HI Mailbag: H. Lieber Co.

Written by on July 8, 2014 in Mailbag - 16 Comments
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Reader’s Question:

I bought a painting at an auction that has a tag on the back of it that says “H. Lieber Co.”  What is the story of that company? ~ Katherine R., formerly of Indianapolis

HI’s Answer:

The H. Lieber Co. began its existence in 1854 as a bookbinding business and stationery store.  The name of the establishment was derived from its proprietor, Hermann Lieber.

Friedrich Hermann Lieber was born on August 23, 1832, in Düsseldorf, Germany, to Johann Richard Lieber and Clara Carolina Melbeck Lieber.  Hermann and his younger brother Peter came to the United States in June of 1853.  They initially resided in Cincinnati, Ohio.  Hermann Anglicized the name by which he would be known in America by dropping the second “n” in his middle name.

1902 portrait of businessman and civic leader Herman Lieber    (photo courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society)

1902 portrait of businessman and civic leader Herman Lieber (photo courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society)

On a trip to Indianapolis in 1854, Herman became enamored of both the city and a young woman he met during his visit.  Before the year was out, he moved to the Hoosier Capitol and set up shop.  About a year after relocating to Indianapolis, Lieber married the young woman who had caught his eye, Maria Anna Metzger (1833-1904).

Herman Lieber’s first shop was in a storefront at 3 East Washington Street.  That location later became the site of the Merchants National Bank Building and now houses the law firm of Barnes & Thornburg.  Lieber moved from the East Washington Street location soon thereafter and operated from 21 North Pennsylvania Street.  There the business’ original stationery and bookbinding activities evolved into picture frames, mirrors, looking glasses, mouldings, and artists’ materials.

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The 1865 Indianapolis City Directory contained an ad for the H. Lieber Co.  (image courtesy of IUPUI Digital Archives)

The 1865 Indianapolis City Directory contained an ad for the H. Lieber Co. (image courtesy of IUPUI Digital Archives)

Around 1860, Herman Lieber built a home for his wife Maria and their two daughters, Bertha and Emma, at 123 North Liberty Street.  Liberty Street was later renamed Park Avenue, and their house was renumbered from 123 to 407.  Today the former Herman Lieber residence at 407 North Park Avenue is part of the Lockerbie Square Historic District.

The frame cottage that Herman Lieber built about 1860 still graces the Lockerbie Historic District a century-and-a-half later   (photo by Sharon Butsch Freeland)

The cottage that Herman Lieber built about 1860 still graces the Lockerbie Square Historic District a century-and-a-half later (photo by Sharon Butsch Freeland)

In 1863, Herman, his brother Peter, and their friend Charles Mayer purchased the Gack & Biser Brewing Company and renamed it the P. Lieber Brewing Company.  P. Lieber beers were bottled by Jacob Metzger, who was the father of Herman’s wife, Maria.  Herman eventually sold his interest in the brewery, once the company was on its feet.  The company later merged with other local breweries and became the Indianapolis Brewing Company.  You can read more about the Liebers’ brewing companies in a 2011 “Sunday Adverts” piece here.

During the next decade, six more children were born to Herman and Maria Lieber, including Otto, Ida, Carl, Anna, Robert, and Herman.  The increase in number of family members necessitated a larger home.  In the late 1860s, Herman built a 2-story brick home at 404 (now 802) North Delaware Street.  In the early 1880s, he built yet another home at 250 (now 484) North Alabama Street, where he lived for the remainder of his life.  Both the Delaware and Alabama Street homes were replaced by commercial structures years ago.

From the late 1860s to teh early 1880s, the Herman Lieber family lived at 404 (now 802) North Delaware Street  (photo by Sharon Butsch Freeland)

The Lieber family residence at 404 (now 802) North Delaware Street was replaced by commercial buildings many years ago     (photo by Sharon Butsch Freeland)

The sPhillips 66 gas station on the corner of Michigan and Alabama was the location of Herman Lieber's home for the last 25 years of his life (photo by Sharon Butsch Freeland)

The Phillips 66 gas station at Michigan and Alabama was the location of Herman Lieber’s home for the last 25 years of his life  (photo by Sharon Butsch Freeland)

When the manufacture of picture frames and mouldings outgrew the space available in the store, the H. Lieber Co. built a factory for their manufacture at 800 (now 1400) Madison Avenue.  The factory was constructed alongside the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago & Saint Louis Railroad (P C C & S L RR) tracks for the easy delivery of lumber and glass.  The buildings that Lieber erected on a pie-shaped wedge of land stood for more than a century.  After their demolition in about 1998, the corner remained unimproved until recently, when a controversial mixed-use project called Madison Apartments and Shoppes was built by the Keystone Group.

