Category Archives: Albany

Very largely just now

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It sounds a little bit like immigrant English, but the Cotrell and Leonard families had been in Albany for some time when this ad ran in 1891 advertising that “We are selling hats and mackintoshes very largely just now.” For those who don’t know, a mackintosh is a rubberized waterproof raincoat.

“The man in the mack / said we gotta go back / you know he didn’t even give us a chance.”

Christ, you know it ain’t easy.

Want to know more about Cotrell & Leonard — such as how they basically created the academic gown system in the United States? Check it out at All Over Albany.

Brandy, dentistry, photography

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All of these fine establishments, offering the best in brandies, dentistry, and photography, were located in busy downtown Albany, though this ad is from the Schenectady directory from 1862.

I particularly like the offer of “Natural and life like-artificial dentures inserted on reasonable terms.” Removal, however, would be something else entirely. Caveat emptor!

Treadwell Seal Skins

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The importance of the fur trade to the very existence of Albany cannot be overstated. Although Killian van Rensselaer tried to promote agriculture and tobacco-planting, and the Dutch East India Company tried to maintain strict control over the fur trade, it was river transport and an abundance of beaver within two hundred miles or so that made Albany a critical trading post. But that was beaver.

George C. Treadwell’s establishment made “furs, sacques, gloves, caps, robes,” etc. from beaver, otter, and, seemingly less likely given our inland location, fur seal. George’s son, George H., said that “my father dressed and dyed a few seal-skins in 1832, and each year there-after, and in 1864 this became a lucrative item of our business.” In 1892, Treadwell was paying his workers from $1.25 to $2 a day, about the average wage for workers in the clothing industry at that time

Howell’s Bi-Centennial History of Albany had this (and more) to say about George C. Treadwell and the seal skin industry:

About sixty years ago, Denison Williams dressed and dyed seal-skins. He
was succeeded by Packer, Prentice & Co., whose manufactures in 1831
reached the value of $500,000. John Bryan, James Chase, Robert
Cheesebrough and John S. Smith were also engaged in this business.
Twenty thousand fur seals per year were dressed, which were made into
caps. When these caps went out of fashion the trade waned. In 1858 it
revived, since which time seal-skin sacques have been manufactured.

The firm of George C. Treadwell & Co., manufacturers and dealers in furs, from its small beginnings in 1832, when it was established by George C. Treadwell, late
deceased, has grown until it now ranks with the leading fur
establishments of the country. They manufacture and deal in all kinds of
fine furs, sacques, boas, caps, gloves, robes, etc. The present fine
process by which fur seal, otter and
beaver are dyed and dressed, is the result of Mr Treadwell’s industry
and skill. Their premises are 60 by 30 feet, fourstories high, brick.
The first floor is used for displaying goods, the others for manufacturing and storing. The successor of Mr. Treadwell is his son, George H. Treadwell. The house has a branch store at No. 676 Broadway, New York City, under the supervision of Henry Treadwell. In 1844, Mr. Treadwell, Sr.,
had acquired the reputation of being one of the best cap manufacturers
in the United States, and as especially excelling in dressing and
coloring furs.

There are now, and long have been, extensive
dealers in every variety of hats, caps and furs, and fur goods, in this
city who are referred to under the head of the Beaver and Fur Trade, and
Trade and Commerce.

George H. was noted for arguing for conservation of seals in order to preserve the industry.

John Ferris Brushes

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From 1940, an ad for John Ferris Jr., manufacturer of brushes since 1833. He was one of what seems to have been simply hundreds of businesses on Broadway at the time. It’s hard to imagine how different it must have been. It’s still a very busy place, but it’s all office work. No one’s making mops or brooms. Of course, no city as big as Albany could possibly have gotten by with just one brush factory, so this isn’t the first time I’ve written about a brush factory.

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Purity at the Capitol

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You’ll be shocked to learn that in the 1890s, there was scandal about the legislature. The water supply, however, was above reproach, thanks to the efforts of the Albany Steam Trap Company. “Every drop used there now for drinking purposes is as pure as if it trickled from ‘The icicle which hangs on Dian’s temple.'”

Gimme those hot 88s!

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As mentioned in the previous post, there was a bit of a fire at the Brandow Publishing house in 1891, just as “The New Albany” was set to roll off the presses. But not just presses and type were consumed in that conflagration . . . numerous innocent pianos died that day as well. And others just suffered fire damage. Again, lemons, lemonade.

“Did any one say that the wives and daughters of 5,000 of Albany’s best men are not interested in pianos?” Not just sexist, but oddly specific. But who can blame Frank Thomas for trying anything to off load his remaining stock. Perhaps smoke inhalation led him to see destroying angels and Dame Rumor, but again I offer evidence that ad copy was once very different.

The Fire That Time

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Just before the publication of the first number of “The New Albany” in 1891, Brandow Printing Company’s plant was consumed by fire. Type was made of lead then, and lead melts at a pretty low temperature, so when a printing plant burned, there wouldn’t be much left. But the sufficiently insured Brandow turned lemons into lemonade and took the opportunity to establish “as modern and progressive a printing office as the ingenuity of man can devise.”  Every press, new! Every font of type, new! Just imagine.

This fire also led to a great piano fire sale, about which more anon.