Before Black Friday…there was G. Fox


For decades now, the day after Thanksgiving has been referred to by many as “Black Friday”, the first day of the holiday shopping season. It’s a day of transition from a season of autumn and Thanksgiving to a season of holiday shopping and festivities; a day of drastic sales, crowds and madness at retail stores. As with many aspects of history common folklore often dictates people’s beliefs, falsely.  So, what is the history of “Black Friday”? What does it mean? Where did it come from? How long has it been around and what on earth was it like before “Black Friday”? Continue reading

Gerson puts the ‘G’ in G. Fox & Company

I would be remiss if I didn’t spend at least one entry talking about the man who started it all, Gerson Fox. I hope I don’t bore you by sharing a little of his history here before I talk about one of my favorite items in the entire collection, Gerson’s account book.

Gerson Fox was born on December 14, 1811 in Germany. (While we know very little about his life prior to his arrival in Hartford, we do know that he had at least three siblings, but that’s best left for another story, I suppose.) I still haven’t been able to pinpoint what year he immigrated to the United States or determine when he arrived in Hartford, but it is likely considering the sources available that he was in Hartford by the mid-1830s. I also haven’t found a record of his marriage, but articles in the Hartford newspapers of 1873 seem to indicate that he married Hannah Bamberger in February of 1848. Their first child, a son named Leopold, was born in December of that year. Gerson and Hannah would have three other children: Moses, Emma, and Isaac. (There is some disagreement over whether that they had a second daughter and therefore five children in total, but I’ll spare you from that discussion as well.) Gerson Fox was also one of the founding members of Congregation Beth Israel in Hartford (now located in West Hartford) and served as their treasurer for a number of years. He died on August 22, 1880. His obituary in the Hartford Daily Times describes him as having “a pleasant and affable character, kind, even-tempered, gentle in his judgment, and just in his dealings to all, but to his friends most faithful, and to his family deeply affectionate.”

His account book may not reveal any of his “pleasant and affable character,” but it does shed some light on his business side. Unfortunately, he wrote a lot in German so much of it is hard for me to decipher, but the account book does show numerous rent payments as well as fees payed to various different people who were perhaps servants or employees in his store. One of the most interesting things about this account book, to me at least, is that it is first dated 1829/30 and continues until 1858, which means that this account book actually precedes the opening of G. Fox & Co! If only I had a greater understanding of 19th century German or knew someone who did! (Any volunteers out there willing and able to translate for me?) In any event, this account book promises to be a real treasure — its full potential has yet to be unearthed.

On a related topic, the CHS is also fortunate to have portraits of Gerson Fox and his wife, Hannah, in our museum collections. The family resemblance carries down even through Gerson’s and Hannah’s great-great grandchildren!