H. Lieber Co.'s picture frame and moulding business grew so large that a separate manufacturing location had to be built (1898 Sanborn map courtesy of IUPUI digital Archives)           CLICK TO ENLARGE

H. Lieber Co.’s picture frame and moulding business grew so large that a separate manufacturing location had to be built (1898 Sanborn map courtesy of IUPUI digital Archives)                                           CLICK TO ENLARGE

In 1900, H. Lieber Co. became one of the first exhibitors of paintings by the Hoosier Group.  The Hoosier Group was a loose association of Impressionist painters working in Indiana in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Members of the group included T. C. Steele,  Richard Gruelle,  William Forsyth,  J. Ottis Adams,  Otto Stark,  and Samuel Richards.  They are best known for their paintings of Indiana landscapes.  In 1902, H. Lieber Co. incorporated as a retailer of paintings.  The gallery was called the Art Emporium.

1907 article in The Indianapolis News discussed Herman Lieber's settling in Indianapolis  (scan courtesy of newspapers.com)

1907 Indianapolis News article about Herman Lieber’s settling in Indianapolis            CLICK TO ENLARGE

Herman Lieber was a civic leader and involved in a wide variety of activities.  He was especially interested in the German activities of the period.  He was a co-founder of the German-English Independent School.  He gained the nickname of “Father of the German House,” because he had been one of the strongest proponents for the construction of Das Deutsche Haus, as well as one of its greatest supporters after it was built.  He was active in a number of Turnvereins and was president of the North American Gymnastic Union.

Herman Lieber died on a train near Flagstaff, Arizona, while en route to a vacation in California.  His body was accompanied home to Indianapolis by his daughter, daughter-in-law, and two of his sons.  It lay in state at the Athenaeum for a day before the funeral was conducted there.   He was buried in Crown Hill Cemetery, alongside his wife, who had preceded him in death, and their two oldest daughters, who had died in childhood.

Herman Lieber's March 3, 1928 obituary in The Indianapolis News (scan courtesy of newspapers.com)

Herman Lieber’s March 3, 1908, obituary from The Indianapolis News               CLICK TO ENLARGE

Upon his death, H. Lieber Co. was inherited by Herman’s sons, Otto, Carl, Robert, and Herman.  As photography gained wider usage, the Liebers did less and less selling of picture frames and mouldings and more and more selling of photo supplies and photo finishing.  The Art Emporium closed in the 1950s, and H. Lieber Co. focused on its photo-related sales and services.  At its height, there were five locations around town.

1909 Indianapolis City Directory shows Herman Lieber's sons in leadership positions (scan courtesy of Ancestry.com)

1909 Indianapolis City Directory shows Herman Lieber’s sons in leadership positions  

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A 1910 photo of the H. Lieber Co. (W. H. Bass Photo Company Collection, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society)

A 1910 photo of the H. Lieber Co. at 24 West Washington Street     (W. H. Bass Photo Company Collection, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society)

Page from a catalogue of H. Lieber Co. products

Page from a catalogue of H. Lieber Co. products

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H. Lieber Co. newspaper ad that appeared in The Indianapolis Star on May 8, 1912    (image courtesy of newspapers.com)

H. Lieber Co. newspaper ad, which appeared in The Indianapolis Star on May 8, 1912   

1908 Baist map shows the location of the Lieber Frame Factory, just south of the Lieber Brewing Company  (map courtesy of IUPUI Digital Archives)

1908 Baist map shows the location of the Lieber Frame Factory was just south of the Lieber Brewing Company  (map courtesy of IUPUI Digital Archives)             CLICK TO ENLARGE

In 1920, a fire gutted the H. Lieber Co., resulting in a loss of approximately $200,000.  The Liebers temporarily operated from two other nearby locations, while 24 West Washington Street was rebuilt.

1920 fire in the H. Lieber Co. resulted in a $200,000 loss (W. H. Bass Photo Collection, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society)

A 1920 fire in the H. Lieber Co. resulted in a $200,000 loss to the building at 24 W. Washington St.    (W. H. Bass Photo Company Collection, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society)

1920.Dec.29.Indianapolis_News.fire.ad

The H. Lieber Co. closed its doors in 1979, after a 125-year run.  Its assets were acquired by Hook’s Drugs, which later sold the photo division to Hoosier Photo Supplies. The final H. Lieber Co. store was located at 440 North Capitol Avenue.  That block is now the site of a new development called Block 400, which contains the 487-unit Axis Luxury Apartments, a Marsh Supermarket, and a 930-space parking garage.  The building in which the H. Lieber Co. was located the longest is still standing today.

