No. 21 (2): Zhorzh Borman

Mertens Building

In the 1870s, 21 Nevsky was bought by F. L. Mertens, the well-known Russian furrier who established his business in 1841. In this early 20th century Bulla photograph of the building, the Mertens fur shop is located on the left. Right next to it is the tobacco shop of A.N. Bogdanov & Co., one of the largest tobacco factories in Petersburg. Click here to see some ads for Bogdanov’s cigarettes. Zhorzh Borman’s Confectionary before the later remodeling of its show window is to Bogdanov’s immediate right. Next to Borman is Koehler’s Pharmacy. But the façade of the Mertens Building at the beginning of the 20th century was dominated by the advertisement (in English and Russian) of the American company Equitable Insurance, whose offices were located there.

The only American insurance companies in Russia were New York Life and Equitable. Viacheslav von Plehve, the powerful Minister of the Interior, and Sergei von Witte, the equally powerful Minister of Finance (later Prime Minister), considered them competitors of Russian companies. They made it difficult for Equitable to get permission to do business in Russia at the end of the 19th century, but the company received its charter in 1892; during the first decade of the 20th century, its annual operation was in the millions of rubles.


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