The Tale of the Cape

Just before Christmas, I found this little capelet in my favorite thrift store.
The tag inside says ‘Arnold Liebes, San Francisco.’ I didn’t look at it too closely, just thought it was wool, and it had very nice silk lining and two little pockets. Plus, anytime I see something that says it is from San Francisco I almost always have to get it. Stuff from I. Magnin, Joseph Magnin, etc., I almost always pick up if it is in good condition and reasonably priced.

I came home, looked at it more closely, and noticed  additional details that made it seem fancier than what I first thought. And the more I touched it, the more I thought, this is not wool. It seemed to be fur, so I Googled ‘Arnold Liebes’ and a bunch of stuff came up about him. A San Francsico entrepreneur who was a fur trader in the 1900s-20s.
He used a small fleet of ships to make his journies: The Artic, the Herman, and The Bear.  Aboard these vessels, Liebes made the trek up to Alaska to trade at Point Barrow, the northernmost city in Alaska and far above the Arctic Circle. There are photos at the California Academy of Science’s website of his ships and the people he met on his journeys.
This photo was taken aboard one of the ships, The Bear, in 1912.  For context purposes, that was the same year the Titanic sunk.
Mr. Liebes opened a shop at 167 Geary St. in San Francisco with other family members and it was called H. Liebes. (I also found scans of the titles/deeds to the businesss online). It soon expanded from just a furrier to a specialty ladies department store.
It stayed at that location on Geary during it’s entire run of business.  I found some text at a legal website detailing a burglary that occurred at the store in the middle of the night in 1946.  Three people broke in (two men and a woman) and made off with coats and other articles of clothing.  The woman had put coats on, one after the other, and walked out, while the men had thrown their items in a duffel bag.  They were soonafter apprehended, thanks to a taxi driver who witnessed the crime.

The last article I found that mentions the store was from Time Magazine, written in December, 1970. The article talks about the economy and how speciality department stores are struggling. It mentions Lord & Taylor, Saks, I. Magnin, Marshall Fields, and H. Liebes too. It makes a point of mentioning that H. Leibes intends to close it’s doors forever once the Christmas season is over.
As for the soft black capelet that I unearthed in that quiet thrift shop, it is Persian broadtail lamb.  So, perhaps not technically fur, but still very much an artifact of this historic San Francisco business.


Capelet photos by me, historic photos via the California Academy of Sciences, H. Liebes fashion illustration via mightymoss


5 thoughts on “The Tale of the Cape

  1. I have a beautiful blonde cashmere coat with brown fur collar and cuffs that belonged to my grandmother who passed away at the age of 95 in 2005. Of course the coat is fully lined and the neck tag reads “H Liebes California” and the side seam tag identifies the wool as cashmere (it is very soft and luxurious!) but does not identify the fur. The coat is in AMAZING condition and it FITS ME very nicely! I would love to know what it’s worth, though I would not consider selling it!
    Anyway, thanks for posting this article so I could learn a little more about my favorite coat.

  2. Hi Jennifer – this coat sounds lovely! While I couldn’t really appraise something without seeing it with my own eyes, if I were to walk in to a nice boutique vintage store in San Francisco (think La Rosa or Ver Unica), I would not be surprised to see a coat like this in the $150-$275 range. How lucky of you to have a special memento from your grandmother that also is a joy to wear and holds a piece of San Francisco history.

  3. I have a question; I have come across an H. Liebes Mink stole in almost mint condition. I think the fur is mink and is absolutely so soft. It also have the original owners initial monogramed. Would you happend to know what this article would be worth? I cannot find anything on-line with this tag and stole mink combination. Thanks for your advice.

    • Hi, I couldn’t really do an appraisal via a written description. Back then, it was common to have one’s initials, or even your full name, monogrammed onto your furs. The fact that it is from H. Liebes doesn’t necessarily increase it’s value, it’s more about the quality and condition of the stole as it is now. Speaking very generally, depending on the size and style of the stole, I’ve seen mint condition stoles from the 50s priced from anywhere between $50-$250, but that really depends on it’s size, color, and where it happens to be for sale. Fancy brick-and-mortar stores, from what I have seen, charge more, and usually Etsy has more reasonably priced ones. They really aren’t that uncommon, which is why I think prices vary so greatly.

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