1929 image of the H. Lieber Co., a few years after it was rebuilt  (W. H. Bass Photo Company Collection, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society)

1929 image of the H. Lieber Co. at 24 West Washington Street, several years after it was rebuilt    (W. H. Bass Photo Company Collection, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society)

The Liebers and their extended family members were important figures in the early growth of both the City of Indianapolis and the State of Indiana.  As an example, Herman’s nephew, Richard Lieber (1869-1944), is considered the father of the Indiana State Parks system.  Herman’s son, Carl H. Lieber (1866-1929) was one of the founders of the Art Association of Indianapolis, which spawned the John Herron Art Institute and the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

The former H. Lieber Co. building and several of the other early buildings around it still exist today  (photo by Sharon Butsch Freeland)

The former H. Lieber Co. building and several other 19th-century downtown buildings around it are still standing today    (photo by Sharon Butsch Freeland)

The descendants of brothers Herman, Peter, and Otto Lieber are still among us today, making their own contributions to Indianapolis, to Indiana, and to points beyond.  Lieber-related families’ surnames include Adams,  Bachman,  Barus,  Birge,  Buschman,  Cassell,  Glossbrenner,  Kothe,  Metzger,  Pantzer,  Pfaff,  Rappaport,  Ryan,  Shubrick,  Siebert,  Stempfel,  Stewart,  Traub,  Vonnegut,  and Walsh.

 

If you have a question about Indianapolis history, send it to historicindianapolis(at)yahoo(dot)com, with “HI Mailbag” in the subject line.  We will do our best to answer it.  Sponsors and Subscribers are given preference for extensive research on specific properties or specific families featured in HI Mailbag articles. ~ Sharon

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About the Author

Sharon Butsch Freeland is a freelance researcher, writer, proofreader, and editor. She's a proud alumna of Shortridge High School and MacMurray College and over the years has also taken courses at Herron School of Art and Design, Indiana University, University of Colorado, Colorado Academy of Art, and the Indianapolis Art Center. She's been the executive director of a nonprofit association, a newspaper columnist, a residential real estate broker, and a political campaign staff member. Fascinated by Indianapolis history from an early age, Sharon's passion for bygone eras became even more compelling when she discovered that her ancestors had settled in Indiana in 1828. Since learning that she's a seventh generation Hoosier, many details about both the State of Indiana and the City of Indianapolis have taken on new meaning for her. Sharon enjoys helping others get excited about the history of Indianapolis, as well as the histories of their own families.

16 Comments on "HI Mailbag: H. Lieber Co."

  1. Louis Mahern July 8, 2014 at 11:45 am · Reply

    The Liebers continued their civic involvement well into the latter part of the 20th Century. Bill Lieber served on the Indiana Natural Resources Commission for a number of years. There is a Natural Resources site named for him in northern Indiana. He was also quite active with Planned Parenthood.

    • Sharon Butsch Freeland July 12, 2014 at 9:05 pm · Reply

      Thank you for adding some information about a Lieber in a later generation. As I noted at the end of the article, there were (and still are) Liebers and Lieber relatives who have made great contributions to our city and state. I am fortunate to have known several of them personally.

  2. Tom Davis July 8, 2014 at 11:58 am · Reply

    http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=8388449&ref=wvr

    The above is a link to the Find a Grave photo of Herman Lieber’s monument.
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    Great article as usual, Sharon. Herman was also one of the original founders of Crown Hill Cemetery. His daughter Ida married Henry Kothe. The Kothe monument near the northeast corner of Section 15 is draped with a bronze palm branch not unlike the large bronze quills on the Lieber monument. Daughter Anna married Theodore Stempfel, who coincidentally has one of the larger monuments in the same section (44) as John Dillinger. I’m not sure, but the bronze pieces are likely the work of Rudolph Schwarz, who did many of the sculptures around town, including the statue of Morton outside the state capital, and the large groups of figures on the east and west sides of the Soldiers and Sailors Monuments. He also did the reposing figure on the monument of Albertina Allen Forrest at Crown Hill and both Herman’s son Carl and his son-in-law Theodore had tried to help him in his career.

    • Sharon Butsch Freeland July 12, 2014 at 9:03 pm · Reply

      Thank you for pointing out yet another accomplishment of Herman Lieber. He was involved in so many different facets of the community, it’s hard to mention them all! Certainly the establishment of Crown Hill Cemetery was an important event in the history of Indianapolis.

