This obscure sign reading Oppenheim, Collins & Co. is inscribed on the lintel over the rear entrance to 35 W. 34th St. near 6th Ave., New York City. The founders of Oppenheim, Collins & Co. were Albert D. Oppenheim (1833-1914), Thomas G. Collins (1834-1890) and Charles Julius Oppenheim (1859-1941).
On his death in 1890 Thomas G. Collins received the following obituary in the New York Times, 14 March 1890, "Thomas G. Collins of Oppenheim, Collins & Co. of this city died suddenly of heart disease at the Parker House, Boston, Wednesday night. At 10 o'clock A. M. on Wednesday Mr. Collins left the Gilsey House and started to fulfill a business engagement at Boston. His death was as unexpected as it was sudden. He had attained his fifty-fifth year last September and was a bachelor. His business career was an honorable and signally successful one. He came of Connecticut stock and sprang from the Collins family of Collinsville in that state. He was born at Waterbury in 1834, and was educated at New-Haven. For twenty-five years he was with the importing cloak firm of Oppenheim Brothers. On the death of one of the firm he became a partner. For two years he was associated with Wechsler & Abrahams in Brooklyn, but severed his connection there to form the firm of Oppenheim, Collins & Co. To his business sagacity the success of the house is mainly due. Counting his friends by the hundreds, no man in the trade was more widely known or more popular East and West than the deceased. He was a genial, social nature and entirely unobtrusive. His home for the last fourteen years was the Gilsey House, and its proprietor, Mr. Breslin, who was his intimate friend, yesterday, by wire from Chicago, placed his hotel at the disposal of his relatives and friends for the funeral services. The funeral services will take place at his sister's residence in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, tomorrow. Mr. Collins was a member of the Phoenix Club, Fifth-avenue. He was also a Seventh Regiment veteran."
On the death of Albert D. Oppenheim the following appeared in the New York Times, 9 Dec. 1914, "A cable from Berlin to Secretary of State Bryan was received here yesterday announcing the death in that city last Monday of Albert D. Oppenheim, founder of the New York dry goods firm of Oppenheim, Collins & Co., 35 West Thirty-fourth Street. Mr. Oppenheim, who was 82 years old, had spent much of his time in Germany since his retirement from active business here five years ago. He had been visiting his daughter, Mrs. Felix Caro, in Berlin. One of the pioneer dry goods merchants in this city, Mr. Oppenheim came here at the age of 19 from Cassel, Germany, sixty-three years ago, He entered the dry goods business, and was for many years associated with Abraham & Straus in Brooklyn. He married Miss Mary Abraham, sister of one of the members of the firm, fifty-six years ago. With his son Charles J. Oppenheim and Isaac D. Levy, Mr. Oppenheim moved to Manhattan and founded the firm which bears his name, remaining its active head until his retirement in 1809 [1909!]. Mrs. Oppenheim died a few months ago. Besides the son and Mrs. Caro, there are three daughters living, Mrs. Alfred N. Cohen, Mrs. Albert Saxe, and Mrs. Max Fuld, the last named living in France."
It seems somewhat interesting that Oppenheim's obituary does not mention Thomas Collins, whose name forms half of the business name.
