This Treasure Chest Thursday post is about a Kahns Tea Store 1909 calendar plate,
from the Chicago coffee and tea store owned by Carl Wilhelm August Kahns,
my mother’s step-grandfather.
For years, the calendar plate resided on the plate rail in our kitchen, nestled with dozens of other antiques. My parents were avid antique collectors for 50 years. I didn’t think that was so wonderful as a kid when every weekend car trip seemed to end up at an antique store and the minutes passed like years while my sisters and I waited in the car. But before long, we all shared their appreciation and knowledge of these objects from the past.
Every once in a while, my mother would bring the Kahns calendar plate down from its lofty perch and talk about Grandpa Kahns, who stocked candy in his Chicago store and gave her rides to school in his very own car, making my mother the envy of her classmates.
But even as a teenager, I was confused about this German Grandpa Kahns. The grandpa I’d heard of was Austrian and named Hann. Kahns? Hann? Kahn? Hahn? Had he changed his name? Were we German or Austrian?
Separating Kahns from Hanns
After 1977, when I began my family history research, these confusing grandpas resolved themselves into two different sides of the family. Gottfried Hann was my father’s grandfather, who came from Austria. Little else was known about him because he died two months before my grandmother was born.
On my mother’s side of the family, Carl Wilhelm Kahns was my great-grandmother Anna Schumann Kirschstein’s second husband. Anna and her first husband, Bruno Kirschstein, had three children, the eldest of whom was my grandmother, Edith. The Kirschsteins divorced in 1905, a fact little spoken of even years after the fact.
A few years ago, my mother entered assisted living, her antiques auctioned off and her house, where we had lived since 1951, sold. Wanting to stay out of the inevitable dramas that occur when families divide heirlooms, I asked my mother for just one thing: the Kahns tea store 1909 calendar plate.
The Tea Store
The Kahns tea store was undoubtedly typical of independent mom-and-pop stores that sprang up in Chicago neighborhoods in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. According to The Encyclopedia of Chicago:
As residents moved into neighborhoods segregated by class and ethnicity and into the suburbs created by the new street railways and railroads, small family-run stores sprang up to meet their needs. These new groceries, meat markets, vegetable stands, and bakeries typically reflected the ethnic demographics of the neighborhood…. Stores often carried ethnic foods that were hard to find elsewhere and conducted business in the native language of their customers. Workers followed this pattern as well. The bakers’ union had separate locals for its German, Bohemian, Scandinavian, Polish, and English members, while the meat cutters had separate German, Bohemian, Jewish, and African American locals.
Today, a Walgreen’s parking lot occupies the Milwaukee Avenue site of the Kahns tea store.
A Calendar Plate Example
Small merchants like Charles Kahns offered calendar plates as complimentary gifts to customers. (Fair warning: don’t click that calendar plate link unless you need another collection in your life.) Most common between 1906 and 1921, calendar plates peaked in popularity in 1910. Gibson Girls, submarines, the Panama Canal, biplanes, children, the outdoors: the subjects depicted in the center of calendar plates seem almost infinite. Most calendar plates were produced in East Liverpool, Ohio. But Grandpa Kahns, true to his roots, gave away Dresden china calendar plates.
Finding Charles William Kahns
My German genealogical research skills improved as I searched for Charles William Kahns. The Kahn family emigrated from Germany to Chicago in 1869. There they Anglicized their forenames and added an “s” to their surname.
Supposedly born in Hamburg, Carl Wilhelm August Kahn actually was baptized on 27 Nov 1859 in Mölln, in Schleswig-Holstein. His parents appeared as Henry Kahns and Elizabeth Mary Dray in family records, born in Berlin and Mecklenburg respectively. In reality, Joachim Heinrich Kahn was also from Mölln. His wife, Margaretha Sophie Elisabeth Drews, was from Wedendorf, Mecklenburg.
Fortunately, Schleswig-Holstein records are well represented in Ancestry’s “Deutschland, Ausgewählte Evangelische Kirchenbücher 1500-1971” database, leading straight to the parish records for the Kahn family.
Charles became a widower in 1927 with the death of his first wife, Minnie Hoffmann. I don’t know how Charles and my great-grandmother Anna met, or when they were married. According to my mother, her grandmother Anna Friedrike Luise Schumann Kirschstein Kahns was rather tough sledding, a dominant personality who was extremely devoted to evangelist Billy Sunday, who described himself as “an old-fashioned preacher of the old-time religion.”
When Charles died in 1938, no mention was made of his second wife in the death notice in the Chicago Tribune. Charles was buried next to Minnie in Arlington Cemetery in Elmhurst. Anna was interred next to her ex-husband at Forest Home Cemetery in Forest Park.
The Fate of the Plate
As for the Kahns Tea Store 1909 calendar plate, now it sits on my plate rail, part of my family history. To me, this plate is a living connection to my family history and not just something purchased for money from an antique dealer. It also neatly symbolizes the pleasure I’ve had researching my family history and turning the names I’d heard for years into real people.