Thrift Store Employee Stumbles On Ultra-Vintage Leather Jacket Dating Back to Red River Natives in 1800s Canada

Thrift Store Employee Stumbles On Ultra-Vintage Leather Jacket Dating Back to Red River Natives in 1800s Canada
(Courtesy of Glass Onion Vintage); (Illustration - gabriel12/Shutterstock)
11/3/2022
Updated:
11/3/2022

Experts in vintage clothing at a UK thrift store stumbled on an amazing discovery in a shipment: a handmade, hand-embroidered leather jacket believed to have ties to indigenous Red River Canada.

Alice Leadbetter, head of marketing at Glass Onion vintage store in South Yorkshire, told The Epoch Times, “When I held the jacket I was amazed. Over the 15 years Glass Onion has been in business, we’ve come across plenty of rare, super special items, but none with such social and historical significance. It’s potentially one of the oldest pieces we’ve ever found, too!”

It was Alice’s colleague Sophie, one of the store’s expert vintage graders, who first spotted the unusual garb in June while sorting through a shipment of vintage, fringed jackets from their U.S. supplier. With her ten-plus years of experience working with rare and antique items, Sophie knew from the style, the age of the fabric, and the detailed floral beading on the front and shoulders that the jacket was something special.

A leather jacked believed to be of Native American origin acquired by Glass Onion vintage store in South Yorkshire, UK. (Courtesy of <a href="https://glass-onion.com/">Glass Onion Vintage</a>)
A leather jacked believed to be of Native American origin acquired by Glass Onion vintage store in South Yorkshire, UK. (Courtesy of Glass Onion Vintage)

“The leather is dense and soft, and we believe the piece is made from native tanned and smoked hide,” Alice said. “It’s clear that the person or people who made this piece, most likely a woman, were highly skilled and created this with great care.”

After consulting experts, the Glass Onion team confirmed their suspicion that the item likely dates from the early- to mid-1800s.

“The olive-colored double chain stitch on the pocket flaps is an early style of embroidery taught in schools in Red River Canada before the 1850s,” Alice said. “The style of the jacket, with a placket but no buttons down the front, the fringe, and the limited colors of beads, are also evidence of an 1800s jacket.”

Some of the experts the thrift store conferred with believe the jacket is likely Cree or Métis and was made by an artist for a family member or fur trader. Others ventured it came from Alberta or Saskatchewan.

Detail of the leather jacket shows beading and stitching said to date the object to the early- to mid-1800s. (Courtesy of <a href="https://glass-onion.com/">Glass Onion Vintage</a>)
Detail of the leather jacket shows beading and stitching said to date the object to the early- to mid-1800s. (Courtesy of Glass Onion Vintage)

Alice, who interned at Glass Onion in 2015 as part of her university course, returned full-time in 2017 after graduation. While none of her colleagues are especially well-versed in native dress, marketing maestro Alice had a trick up her sleeve: TikTok.

“I had the idea to post a video in the hope someone out there might be able to help us discover more about it,“ she said. ”Native TikTok did not disappoint! The video blew up, and I woke up to over 500k views and thousands of comments.”
Grateful for the help, and the recognition that they were trying to do right by the heritage article, Alice began contacting museums and government departments for more information, as viewers had suggested. She later posted an update video with what they had learned thus far.

“The exact location of its origin is not yet known for definite, but I’m working on it!” she said. “I’m taking my time to ensure I’m not rushing anything; I’m trying to do this the right and respectful way.”

Believed to be of Native American make, the jacket's exact place of the origin is not yet determined for certain. (Courtesy of <a href="https://glass-onion.com/">Glass Onion Vintage</a>)
Believed to be of Native American make, the jacket's exact place of the origin is not yet determined for certain. (Courtesy of Glass Onion Vintage)

The team now implore anyone with more information to reach out via social media to @glassonionvintage on any platform. At the time of writing, the handmade leather jacket is being cared for at their vintage warehouse in South Yorkshire, but it won’t be staying.

Alice said, “I wish I knew the story of this piece: who made it, what it’s seen, who it belonged to, and how it ended up in a textile recycling plant. I also feel a great deal of responsibility; I’m aware that this piece doesn’t belong here. We have a duty to take care of it and do what we can to return it home.”

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