“Old Bill” 1927 – late 1950’s
The story goes that the first leather pig came into being almost by accident when ‘Old Bill’, who worked making hand luggage for Liberty of London, wondered what could be done with leftover leather (pigskin in those days). He came up with the idea of a stuffed leather pig footstool which he subsequently offered to Libertys for resale. Libertys has stocked our animals ever since and the product is very much a part of Libertys heritage as well as our own.
In those early days the pigs were made from pigskin and had very long noses. The picture below is the oldest example of a pig made in the 1930’s for which we have a photo. It is still in the hands of the family and has been to visit us a few times over the years for some TLC.
To celebrate our 90th birthday in 2017, we designed a “90th anniversary pig” (code ENG/1702) along the style of the original. Production is limited to 90 pieces and the issue number is stitched on to the pigs underbelly. The pig is still available; the issue number is currently around the 60’s.
1958 – 1985 Dimitri and Inge Omersa
Dimitri Omersa and his wife Inge came to England in 1955 and settled at Lavender Croft, a sanctuary for refugees in Hitchin, Hertfordshire. Dimitri Omersa, a Yugoslav by birth, had been a naval officer and a political prisoner having been imprisoned by Tito for 10 years after the second world war.
Dimitri Omersa found work in the leather trade and whilst representing a small leather company in Hitchin met ‘Old Bill’ at Liberty’s. ‘Old Bill’ was due to retire and a deal was struck for Dimitri Omersa to take over the business and continue the supply of pigs to Liberty’s. The business was re located to Hitchin in 1958 and before long Dimitri Omersa had ideas for other animals.
His first new piece was an elephant, followed by the donkey and rhinoceros. Initially, Liberty’s were sceptical of the rhino but it became a “best seller” and subsequently formed the Omersa logo. The animals were made exclusively for Libertys until the mid 1970’s. During this period, animals can be found with LIBERTYS OF LONDON embossed on an ear.
1963 – Omersa expands into North America
Dimitri Omersa wanted to expand the business and so took the animals to North America. In 1963 he entered his new donkey in the Californian State Fair and won a Gold medal. Despite its very thin and rather wobbly legs!
The animals caught the eye of Abercrombie and Fitch, at that time purveyor to the fantasies of the rich and famous. The animals were advertised in the A&F catalog from the mid 1960’s through to the late 1980’s when the original department store went into administration. Since then the animals have been stocked by Scully and Scully of New York and with whom we continue to supply today.
Dimitri Omersa passed away in 1975 and his wife Inge carried on producing the animals for a further 10 years.
1985 – to date
In 1985 another “Hitchin” family, Jeremy and Jane Cave, acquired the business from Inge Omersa. Jane continued to grow the business by adding to the product range and introducing new sizes to meet the economic needs of the market place.
In 1999 Jane Cave retired and the business was sold and relocated to rural Lincolnshire. The business remains in the hands of the Dale family with the 2nd generation now involved in the business. The Omersa animal is very much a niche product which we take great pride in manufacturing. The business has grown organically under our stewardship with new product styles/sizes. We are however always mindful of product quality and limit our annual production to ensure we provide an excellent product and friendly customer service. Above all we want you to be thrilled with your purchase.
2017 – Omersa badge
To confirm the authenticity of our animals, we added a leather badge bearing the name OMERSA and the year of manufacture. Going forward there will be no doubt as to the provenance.