Biographical information for John (Nepomuk Josef) Konvalinka (1822-1896)

jksepia.jpg (11493 bytes) My great grandfather, Jan Nepomuk Josef Konvalinka (JNJK), was born in Crast, Bohemia on April 9, 1822. Crast is a small market town about 100 miles east of Prague, the capital of Bohemia (which later became part of Austria, and later part of Czechoslovakia). According to birth records discovered in 1994 by Archivex, the Czech Archives, Jan was the son of Josef Konvalinka (1787-1868) and Barbora Cupra (1792-1837). He had an older sister Josepha (b 1819) and a younger brother Josef (b 1824; d after 1900). We know nothing about Josepha (except some reference to her having married a widower);  Josef may or may not have come to the U.S. but his son John N Konvalinka immigrated to the U.S. in 1874 and went into business with JNJK, his uncle.
JNJK emigrated to New York in 1849, according to published sources. We have not found his immigration record, so do not know if he came with anyone else. He was a furrier (a trade he must have learned in the "old country" since it appears that his father was also a furrier. He founded a wholesale fur business (later known and Konvalinka & Konvalinka, still later as Konvalinka & Weiss) but seemed not have become part of any Czech community.

In 1852 he married an Irish woman Eliza(beth) McDermott (1830-1911). They lived in New York City and Brooklyn for all of their married life.. He seemed very interested in becoming an "American" and, according to his daughter Emilie, neither the Czech language nor any Bohemian customs were part of the household routine. A few details of his family life are in his grandson (Caxton Brown's memoir).

He became an American citizen on February 26, 1856. His citizenship certificate shows his name as simply "John Konvalinka".

The fur business evidently prospered and eventually became known as Konvalinka and Konvalinka with the addition of another John Konvalinka, who was not JNJK's son, but probably the son of his brother Joseph. (See the separate writeup on this other John Konvalinka (born 1847 -- but did not emigrate until 1874, per the 1910 Federal census.)

Still later the firm became Konvalinka and Weiss (with the addition of Dionys Weiss sometime in the 1880's.) The firm served the "carriage trade" with a line of very high quality furs. It was located for at least 40 years at 36 Maiden Lane. In later years the business was located at 10 West 51st Street, until that property was taken over for Rockefeller Center. It then moved to its final location at 49 West 56th Street. Apparently the business was very successful and lasted until around 1960, although the Konvalinka family had sold out their interests many years before.

Through a chance encounter (and the benefit of having an unusual name), I met Eric Weiss, grandson of Dionys Weiss, in Philadelphia in the early 1980's. We have corresponded and worked at piecing together our common family history.

Around 1890, a New York newspaper (perhaps The Sun) ran a small feature article which read:


Whether or not the fur business is conducive to longevity, the writer is not prepared to say, but the original John Jacob Astor is only one of many who have grown rich and old in the business.

Mr. J. Konvalinka has been engaged in the bussiness of furrier forty one years , and he will soon celebrate his golden wedding . Father Time may have him down on the calendar as rather an elderly gentlemen , but we all know what tricks that old scythe-swinger can play -- making old folks out of young ones, and allowing bodies that are young in years to remain the company whith old and care-worn faces. Mr. Konvalinka's friends are willing to admit that he has probably passed his first youth, but they are certain that he has only reached the prime of life. He began business when he was a very young man and was married shortly afterwards.

Mr. Konvalinka is still at No 36, Maiden Lane, where he established himself in 1849. He is an importer and wholesale manufacturer of furs, and he also sells at retail, making a specialty of seal goods.

JNJK died on June 3, 1896 and is buried in the Konvalinka family plot in Holy Cross Cemetery in Brooklyn.

The following obituary appeared in the New York Sun Friday 6/5/96:

John Konvalinka, the wholesale furrier, died on Wednesday at his home 208 Park Place, Brooklyn, at the age of 75 years. He was born in Bohemia, and soon after his arrival in this country, in 1849, he opened a little fur store in Davidson Street. In a few years he moved to Maiden Lane. He left a widow and four children.

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