A more complete obituary for Albert D. Oppenheim appeared in American Cloak and Suit Review, Vol. IX, No. 1, January, 1915, reading, "Albert D. Oppenheim, founder of Oppenheim, Collins & Co., operators of one of the largest chains of specialty stores in the United States, died in Berlin, Germany, on December 7th. Mr. Oppenheim was born in Cassel, Germany, in 1832, and at the age of nineteen years came to this country and, with his brother, Charles J. Oppenheim, entered the coat and suit manufacturing business, in which line he continued for about fifty years. In 1889 he acquired an interest in the business of Wechsler & Abraham, now Abraham & Straus, in Brooklyn. About thirty years ago the business of Oppenheim Bros. was changed to Oppenheim Collins & Co. The firm then consisted of Albert D. Oppenheim, Charles J. Oppenheim, son of Albert D., and Thomas Collins, and operated on Worth Street. Mr. Collins died in 1892 and the business was continued by the remaining partners. About fourteen years ago the two Oppenheims, with Isaac D. Levy, started the present retail business of Oppenheim, Collins & Co., at the corner of Broadway and Twenty-first Street and only a few years later with the extensive growth of the retail business, the owners found themselves unable to continue the wholesale end and give it the attention it required. In the year 1904 the wholesale was discontinued. About six years after the retail business was started Albert D. Oppenheim retired, and, with his wife, spent most of his time abroad. In 1912 Mrs. Oppenheim died in Europe and since that time Mr. Oppenheim has been living with his daughter in Berlin. Mr. Oppenheim was a very industrious man, and was given to the execution of practical and commercial ideas. He was a member of the old Norfolk Street Congregation, now located at Fifth Avenue and Seventy-eighth Street, and devoted considerable time, as well as giving liberally, to charity. He was a member of the Progress and other clubs and was interested in many hospitals. Arrangements for the transferring of the body to this country cannot be perfected now on account of the war, but as soon as possible the remains will be brought to this country."
The third partner in Oppenheim, Collins & Co. in 1883 was Charles Julius Oppenheim (1859-1941), a son of Albert D. Oppenheim. His obituary in the New York Times, 30 May 1941, read in part, "Charles J. Oppenheim Sr., former president of Oppenheim, Collins Co., New York and Brooklyn department store firm, died of a heart attack at his home here yesterday at 1 P.M., in his eighty-second year. Mr. Oppenheim was born in New York on Oct. 10, 1859, the son of Albert and Mary Abraham Oppenheim. His mother was the daughter of the founder of Abraham & Straus. After attending the public schools in New York, Mr. Oppenheim studied in Berlin and Paris, and then entered the commercial department of City College in New York, being graduated in 1875, when he was 16 years old. He thereupon worked for his father's firm, which was doing a wholesale business in Canal Street under the name of Albert D. Oppenheim. Four years later he became a partner. In 1901 the firm went into the retail business at Twenty-first Street and Broadway. Seven years later it moved to its present quarters in West Thirty-fourth Street. Meanwhile it also established a Brooklyn branch on Fulton Street. Before becoming president, Mr. Oppenheim made several trips to Europe as a buyer for his firm, keeping in touch with the world's fashion centers. He remained active in management until May, 1926, when he retired as an officer, although maintaining his place on the board of directors. In 1935 the I. J. Levy family took over the business through Robert D. Levy, who was a vice president of Oppenheim, Collins & Co."The business name Wechsler & Abraham first appears in Brooklyn city directories in 1867. Various sources cite 1865 as the date of foundation. Wechsler was Joseph Wechsler (1836/38?-1896), and Abraham was Abraham Abraham (1843-1911), who became famous later as the partner of Nathan and Isidor Straus at Abraham & Straus when that company was formed in 1893. Both Albert D. Oppenheim and Thomas G. Collins were employed at Wechsler & Abraham. Brooklyn city directories indicate that Collins was connected with Wechsler & Abraham approximately 1874 to 1880. Lain's Brooklyn City Directory listed him as a partner in the company in 1877 and 1878. Albert Oppenheim married Mary Abraham, a sister of Abraham Abraham, but Brooklyn city directories recorded his name in connection with Wechsler & Abraham only in the single year of 1874.
Predecessor companies to Oppenheim, Collins were Oppenheim & Collins, importers, at 499 Broadway from 1872 through 1875, and Oppenheim Bros. at 97 Franklin St. and later 22-24 White St. from 1876 to 1882. The officers at Oppenheim Bros. were Albert D. Oppenheim, Charles J. Oppenheim, and Joseph D. Oppenheim. On 31 Dec. 1881 the New York Times reported the dissolution of Oppenheim Bros., "The firm of Oppenheim Brothers, cloak merchants, Nos. 22 and 24 White street, is dissolved today after months of dissatisfaction and wrangling. It was composed of the President, Mr. Joseph D. Oppenheim, who lives in the brown-stone mansion No. 146 West Forty-third-street, and Mr. Albert D. Oppenheim, who, with his son, Abraham, lives at No. 40 East Sixty-fifth-street. The partners are wealthy men, well known in business and social circles. ... Mr. Joseph D. Oppenheim continued the business in White-street." The full account of the conflict between the brothers Albert D. Oppenheim and Joseph D. Oppenheim included accusations of theft, a shooting incident and the arrest of Joseph Oppenheim for reckless endangerment (he was fined $10).
