” which must have made sense at the time but I don’t really understand. Center: no title, whether because the shiny textured paper didn’t allow it, or this furiously leaping horse just didn’t need an introduction, I’m not sure. Museum purchase. JMM 1996.64.45

Our Resisto collection includes a wide variety of paper and textile ephemera, from price tags to fabric swatches to a salesman’s sample case, and covers many decades of tie-making and -selling activities. I could do an entire exhibit about all these wonderful unique odds and ends… but for today’s purposes, I’ll focus on one particular subset: a group of 58 tie-shaped pieces of cardboard, each with a design printed or painted on it. Since these are from the mid 20th century, and the market was men, there’s an unsurprising focus on overtly “masculine” themes like hunting, fishing, and horse-racing (and, yes, there are some scantily clad pin up girls in the mix). But there are also flowers and birds and butterflies, along with some abstract designs that are no less bold and striking than the more representational images.

Three printed tie designs: the head of a Great Dane, a flopping fish, and a pheasant.
Meet “Great Dane,” “Fighting Tuna,” and “Pheasant.” Museum purchase. JMM 1996.64.45

It’s not clear who created the artwork, nor am I sure whether they were done in-house as color tests or for design approval, or if they were samples from another company. (A deep dive into the archival portion of the collection, and perhaps in the similar collection at the BMI, may answer those questions for us.) A few look like they might be hand-painted or -embellished, but most are printed, with just a handwritten title added at the bottom. Those titles are primarily straightforward: “Two Birds.” “Five Dogs.” “Beer Mug.” “Bowling.” (My personal favorite, “Fighting Tuna.”) But a few are a bit more creative, with evocative phrases like “Tally Ho” and “Pointing the Way,” animals named after popular characters like “Flicka” and “Trigger” (helping to date those designs, at least, to the mid 1940s or so), and one fanciful landscape is titled “Shangri-La.”

Here are “Tally-Ho,” “Shangri-La,” and “Flica” [sic]. For that last, the same design is repeated on another card but titled “Charger” instead, perhaps to appeal to the gentleman who hasn’t read or seen My Friend Flicka, but who can still appreciate a good leaping-horse tie. Museum purchase. JMM 1996.64.45

This style of novelty tie was a hot trend in the mid 20th century [see The History of Novelty Neckties (ties-necktie.com)], providing a way for men – whose business attire did not really allow for variety and color – to express themselves. Today the market for novelty ties has given way to novelty socks, and bold neckwear has not been particularly trendy for a while – and really, let’s bring these back! Your socks won’t liven up a Zoom meeting! – but there are still occasions that call for appropriately-themed neckwear, and the right person can carry that off and even make it a signature.

Color photo of three neckties. The first on left is a black tie with a handembroidered chicken also wearing a necktie. The middle tie is a full fabric print of matzah. The final tie on the right is white with a printage vintage photograph of Harry Houdini wearing asuit with his hands bound together.
Just a few of Marvin’s themed ties celebrating Chicken Soup, Passover, and Houdini!
Color photo of an older white man wearing a suit and tie. He is smiling and holding open a gold chain curtain.
And here is the Houdini tie in action at the members-only opening of Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini.

One of those people is Marvin, our fearless leader, whose exhibit-specific ties – Houdini! Scrap metal! Superheroes! The Constitution of the United States! – have become a local legend. Which of these Resisto tie designs would Marvin choose, if he could? While there are various exhibits that some of these would suit, there’s really only one that I feel is the perfect tie for Marvin:

One printed tie design: chess pieces on a board]
A CHESS TIE! Museum purchase. JMM 1996.64.45

Thank you, Marvin, for your years shepherding our exhibits from ‘glimmer of an idea’ to ‘full-blown Amazing.’ Someday, maybe, we’ll make that chess exhibit you hoped for.

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