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.
Hundred's of boxes arrived, many unopened, month after month, year after year. Several pieces 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. 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 spanned 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, 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.
In the past decade we have reached out to a huge new audience of tinsel lovers - as artists, crafters, and makers have found hundreds of new uses for making unique creations.
In 2009, we welcomed designer Wendy Addison into the Tinsel family, as creative director. Her imagination has brought a panoply of rich new possibilities to the world of Tinsel, and her visual sense has revitalized our retail store.
In 2017, we made the biggest move ever - as skyrocketing rents squeezed us out of Manhattan, we began searching for a new home. We got lucky and found a beautiful storefront in Berkeley Ca. with big display windows and shade trees along the sidewalk.
A big plus after 84 years in New York - lots of parking!!!
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 creative people in the world. We take pride in our role in continuing the legacy of Tinsel Trading.