Friday’s Tall Tales #13

Whenever I photograph a door or gate I wonder about its provenance, who and what has happened across said door or gate. I thought I might pick one from #Thursdaydoors and tell you a bit more about it or……maybe even weave a story about it.

This is a doorway I took a photo of while we were in Paris in October 2019. We had gone slightly off-piste on our post-lunch perambulations as my beloved demonstrated his inability to use google maps.

At number 49 rue de Bagnolet, a stone porch whose pediment stamped with red letters announces Maison Pellissier Jonas & Rivet, founded in 1847 – Paris – New York, bears testament to the existence of an old factory that has since disappeared, a vestige of industrious Paris.

At the end of 19th century, two companies in eastern Paris, Chapal in Montreuil and Pellissier Jeunes & Rivet rue de Bagnolet, specialised in turning rabbit hair into felt. In the workshops, the animal hair is treated using chemical processes to turn it into felt for making hats. Back then the demand for raw materials used in the manufacture of hats was very high. In 1871, Pellissier senior, originally from Puy-de-Dôme, set up a workshop in 1871 in rue de Bagnolet.

In the 1870s, François Rivet, a young cousin of the Pellissiers, a skilled worker on steam engines, learned all about the business and sometimes worked in his relative’s factory. In 1881, he moved to Paris and set up his own company with his brother-in-law Michel Liandier. A bit of a visionary, he is interested in the American market and wanted to distribute his products in the United States.

In 1891, in partnership with his cousins Antoine and Jean, the Pellissier Jeunes, François Rivet crossed the Atlantic to found an American branch of the family business. In Brooklyn, he set up a factory that grew rapidly. Fortune smiled on him and the business was a roaring success. He returned to France in 1905.

Pellissier Jonas & Rivet house enjoyed a prosperous era at the beginning of the century. It filed innovative patents, including a new process for treating the fur which replaced the highly toxic mercury solution whose fumes drove the workers crazy – hence the mad hatter – with a combination of acids.

Like all men of fortune made, Pellissier invested in real-estate. In 1904, he ordered the construction of a first building on Avenue du Trône, then a second in 1910, on the very chic Avenue de la Bourdonnais.

In the early 1910s, Louis August Jonas, an American partner, took over the management of the New York branch. The House becomes Pellissier Jonas & Rivet. His son, George Edward Jonas, known as Freddie Jonas, succeeded him in 1915. From the 1930s, this philanthropist devoted part of his fortune to helping young people, through his Louis August Jonas Foundation. During the inter-war period, the American and French subsidiaries separated. Pellissier and Rivet nevertheless retained shares in the Jonas company.

From the 1930s until the end of the 1950s, André Chauvard, grandson of François Rivet, took over the management of the Parisian company. After the Second World War, Maison Pellissier Jonas & Rivet struggled to revive its business but the market has changed dramatically with the development of synthetic materials and people no longer wearing hats to the same extent. The last American factory located in Walden in the State of New York was put up for sale in 1953. The Parisian branch closed its doors in 1958.

20 Comments on “Friday’s Tall Tales #13

  1. Interesting boom and bust back story, Sheree. Markets do change along with fashions. I’m glad you wrote about this one as I noted the portal and signage in a previous post. I don’t often see Franco-American business connections, although there must have been many.

    Liked by 1 person

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