Wednesday, March 21, 2012

52 Trade Houses Part 51: Siegel, Cooper & Co. of New York & Chicago

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Over the course of the next year, we'll be detailing the history of 52 companies that sold branded fishing tackle. 52 trade houses in 52 weeks -- some obscure, some famous, and all available exclusively here on the Fishing for History Blog! If you have any items from the week's entry you'd like to share with us, please send it my way and I'll make sure it makes it on the blog.

For a discussion of what exactly trade tackle is, Click Here. Enjoy the 52 for 52!

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Trade House Tackle, Part 51:

Siegel, Cooper & Co. of New York & Chicago

I love Department Store tackle, and I wanted to profile at least one department store that is known to have sold tackle but that I have not seen any marked tackle for. The company in question is the popular but long forgotten Siegel, Cooper & Co. of New York and Chicago.

Store logo ca. 1899.

Founded in 1887 by Henry Siegel and Frank Cooper, according to History of German Immigration in the United States by George von Skal (1908):

This has been said to have been the first real modern department store, and whether this is correct or not, the fact remains that the new firm introduced methods heretofore unknown, and rapidly became one of the great retail trading centers of the country. The business grew to such large proportions that the firm soon needed more commodious quarters and erected the "Big Store" at State and Van Buren Streets, which was occupied in 1889. While this would have been sufficient for an ordinary man, Mr. Siegel's tremendous activity needed larger fields and in 1896 another "Big Store" was erected in New York, at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Eighteenth Street, which revolutionized the retail business of the metropolis and forced other long-established concerns to change their methods completely.

The Big Store ca. 1905.

The firm also launched a Chicago branch of the story by 1890, and it made a splash as well, being a major promoter of the World's Fair in 1893.

The Chicago store ca. 1920.

The "Big Store" mentioned above was the largest department store in the world when finished, surpassed around ten years later by Macy's (which was built by Delomes & Cordes, the same firm that designed and built Siegel, Cooper & Co.'s stores). It covered an astounding 18 acres of goods, covering everything from fine art to books to fishing tackle.

For around 25 years the store was world famous. The main floor featured a fountain made from a copy of Daniel Chester French's statue The Republic. So famous was this landmark that the phrase "Meet me at the fountain" came into popular use, and was utilized by the store as a slogan.

When Henry Siegel left the firm in 1902 (he purchased and revitalized the Simpson, Crawford & Co. stores and launched his own Henry Siegel & Co. chain in 1905), the company began a slow downhill slide. Even the intervention of the legendary J.P. Morgan, who merged the failing firm with others in 1913, could not halt the bankruptcy which finally hit in 1915. The New York store closed in 1917, although the Chicago branch survived until the early 1930s.

The fountain at the Siegel Cooper & Co. store.

At its height, the company employed 4500 people and published elegant yearly catalogs, some of which contain fishing tackle. The fishing tackle I've seen advertised appears to be fairly standard fair, although the following ad, printed in the May 1908 The Theatre magazine, shows a nifty all-in-one Siegel, Cooper & Co. fishing tackle kit. I would dearly love to see one of these that survived the century since it was first sold…

1922 tackle ad from Siegel, Cooper & Co.

An advertisement ca. 1908 read as follows: [The fishing tackle] department makes a man think of deep, cool pools, with the slippery trout flashing, tempting you to fish. We have baited all the goods with the very low prices for to-morrow." Another advertisement from the March 10, 1906 Princetonian declared the firm the end all of sporting goods destinations.

Princeton Univ. students were entreated to shop for tackle at Siegel, Cooper & Co.

It's easy to forget, but Siegel, Cooper & Co. was so large a book called A Bird's eye View of Greater New York and Its Most Magnificent Store was published in 1898. It was a 200 page guide to getting around the store! Today, the Cooper, Siegel & Co. building has been renovated and is home to a number of popular stores including T.J. Maxx and Marshall's. The Chicago store was taken over by Sears in 1932 and became their headquarters until 1986.

Company catalogs were wonderful depictions of the art nouveau of the era.

So let's all raise a glass to the glory days of the Big Store, and I'll meet you at the Fountain. But only if you're bringing some Siegel, Cooper & Co. tackle with you!

-- Dr. Todd


talha said...
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Dave Mac said...

Would this be the company that made/distributed the Franker Cooper Spinner. It was about 6 - 7 inches long and weighted with a dual hook dressed with red wool and either a gold or silver spinner. This was great for trolling for muskies; have been able to find one for many years.

Unknown said...

I know this is not the correct place for this question, but there does not seem to be an email address for you.
I am working on an exhibit of the Siegel-Cooper store. I wonder if you could tell me where you found the fishing advertisement, the woman in the hat advertisement, and the fabulous view of the store.
I would be so grateful for your help.