Friday, 19 October 2012

Etsy History and Genealogy: A Historical Mark Cross Wallet

It pays out to have a historian’s training when you sell vintage on Etsy. Let me explain. Object under investigation a Mark Cross brown leather wallet marked “Peleg A. Tripp ~ Westport Factory ~ Mass.” Two old American names coexisting on a fine leather product. Naturally, there arose the question of dating. The historian in me couldn’t abide with Etsy’s “Before 1993” option. Enter the genealogy lists.

Having failed at the start to notice the “Cross” logo imprinted in tiny letters on leather, I began investigating the Tripp name. I found out that the Tripps were one of the oldest families in Westport, Massachusetts, and John Tripp (1610-1678) one of the first white settlers in Rhode Island. A descendant of the Tripps was responsible for the building of some of the first cotton mills in the area in 1712. The name Peleg Tripp appears in the 17th century and belongs to John’s grandson who was born in 1642 in Portsmouth (date of death unknown). However, this is not a 17th century wallet. So who was Peleg A. Tripp?

Further genealogy digging revealed that the person whose name is engraved in golden letters on the wallet was probably Peleg Andrew Tripp, born 1850 in Dartmouth, Bristol County, MA and died in 1918 in Taunton. He must have been the purchaser of the wallet. But what’s this imprint? I look closely and I see (with the help of a magnifying glass) the Cross logo, just above the gold letters.  This is one of the fine leather goods of the Mark Cross Legend!

Mark Cross started as a saddle maker in Boston in 1845 and in 1892 the business was bought by Patrick Murphy who opened a leather goods shop on Broadway and by 1902 on NY’s Fifth Avenue. “Mark Cross” became synonymous with luxury leather and Mark Cross handbags were the ultimate accessory carried by the likes of Zelda Fitzgerald and Grace Kelly. Eventually Patrick’s son Gerald took over the business and together with his wife Sara settled in Paris. The Murphys became the centre of a group of artists and writers, such as Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Diaghilev and Picasso. And so the story goes.

The Mark Cross (London) logo on the wallet

But the story doesn't end here. Imprinted under the Cross logo is the word “London”, which adds another aspect in the wallet’s story. In 1892 Patrick Murphy had saddler and leather goods produced in Walsall, England, for export to the U.S. Walsall’s tradition in leather industry goes back to the Middle Ages but it was around the middle of the 19th century that leather working became a very important local trade. At the time when Murphy chose Walsall as a provider of Cross’s leather goods, the area was going through a “Golden Age” of prosperity with booming trade and exports. At the turn of the 20th century around a third of the UK’s saddlers and harnesses where produced in Walsall but since the era of the horse was drawing to a close, most firms concentrated from the 1900s onwards to the production of writing cases, hat boxes, travelling bags and wallets. I assume that among the leather goods produced was  Mr Peleg Andrew Tripp’s one.

And so the story goes.

The Mark Cross (London) wallet is on sale at Inklinks, Etsy.

The Black Country History is an excellent resource and contains many Mark Cross leather goods manufactured in Walsall.

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