Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Origins of a Fur Coat

Two summers ago, I found an amazing treasure in the Salvation Army Thrift Store in Peru, Illinois. It was the tail end of summer and I had a few days left before we were to return to Hong Kong. Making the most of those days meant getting to as many thrift stores and Mexican restaurants as I could.

On one trip to the Salvo, I noticed a whole collection of fur coats in the back room waiting to be put out on the floor. Of course, with it being the beginning of August, I knew that they wouldn't be going out anytime soon. I was persistent though and before I knew it, I found myself in that backroom chatting with the store manager about two of the coats I'd fancied.

The next thing I knew, I'd bought them for a song and proceeded to hand one as a gift to a good friend  who moved and who wears it now in London. We organised a very sweaty photo shoot with said coats in August before she left and I wrote up this story of the coats.

I love when vintage pieces have a story, and I had only begun to imagine the one behind this piece. I'd picked it because my coat had Salzer Furs, La Salle on the label which is near where my hubby grew up. To my surprise, my mother-in-law not only knew about the store, but she even knew of the woman whose name was embroidered inside my coat. I made sure to include those details in that earlier blog post.

Even more surprising was what happened next. About a month or so after I published the post, I got an email from a Stephen Salzer, the grandson of the gentleman who made my fur coat, the original furrier! Shortly after that, I received an email from the furrier's son, Jerry who gave me many more details about his father. I was thrilled to learn more about the family and their business in La Salle, Illinois (I will have a follow up post on that, too). 

Inspired by their story, I decided to do a little searching that next summer to see if I could find where their store used to be. By searching for old photos online and asking my mother-in-law, I knew that Salzer Furs used to be on the ground floor of the Hotel Kaskaskia. The whole hotel is abandoned now, but there is an effort to restore it, thank goodness. There are so many historical buildings in small towns just like La Salle, waiting to be revived. I love to think about how places like these looked in their glory days.

My mother-in-law said she remembered the store was just past The Side Bar, so that's where we started looking. At first I thought the store must have been upgraded after they closed down and was turned into the Uniforms and Shoes store we came upon. The closer we looked, the more it seemed like a possibility. But then I remembered this photograph which I found on the family's genealogy page. It is a picture of the interior of the Salzer Fur shop, with that very distinct fur storage vault and Irving Salzer, the maker of my coat standing in front of it with a customer. I was most surprised to find that while all the other details had faded with time, the vault was still very much intact. There was no mistake.

We weren't able to get a clear picture, but inside this door, I could clearly see the remains of that vault door where my coat and many more like it were stored carefully, waiting to begin their journey. In a quick Google search, I found fur coats from Salzer's fur shop being sold in Madison, WI and even East Peoria, IL. It's amusing to thing about where my fur coat began. I don't think in a million years, Salzer would have dreamt of his coat ending up in a far off place like Hong Kong!

I can't wait to find more vintage treasures like this, over summer. We're off next week!

1 comment:

Sharon said...

I absolutely love stories like this, Norbyah. That is totally my favorite thing about vintage as well, that each piece has a story. I recently found a regulation Army Officers overcoat at a my favorite thrift store, and it was made in 1944 and worn during the World War. I can't imagine what the person wearing that coat went through and saw!

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