A long time ago, on the small island known as Manhattan, there was a man who was attracted to shiny and bright, gold and silver threads. He grew up to own the most extraordinary inventory from all over the world, having never traveled outside the United States. Following is the story of my grandfather and how Tinsel Trading evolved.
After a brief job as a mechanic for the army during WWI, he went to work at The French Tinsel Company in Manhattan, the main product being metal threads in an array of styles, colors and sizes also known as “Tinsel,” and made in France. It’s not surprising that he gravitated towards threads, after all his father was a tailor. Metal thread, however, was an unusual choice for an ambitious young man to start his career with. Years passed and Arch J. Bergoffen, my grandfather purchased the company in 1933,changed the name and thus began Tinsel Trading Company.
During WWII, his biggest client turned out to be the U.S. government. Unable to import metal threads themselves for uniforms, they relied on my grandfather, who had been warehousing thousands and thousands of spools for years. To this day there remains a large amount of this inventory in the basement, all on the manufacturer's original wooden spools, paper wrapped with gold labels. Many of them are still in the wooden crates they arrived in from France, never having been opened in over 70 years.
After the war it was necessary to expand and offer a wider variety of embellishments. Arch or Mr. B as he was known, would stay in metals but now it would include trims, tassels, fringes, cords, fabrics and wonders in between. As long as it was made of real metal threads, whether gold, silver or a rainbow of metallic colors, he would collect it and sell it.
When I was 11 years old, I started my career working at the brand new location of Tinsel Trading Co. Previously it had been wholesale only, in a 4th floor loft on on 36th St, but in 1969 he moved to a storefront, where he would now sell retail as well. The address was 47 West 38th St., where the business remained for over 45 years. I would travel by subway with my older brother from Queens to Manhattan by subway, on Saturdays to help out. Throughout high school and college I worked every opportunity I could, learning as much as possible about the business.
I soon discovered, it was a family rite of passage to work for TTC. My father worked for my grandfather, his new father- in- law, for several years in the early 1950's. As a young adult and when her kids were in school, my mother worked for her father. In their teen years my 2 brothers went to work alongside Poppa. Fast forward to the present & my 2 nephews can also list Tinsel Trading Company on their resumes. Four generations of my family have all participated in the evolution of TTC.
As the years went by, my grandfather found out, sadly, that not everyone was interested in metal trims. He needed more then just his collection of amazing 1920's metal threads, tassels, appliques, fringes and fabrics to accommodate his retail business. He began to accrue everything he could find, from soup to nuts, that was made before 1960. Somehow word got out, and he never had to travel further then the front door. Everyone who had old stuff lying around, much of it from outside the U.S., had heard about this crazy guy on 38th St. who would buy almost anything as long as it was old. Little did they know that their supposed junk was gold to my grandfather.
He bought ribbons, buttons, tassels, fringes, raffia ornaments and anything else that attracted him (even Brazilian beetles from the 1930's) in all colors and fibers. If it remotely fit into his idea of a creative decorative item, he wanted it.
Hundred's of boxes arrived, many unopened, month after month, year after year. One piece of each item would be put on a shelf to sell, but the rest went into the basement, piling one box on top of another, blocking aisles and passageways and mostly sitting unopened and unmarked for years and years. As some of you know, my grandfather was a pack rat and thank goodness he was.
Eventually the years of stockpiling turned into decades, and when my grandfather died in 1989, it became my job to try and make sense of thousands and thousands of items and organize it all. I was very overwhelmed by this and it took many, many years and several employees, to help find a way and develop a plan. I wanted to introduce to the world the wonders and magic of an amazing collection of vintage that spans over 70 years and the introduction of contemporary goods in the same genre.
In 1998 the beginning of a new and wonderful era for TTC began. Computers were introduced into the store (with me kicking & screaming), we started to exhibit at trade shows, Rosemary Warren freelanced for us doing fabulous window displays as well as merchandising, and Martha Stewart came calling.
Long a favorite of Martha's, we were frequently mentioned in her magazine since the inception in 1990. In 1998, we appeared on her morning show . Aired the first week of Dec., I was stunned by the immediate reaction the show had. The moment the segment ended, the phone started ringing and never stopped. Normally slow in the mornings, now people appeared at our doorstep as soon as we opened. To this day there are still customers mentioning they had seen the episode that featured Tinsel Trading.
Another legacy my grandfather had left me was the retail space almost as cluttered and unorganized as the basement. The disorder and design of the store could not accommodate the many customers brought to us by the mounting recognition we were attracting. It was obvious changes had to be made. So Rosemary and I redesigned the space. We did a complete makeover, ripping out all the furniture, fixtures, lighting, flooring and starting from scratch. We installed new floors, new lights and custom-made oak fixtures and furniture. We categorized, colorized and organized. It was no longer my grandfather's dysfunctional store and we were able to double the size of the space. It was stunning!
Since then we have gone through many changes with the biggest being moving from
In 2008, after occupying the same space for over 45 years, we were informed the building was to be knocked down. The sadness & emotional turmoil lasted for quite sometime. I had never worked anywhere else. I use to joke that I was going to be buried in the basement along side my favorite trims.
Happily we found an amazing space on
In late 2008 another chapter in Tinsel Trading’s history started working with Wendy Addison. I had met Wendy in her studio in Port Costa ,Ca. in 2007 and we soon became friends. We spoke often of working together but hadn’t found the right project. To our good fortune , the company she licenses to, Midwest of Cannon Falls, discontinued one of her most popular items, her silver glitter letters. Quickly realizing their decision was a windfall for Tinsel, I swooped in and convinced Wendy to allow us to produce them ourselves in
I know I speak for everyone here at Tinsel Trading when I say we are honored and grateful to be able to work with the most fabulous, exquisite trims. We all feel a sense of history and enormous respect for the items we sell. I have a wonderful staff and I hope one day you are able to meet them and allow them to share our world with you. Perhaps you might even become as drawn to these beautiful trims as we are.
P.S. Stay tuned , I know there is more to come!