My great grandfather, Isidor Heyman started the family business in the 1880s. In his naturalization papers in 1888, and city directories in the late 1800s and early 1900s in New York, he was identified as a pocket book maker. He received a patent in 1887 for a leather purse:
Mervyn Marks picked up the family business in the mid-1930s and started the Marks Leather Goods Company. His sons Robert and Mervyn, Jr. worked at the company. They primarily made key cases in addition to purses.
The company’s big break came during World War II, when it manufactured leather eyeglass cases for Rayban, who was providing sunglasses to the U.S. Air Force. It was then that the company changed its name to California Optical Leather Company.
The company moved its manufacturing site to Castro Valley, California from Oakland in the late 1940s. Mervyn Sr and his wife Cele had a home that was attached to the “shop” as it was called.
Robert designed many new eyeglass cases and had several patents, including these:
There are so many fond memories of the shop, as I worked there during my childhood and teen years. The smell and feel of leather; operating the massive “clickers’ that stamped metal dies onto the leather and cut the cases, and the chance to be around my grandparents, Mervyn and Cele every day, as well as my Uncle Merv and Aunt Jeanne.
But the most important life lesson for me was to learn to be a “tortoise” rather than a “hare.” As I stood every day at the “shaping” machines next to my grandfather, I always tried to beat him in shaping the most number of cases in an hour. But like most kids, I fell into the trap of being the “hare,” where for 15 minutes I could out do him, and maybe for a half hour, but at the end of the hour, his production was always greater, as he plodded along, without interruption and without fanfare.
So the smell of leather always produces fond memories of my family.