During the years 1876 to 1882 Thomas G. Collins had his own importing business at 45 Worth St. The original Oppenheim, Collins & Co. was located at 198 Church St. in 1883. They were wholesale dealers and manufacturers of cloaks and suits. Approximately 1901 Oppenheim, Collins moved to Broadway and 21st St. where they established a retail outlet for women's clothing. The store was located at 921 Broadway and extended through the block to 5th Ave. (149-151 5th Ave.). By the time they moved to 33-35 W. 34th St. (1907) they were no longer engaged in manufacturing or wholesale distribution. It was here they solidified their reputation as a purveyor of fine women's wear. They stayed in business at this location over fifty years (1907 to 1961).
Another major figure at Oppenheim, Collins & Co. was Isaac D. Levy (1867-1934). Levy's obituary in the New York Times, 10 Sept. 1934, read in part, "Isaac D. Levy, president of Oppenheim, Collins & Co. of New York, died at his summer home [Deal, N.J.] at 10 o'clock this morning after a fortnight's illness from an intestinal ailment. He was 66 years old. ... The story of Isaac D. levy was the classic American story of the rise of a young man endowed with vision and ambition. From a cash boy earning $2 a week, he pursued his dream until he became known as 'The prince of merchant princes in the realm of ready-to-wear.' It was Mr. Levy's vision that led to the establishment by Oppenheim, Collins & Co., of its retail specialty store, and it was under his guidance as president that the store prospered and branched out to other cities. Mr. levy was born in London and came to this country as a boy with his family. His family stayed for a short time in New York, where he had a temporary position and then moved to Chicago. There he got a position as cash boy in the cloak department of The Fair, a well-known retail establishment. The position was a minor one, but the boy's imagination was fired with the possibilities of the ready-to-wear business, and he realized that it was this field that would claim his life interest. Five years at The Fair gave the young man a comprehensive understanding of the ready-to-wear business, and at the end of that time he was offered a position as a cloak and suit buyer for the City of Paris, the retail store of Mannheimer, Lipman & Co. In this capacity he showed such marked executive ability that he progressed consistently and rapidly to the management of the entire store. In 1891, Mr. Levy went over to the Siegel-Cooper organization in Chicago as cloak and suit buyer. The five years of his association with the store were years of remarkable expansion and growth, and his success there led to his transfer to the management of the cloak and suit department of the Siegel-Cooper store in New York, one of the leading stores of the time. From Siegel-Cooper, Mr. Levy went to Meyer, Jonasson & Co. of New York. But all this time an idea had been developing in his mind and now Mr. Levy found the opportunity to carry it out. He approached C. J. Oppenheim Sr. of Oppenheim & Collins, which was then entirely a wholesale house, with the project of establishing a retail store. Mr. Oppenheim, considered the matter, and despite advice from friends who thought he should not branch out into an unfamiliar field, he decided to back Mr. Levy. Thus was born the Oppenheim, Collins & Co. specialty store at Twenty-first Street and Broadway..."
This ad from 1907 dates from the time of Oppenheim, Collins's retail store at Broadway and 21st St. The store extended from Broadway through to Fifth Avenue, with store fronts on both streets.
This view from the New York Public Library's Digital Collections shows 34th Street with the front of the Oppenheim Collins store in 1923.
This ad from 1922 refers to the Oppenheim, Collins store on Fulton St., Brooklyn. Oppenheim, Collins maintained their Brooklyn store at 485 Fulton St., on the corner of Bridge St., from 1912 to 1956. A very fuzzy Oppenheim, Collins sign can be seen over on the left edge of this image from the New York Public Library's Digital Collections. The second line reads, "America's Foremost Specialists." The view is from Willoughby Street looking south towards Fulton St. along Bridge St. The date of this image is about 1926.
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