The National Fur Company

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Detail of National Fur Company shopfront, Carmarthen

The National Fur Company was established by Arron (or Arnold) Barder (1859-1914) in Sloane Street, London. In the early 20th century it moved to 193 Brompton Road, eventually expanding to fill 191-195, a site now occupied by Blom Bank.

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National Fur Company, now Style 49, Carmarthen

Barder’s father – a Jewish immigrant from Krakow – and brothers were also in the fur trade. The National Fur Company claimed, in its advertisements of the late 1920s, to have been established in 1878 ‘by the Grandfather of the present Managing Director’. It also claimed to have been the first company to sell ‘Good Furs at Reasonable Prices’. By the late 1920s it was offering ‘deferred terms’: 12 monthly payments with 5% interest, effectively hire purchase.

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National Fur Company, now Style 49, Carmarthen

By 1932 the National Fur Company had opened branches in Leicester (15 Market Street), Cardiff (20 High Street), Swansea (35 Castle Street), Newport (68 High Street) and Carmarthen (49 King Street). The oldest of these appears to have been Cardiff, which was based at 23 High Street before the Great War. Birmingham had been added by 1950, and an additional branch opened in Exeter before 1970. The premises at 193-195 Brompton Road, previously leased, were bought in 1960 with the intention of rebuilding the company headquarters, bringing manufacturing, retailing and administration under one roof. Despite this, in 1978 the National Fur Company relocated to 241 Brompton Road.

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National Fur Company, Leicester, in 1999

The National Fur Company shopfronts in Leicester, Cardiff and Carmarthen survive. All three were carefully designed in the same tasteful house style. Each has a similar pale ashlar surround (perhaps reconstituted Portland or ‘Empire’ stone) topped by a moulded relief frieze of running animals, including skunk, fox, mink, stoat, squirrel, rabbit, beaver and antelope.

Within the stone frame of each shopfront, the display window was positioned to one side of an arch-headed doorway. The door at Carmarthen survives with its original glass panel, etched with a tree and two animals: a prancing goat and a seated fox, perhaps a reference to one of Aesop’s fables. None of the shops retains its original lettering, which was affixed directly to the stonework rather than to a separate fascia board. Nevertheless, a ghost of the lettering may still be discerned.

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National Fur Company, Leicester, photographed in 1999

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National Fur Company, Carmarthen

The fate of the National Fur Company is unclear. It is unlikely to have survived the tremendous backlash against wearing fur which gained momentum in the early 1980s and led, ultimately, to the closure of most British furriers, as well as fur departments in large department stores.

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