  3. John Goodman July 9, 2014 at 8:11 am · Reply

    The latest renovation of the building in about 2002 included preservation of some elements of the several versions of the interior on the first and second floors, even inside Penn Station. The outline of the several gallery rooms, with some old finishes, are preserved on the second floor.
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    The second and third floors remain undeveloped, in the same empty state from when The H. Lieber Co. closed.
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    Thank you for the fire photograph, which I had seen before but misplaced. I believe it was following this fire that the Washington St. façade was made simpler, in today’s form, except for maybe the second-floor window arrangement.

    • Sharon Butsch Freeland July 12, 2014 at 9:01 pm · Reply

      John, Thank you for your stewardship of 24 West Washington Street. It’s because of owners like you that we have anything left of our city’s history. May your example help others to see the value in preservation.

  4. Joan Hostetler July 12, 2014 at 1:13 am · Reply

    Lieber’s published a small magazine called “Lieber’s Photo News” in the 1920s and ’30s and maybe later. I’ve only seen a few issues but would like to find more, since I’m compiling a directory of Indiana photographers. Does anyone know of issues in libraries or private hands that I could view?

    • Sharon Butsch Freeland July 12, 2014 at 8:57 pm · Reply

      Joan, the Indiana State Library has at least one issue, Call Number ISLI 770 L716, but it may be an issue you’ve already seen. I wonder if any were passed on to Hook’s Drugs or Hoosier Photo Supplies, when those companies acquired the H. Lieber Co.’s assets? The president of Hoosier Photo at the time it ceased operation was named William A. Boncosky. If you’re not bashful about contacting him, his land line phone number is listed.

    • Monique July 17, 2014 at 3:43 pm · Reply

      The Indiana State Library should have the following issues: LIBRARY HAS: v. 15, no. 1 (Dec. 1938)-v. 15, no. 3 (Jan. 1939); v. 17, no. 7 (May 1941); v. 18, no. 2 (Dec. 1941); v. 19, no. 5 (May-June 1944); v. 19, no. 9 (Mar.-Apr. 1945); v. 23, no. 2 (Mar.-Apr. 1954)-v. 23, no. 3 (May- June 1954)
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      http://evergreen.lib.in.us/eg/opac/record/17492890?query=lieber%27s%20photo%20news;qtype=keyword;locg=73

    • Joan Hostetler July 18, 2014 at 11:05 pm · Reply

      Thanks, Sharon and Monique!

  5. kristi graves January 17, 2015 at 10:25 pm · Reply

    I have a small picture frame that was my great aunt’s who lived in Indianapolis. It has the H. Lieber Company seal on it. How can I find out how old it is?

  6. William Bussell January 27, 2015 at 12:46 pm · Reply

    The H. Lieber photo finishing was on the third floor of the 440 N. Capitol address when I worked there in the 60’s. All of the Hook and Haag drugstore photo finishing ended up at that location. I have some pleasant memories from three summers working at Lieber. They paid everyone in cash. I still have several pay envelopes and hand-written pay slips. Despite the hand-written books, they managed to get my earnings recorded for Social Security. Several times I went to the Fourth Floor, where business records were kept. It was something like turning back to a 1920’s or earlier period. I recall a skylight and a bank-like teller cage environment with a huge safe in the background. It was eerie and totally anachronistic.

    • Sharon Butsch Freeland June 29, 2016 at 9:51 am · Reply

      Thank you for your reminiscences, William. It’s interesting to have a glimpse into H. Lieber’s operations from someone who worked there half-a-century ago.

  7. Dennis Lager July 23, 2015 at 4:36 pm · Reply

    I have an unsigned oil painting which I believe might have been purchased at the Art Emporium sometime between 1921 and 1928. The painting has a very Brown County feel to it. It belonged to a well known Indianapolis attorney and legislator. It is in its original frame which has on it what I believe might have been the Lieber mark. It is the letter “L” inside a diamond shaped box. Do you know whether any sales records exist from the Art Emporium?

    Thanks.

  8. Christy Kinnaird June 23, 2016 at 12:41 pm · Reply

    Thanks for the wonderful information and photos. Frederich Hermann Lieber is my great great grandfather.

    • Sharon Butsch Freeland June 29, 2016 at 9:40 am · Reply

      Thank you for leaving a comment. If my research is correct, you are descended from Herman and Maria Lieber’s daughter, Anna, who married Theodore Stempfel.

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