Address January 1954
Letisse Handbags Inc
formerly 276 Fifth Avenue
Factory: Reading, PA
Founded in 1949 per Reading Eagle January 10, 1982 Letisse History
1954 Fall line included Genuine Calf Handbags with pocketbook frames, wholesaling at $57/doz
Handbags & Accessories July 1954 page 34
January 1955 Handbags & Accessories, page 38
March 1955 Handbags & Accessories, page 40
C00045: Black textured leather Doctor's bags like these were all the rage in the mid-60's. This example by Letisse is a classic. The substantial metal escutcheon trim on the belt closure fits over a turn-style latch. The interior is fully lined in a tiny cotton print and features a metal zip pocket. There are 3 areas of lining wear, at both gusset flexes and behind the metal latch hardware on the body. These are archival wear. The bag is otherwise in excellent condition. Measures 12 1/2 x 5 x 6 1/2" with a 12" handle. Priced to sell. Sold
The well documented transitions of Letisse from family business to corportate division to its eventual demise was repeated over and over in the handbag industry in the later part of the 20th Century. This is a concise recounting of how the process worked. Is is a testiment to the genius and cared with which the entrepenure concieves and builds an entity that, that cannot prosper without the nurturing of its creator.
Some Letisse Corporate History
Mergers, Sell-offs and Economic Efficiency
by David J. Ravenscraft, Frederic M. Scherer Published by Brookings Institution Press, 1987 page 262
Letisse designed and produced moderately priced women's fashion leather handbags. Its founder, Nicholas Braun, had been hospitalized while a. student at the Harvard Law School during the 1940s and began making leather billfolds as a diversion. Seeing potential in the field, he entered the handbag business and built Letisse into one of the largest and most profitable U.S. leather handbag producers, with 400 employees and sales of $3.8 million at its peak, in 1967. Tax and estate considerations led him to sell out in 1969 to the W.R. Grace Company for stock valued at 2.7 times Letisse’s net worth.
Grace, originally an ocean shipping company, had diversified into chemicals during the 1950s and in the 1960s continued an aggressive diversification program. The executives of its consumer products group were given what amounted to an "open pocketbook" and made numerous small acquisitions, including shoe and clothing manufacturers, the F.A.O. Schartz toy store, the Herman’s World of Sporting Goods retail chain, the Herman Buckskin retail chain, and diverse restaurant and home repair supply chains. The consumer goods manufacturing acquisitions were for the most part unsuccessful. Grace lacked the talent at its corporate headquarters to understand their operations and correct emerging problems. As a result, when problems appeared, the units were simply sold off. Also, divisions like Letisse were considered too small to be manageable in an organization as large as Grace, Consequently, although Letisse had been relatively successful, it as divested with several other consumer goods units in 1977. A small profit as made by Grace on the sale of Letisse, unlike the other members of its sell-off cohort. Grace continued to operate various retail store and restaurant chains, although it as moving away from those lines too. 1
The character of Letisse’s operations changed markedly with the shift from private to Grace ownership. Founder Braun ran his company in the "old world" manner, with paternalistic concern for his Reading, Pennsylvania, factory employees and, as Thoreau would say, "keeping his accounts on his thumbnail." After selling out to Grace, he remained with the company only long enough to effect a. transition. A new chief executive as brought in from a plastics company acquired by Grace. Executive offices were opened in New York City. The Reading factory was modernized, and accounting functions were computerized. Five-year forecasts were made (despite the enormous volatility of the fashion-sensitive handbag business). Aggressive sales expansion efforts were mounted- Sales in fact grew at a constant-dollar rate of 4.6 percent per year between 1968 and 1977. But for a business with from 300 to 45O employees during the period of Grace ownership, the overhead cost burden, increased disproportionately and Letisse, though successful, was not as profitable as it had been under private ownership.
Buying Letisse from Grace was the Lane Wood Company, which previously operated in the self— service store fixture, mobile home, and insurance businesses. The purchase, like Lane Wood’s acquisitions of another handbag maker and a ladies' belt specialist, was financed entirely through debt- In 1983 handbag operations were expanded further by obtaining exclusive rights to design and sell high-fashion handbags under the Evan-Picone name. Lane Wood's intention was to build a fashion accessories division with sales of approximately $5O million and then to spin the operation off to Lane Wood shareholders as a separate corporation- However, beginning in 1982 and escalating in 1983 and 1984, the sharp fall in the value of the U.S. dollar attracted a flood of reasonably priced handbag imports from Europe and the Ear East. Lane Wood management reacted too slowly in cutting costs and contracting for offshore production, sales fell, and losses were incurred. The shock was accentuated by the fashion division's high leverage and lack of an equity cushion. In 1985 a substantial write-off was taken on the sale of Lane Wood's higher-priced handbag manufacturer, and in 1986 Letisse as forced to close its doors and be liquidated.
After nine years of retirement in Majorca, the founder of Letisse returned to Reading and founded, with his wife and daughter, a new leather handbag firm, Juliette Originals. It was reported in 1985 to be profitable and expanding rapidly.
1) “Peter Grace is swallowing his pride and shifting course----Well sort of.” Business Week December 10, 198, page 98-99. “Grace to buy back 26% of its Stock” New York Time December 11, 1985 and “Inside the Troubled Empire of Peter Grace,” Business Week June 6, 1986, pp. 68-71
Newspaper coverage of Letisse and Juliette in the Reading Eagle.
Reading Eagle January 10, 1982 Letisse History
Reading Eagle November 19, 1993 Reading Eagle
Juliette Originals, Inc., a handbag and leather goods firm located at 730 North 8th Street, has been sold to Melbourne Manufacturing Company, St. Louis, MO., for an undisclosed sum.