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MANUSCRIPTS COLLECTIONS

Rosenberg Mercantile Company Records (Abbeville, S.C.) 1881-1965

Twelve and one-half linear feet of papers, 1881, 1886, 1901-1919, [1920-1964], and 1972, and one hundred twenty-nine volumes, 1897-1965, of the Rosenberg Mercantile Company, Abbeville, document the history of the firm's existence from the 1890s through the 1960s. A Jewish emigrant, Wolf Rosenberg, established the firm of Rosenberg & Co. in the upcountry town of Abbeville after moving there from Chester in 1872. The first store opened in October, but within three years Rosenberg relocated the business to a larger store on the west side of the town square. Rosenberg's partner, G.A. Visanka, was a longtime resident of the town. In 1877 Rosenberg sold his interest in the store to his cousin Philip, who lived in New York, and returned to his native Poland. The firm operated under the name of P. Rosenberg and Co. It was one of the most successful businesses in Abbeville over the final two decades of the nineteenth century. A second store was opened in 1882. In 1895 the Press and Banner reported that "P. Rosenberg & Co. has attained greater financial success than any other firm in town. They own more bank stock, more town bonds, more mortgages, more farming land, more town property than any other firm in Abbeville County." The Rosenbergs owned three storefronts and leased two others. The partners were also prominent in town affairs, with Philip Rosenberg serving on the school board and G.A. Visanka serving as vice-president of the Abbeville Cotton Mill. Philip Rosenberg eventually purchased G.A. Visanka's interest in the business, and in 1907 Sol H. Rosenberg assumed management of the firm under the name of Rosenberg Mercantile Company. In 1920 the business occupied four separate buildings in the town. In June 1928 the clothing store separated from the other buildings, and by 1956 the Rosenberg Mercantile Company specialized in men's clothing.

The correspondence and business records in this collection provide information about the many different entrepreneurial interests of the Rosenberg family. In addition to the mercantile business (hardware, dry goods, and farm supplies), they owned large amounts of land on which they harvested timber and rented to tenants. They also operated a real estate business. The business records include ledgers, day books, cash and credit books, charge and approval books, rent books, and inventory books. The collection includes one stock book (1906) and one cotton book (1920-1921).

From the eighteenth century until the present, Jews have been prominent in the business and social life of Charleston. Before the Civil War and afterwards, Jewish merchants located in interior towns in all areas of the state. Some of these merchants were related to Charleston families; others were immigrants who came directly to South Carolina from Europe. The records of the Rosenberg Mercantile Company thoroughly document the role of this Jewish family in the economic, social, and political life of Abbeville from the 1890s until the early 1970s. The records also document the operation of a highly successful business which evolved as the economy shifted from agriculture to industry but which was experiencing the pressures of a different type of competition by the final years of its existence. Companies like the Rosenberg Mercantile Company dominated trade in many South Carolina towns in the first half of the twentieth century and for some time after World War II, but the arrival of department stores like Belk and J.C. Penney and other specialty stores posed serious competition. The economic factors which led to the demise of the Rosenberg Mercantile Company are evident in the business correspondence.

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