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 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., Manhattan, where he 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.
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, my mother worked for her father. In their teen years my 2 brothers went to work alongside my grandfather or Poppa as we called him. 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 ric rac to ribbon, 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 Europe, 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.