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