January 15 (Was) National Hat Day

NOTE: I intended to post this on the 15th, but… um… life.

According to Thomas MacEntee’s Facebook post, today is National Hat Day. Thank goodness he made us aware of this very important observance! There have been some exciting happenings recently related to my great-grandparents’ hat business, LITAL (Vienna, Austria – 1899-1938).

Many years ago, while researching the hat-making business, I discovered an online forum dedicated to the discussion of German and Austrian hat companies. Through that, I connected with Steve Heck, whose help has been invaluable throughout my journey researching my great-grandfather’s training as a hat-making apprentice.

Steve provided me with Austrian Trade booklets, some of which listed both my grandfather, Paul, and his father, Sigmund Lichtenthal. He also posted queries for me and provided me with some fabulous videos which helped me better understand the hat-making process.

In return, I have sent him pictures of a LITAL manufactured hat I purchased on eBay, and images of various items related to the family hat business—most notably Sigmund’s Arbeitsbuch, which chronicles his apprentice and employment history.

A few weeks ago, Steve emailed about a LITAL hat he found on an Austrian online marketplace. He described the hat and sent me pictures of the posting, offering to purchase it for me if I was interested. Was I interested? Of course! I already had a hat (granted not in as good condition), but I thought perhaps my sister Jeanne would be interested. She sure was!

Jeanne was very excited about buying the hat for her son, Clifford, who actually has been to Vienna. He also enjoys vintage (aka offbeat) clothing!

As I write this, the 100-year-old hat is on its way to Jeanne’s home. It’s pretty cool to own a hat manufactured by your great-grandfather over 100 years ago. What makes this hat even cooler is that it is probably the hat design that won him the Grand Prize for Hat Fabrication at the 1900 Paris Exposition.

The original award is printed in cream and green inks on heavy paper and is about 2 feet by 3 feet in size. This small image is a photocopy Sigmund had made when he was applying for compensation for his losses.

In 1900, Sigmund had just begun his career as a hat-maker, but he had great aspirations, His goal to was achieve fame by becoming a world-renowned hat-maker. Winning the Grand Prize set him squarely on that road. In 1938, the company, owned jointly by himself, his wife, and his son, comprised a factory and five store branches. By the end of May 1938, it was all gone. The business had been taken by the Nazis and his son Paul was imprisoned in the Dachau concentration camp.

Sigmund would spend the rest of his life working to get compensation for the loss of his livelihood. His legacy is not lost. His story will be remembered not only through my writing but brought to life with the ownership of this new-to-us heirloom.

Wouldn’t it be cool to find out the provenance of this hat? One has to wonder who bought it. When? Where has it been since 1920? Perhaps I will take on that challenge. For now, we are happy just to have another piece of our story home with family.

My grandfather, Paul Lichtenthal, is standing between the two women in the doorway on the right.

I am currently writing a book about our family’s Holocaust experience. If you would like to follow my progress, check out my other blog, Nothing Really Bad will Happen.

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