R F above the doorway at 26-32 W. 35th St. stands for Revillon Frères, Parisian furriers with offices in New York City from the early 1880s until the late 1990s. 26-32 W. 35th St. runs through the block with 17-19 W. 34th St. the address on the other side. Revillon were located at 19 W. 34th St., then 26 W. 35th St. from approximately 1905 to 1921. A more elaborate R F (with lions and scrolls) is found over the doorway at 260 W. 30th St., a later Revillon Frères location (1923 to 1955).
An earlier Revillon location was 13-15 W. 28th St. This ad for Revillon on the New York Public Library's digital collections is dated 1904-1905. NYPL's collections also include a beautiful photograph of the Revillon Frères Building at 684 5th Ave. on the corner of 53rd St. (Revillon were located in this building approx. 1929-1948.)
The origins of Revillon Frères are summarized in an article entitled "Ascension et déclin de Revillon Frères au Canada" (1985), by Pierrette Paule Désy, available on the internet at http://classiques.uqac.ca. In summary: in 1723 a fur shop called Maison Givelet opened in Paris. The Maison Givelet was acquired by Louis-Victor Revillon over a hundred years later, in 1839. In 1869 Revillon opened a branch in London, then in 1878 in New York City. The earliest mention of Revillon Frères in New York city directories was in 1881: "Revillon Frères, Paris & London, mfrs. & exporters of furs, 731 B'way."
Browns (London) fleshes out the story slightly with "Revillon as it is today began in 1839 when Louis-Victor Revillon bought a leather company established in 1723 by M. François Givelet situated in Paris at 159, Rue St. Honoré. With the company under his direction, Louis-Victor Revillon epitomized his own motto that: 'elegance needs the most precious fabrics and furs.'"
The names are different, however, in an article in Printer's Ink, vol. LXXV, no. 12, 22 June 1911, p. 47, by Kirke S. Pickett, "The story of this business is replete with human interest and color. It began in 1723, when one Monsieur Jean Jancke undertook to sell furs. Eleven years later, with considerable discrimination, he married his daughter to Louis Victor Revillon, who, being a born organizer, assumed control of the business." This sounds like a garbled account. Revillon's marriage and assumption of the business would have followed 1723 by about 100 years.
A photograph of the summer residence of Léon Revillon at Boissy-Saint-Léger, France, is found at Topic Topos. According to the information there Victor-Louis [sic] Revillon founded the family enterprise in 1840. Léon Revillon was the son of Louis-Victor Revillon.
Léon Revillon (1843-1915) received the following obituary in the New York Times, 3 Feb. 1915, "Leon Revillon, founder of the American house of Revillon Frères, and for many years President of the Board of Directors of the parent house in France, died at his home in Paris last Sunday. Mr. Revillon was a prominent operator in the fur markets of the world, and was recognized on both continents as a fur expert. Taken into the firm of Revillon Frères in 1865, he was still active in the business at the time of his death. In 1868 he opened the London house and the house in New York in 1880. Mr. Revillon was well known in New York."
American Cloak and Suit Review, vol. IX, no. 3, March, 1915, had a similar obituary, reading, in part, "On Sunday, January 31st, Leon Revillon, founder of the American house of Revillon Freres, died at his home in Paris, France, after a short illness... In 1865 his father took him into the business, and in 1868 the younger Mr. Revillon opened the firm's London office. It was the success of the London office that led Revillon Freres to open an office on this side of the Atlantic." An ad for Revillon located at 19 W. 34th St. appeared in the same issue of this journal.
Another ad, this one dated 1909, proclaims Revillon Freres's origins in 1723 Paris, and gives addresses in Paris and London.
A much earlier Revillon ad appeared in Trow's New York City Directory, 1884, which shows the company's original New York address, 731 Broadway.
Another of Louis-Victor Revillon's sons active in the business was Théodore Revillon (1840s?-1924). His notice in the New York Times, 12 Jan. 1924, read, "Revillon Frères of 670 Fifth Avenue has received word of the death in Paris of Theodore Revillon, father of the present head of the house and the last of the three brothers who incorporated the 200-year-old fur business under the present name. He was about ?6 years old. Mr. Revillon gave up active business interests some years ago, and since then had devoted himself to the patronage of art. John Revillon is the President of the American branch of the firm."
A second Théodore Revillon was Théodore Léon Revillon (1880-1949), a son of Léon Revillon. His obituary in the New York Times, 10 Dec. 1949, read, "Theodore Leon Revillon of 57 East Eight-eighth Street, retired investment banker and a former director of Revillon Freres, furriers, died Thursday of a heart attack in Flower and Fifth Avenue Hospital. His age of 69. Born in Paris, son of Leon Revillon, president of Revillon Freres, and Marie Letendeur Revillon, M. Revillon studied business administration at the University of Leipzig. In 1904 he went to Canada, where he founded the western trading posts of Revillon Freres. He furnished supplies of the Northwest Mounted Police during the construction of a road across the Rocky Mountains between Peace River and the Yukon. Mr. Revillon directed the Edmonton headquarters of Revillon Freres. He founded the concern's posts at Sturgeon Lake, Prairie Lake, Fort St. John, Fort Vermilion, Hay River, Keg River and Trout Lake. Subsequently, he headed the New York branch of the concern. Leaving Revillon Freres, he represented a group of French bankers before the first World War. … Surviving are his widow, Mrs. Kate Vidler Revillon; a daughter Miss Leone Revillon, and a brother, Jean Revillon."
A brother of Théodore Léon Revillon was Jean Marie André Revillon (1885-1963). He registered for the World War I draft in 1918 when he was 33 years old and lived at 210 W. 90th St., Manhattan. He worked as "Manager Commercial Banking," Revillon Frères, 26 W. 35th St. "John" M. Revillon was listed as president of Revillon Frères in Polk's New York city directories from 1917 through 1922/23.
Another member of the third generation Revillons was Victor Revillon (1870-1950). He was the son of the first Théodore Revillon (1840s?-1924). His obituary in the New York Times, 14 Feb. 1950, read, "Paris, Feb. 13 - Victor Revillon, president of the noted fur house, Revillon Frères, died here on Saturday after a brief illness. He was 80 years old. M. Revillon was responsible for establishing the Revillon firm in this city. When he first came here in 1893, it was to study the American market, an assignment entrusted to him by his father then patriarch of an enterprise that traced back to the year 1723. The Revillons had acquired control early in the nineteenth century. After establishing a branch at 731 Broadway, M. Revillon regarded the development of the business here with a special interest and saw to it that the branch kept pace with the growth of the city. Thus Revillon Frères moved uptown to West Twenty-eighth Street in 1895, to Fifth Avenue and Fifty-third Street in 1915, to 684 Fifth Avenue in 1929 and to 11 West Fifty-seventh Street in 1949. …"
A vice-president at the New York Revillon Frères during the 1920s was Paul J. Arpin (1880-1931). His life was outlined in his obituary in the New York Times, 29 April 1931, "Paul J. Arpin of 50 West Ninety-sixth Street, vice president and director of Revillon Frères, furriers, and director, vice president and secretary of Revillon, Inc., died on Monday in Paris after a long illness. Mr. Arpin was born in France fifty-one years ago. He went to Paris for medical aid in March and was operated on six weeks ago. Mr. Arpin came to New York thirty-five years ago and entered the employ of Revillon Frères. He traveled for the company for a time and before the war was in charge of the Leipzig and Paris branches. He served in the French Army and was captured by the Germans, who held him in prison for three years. He returned to New York in 1920 and became vice president of both companies… "
President of the New York Revillon Frères in the mid-1920s until 1939 was Thierry Mallet (1884-1969). Mallet was the author of several works dealing with the fur country of Canada, including Kakoot: Récits du pays des caribous (1930). Mallet was also Revillon's contact with Robert Flaherty, whose "Nanook of the North," (1922) was produced by Revillon Frères."
Christopher Gray, writing in the New York Times, 28 August 2011, had the following to say regarding Revillon Frères and the building at 260 W. 30th St., "The furriers Révillon Frères, which traces its origins to 1723, built a magnificent warehouse here in 1923 to serve the main store on Fifth Avenue. Révillon Frères was one of the most important furriers in New York with an extensive network of trading posts in the Arctic. The company promoted studies on the region, and financed the 1922 film 'Nanook of the North.' The initial design [for 260 W. 30] was for a 12-story building, with Floors 4 through 7 windowless, to facilitate cold storage. But as completed, the building was only eight stories high, with an office floor at the top. The cold-storage areas were essentially blank, with intricate diaper-work - crisscross brick patterns - except for a few small openings..."
The plans for 260 W. 30th St. were announced in the New York Times, 11 June 1922, including, "One of the largest fur storage plants in the world is to be housed in the new Revillon home, according to the plans. Four stories of the building are to be devoted to a cold storage plant of the most advanced type."
This ad appeared in Trow's New York City Business Directory, 1906, when Revillon had an earlier fur storage location at 218-220 E. 28th St.
The following account of Revillon Frères was included in Albert Lord Belden's The Fur Trade of America and Some of the Men Who Made and Maintain It; Together With Furs and Fur Bearers of Other Continents and Countries and Islands of the Sea, 1917, "Revillon Frères, foremost fur merchants and manufacturers of Paris, whose business dates back to 1723, have for nearly forty years unostentatiously exerted a beneficial influence upon the fur business of America as the inescapable effect of the impressively exalted character of the house, their irreproachable methods and the extreme excellence of the business in all its details. Every department of the great house is conducted in the most progressive and up-to-date manner, and in the exercise of the fullest knowledge of commercial conditions and mercantile possibilities in all parts of the world. These statements apply not only to the original foundation at Paris, but as emphatically to the branches established in succession at London, Montreal, New York, Leipzig and points of minor magnitude, not the least of which have their beginning at comparatively recent dates in the new cities and personally planted trading posts in the most modern provinces and far northern wilds of Canada. The New York branch of Revillon Frères was opened in 1880 at 731 Broadway, in charge of an American representative, with an excellent selection of their superior fur seal skins in the beautiful French dye, and other choice furs adapted to the requirements of ultra fashionable consumers. In 1890 the business was confided to the efficient management of Mr. P. A. Majot, and was confined to trade at wholesale; six years later, in order to secure much greater manufacturing facilities the business was removed to 13-15 West Twenty-eighth Street, with Mr. Andre Jave in charge. The progress of the house was rapid, necessitating another change of location, and in January, 1899, the firm leased the entire building 19 West Thirty-fourth Street and 30-32 West Thirty-fifth Street, and very materially enlarged the business by opening one of the finest retail departments in the United States - their lines at the time included manufacturing, dressed and dyed fur skins at wholesale, raw fur purchasing at first hand, importing, exporting, retailing and cold storage; really every branch of the trade, and profoundly touching every point, place and fur interest of real worth. The house was incorporated in Paris in 1904. The house has important branches in London and Montreal, and purchasing agencies in many parts of the world. Jean Albert Revillon died November 26, 1887. Leon Revillon died January 31, 1915. Albert Revillon died at the front in the great war, October, 1915. Anatole Revillon died January 30, 1916."
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