It seems that the first pig came into being almost by accident when ‘Old Bill’, who worked for Liberty's of London making hand luggage from pigskin, wondered what could be done with the leather that was left over. He came up with the idea of a stuffed leather pig footstool which was sold through Liberty’s in 1927. Liberty’s has stocked the animal ever since. In those days the pigs were made using pigskin and had very long noses! There is a picture of one on our "Old Friends" page.
Dimitri Omersa and his wife Inge came to England in 1955 and settled in Lavender Croft, a sanctuary for refugees in Hitchin, Hertfordshire. Dimitri Omersa, a Yuglosav by birth, had been a naval officer and a political prisoner; he was imprisoned by Tito for 10 years after the second world war.
Dimitri Omersa entered the leather trade in the UK and whilst representing a small leather company in Hitchin he met ‘Old Bill’ at Liberty’s. ‘Old Bill’ was due to retire and a deal was struck for Dimitri Omersa to take over the business and continue the supply of pigs to Liberty's. The business was brought to Hitchin in 1958 and before long Dimitri Omersa had ideas for other animals!
His first new piece was the elephant, followed by the donkey and rhinocerous. Initially, Liberty's were sceptical of the rhino but it became a "best seller" and subsequently formed the Omersa logo. In the UK, the animals were sold exclusively through Liberty's up until the mid 1970's. Animals made up until the mid 70's can be found with the words "LIBERTY OF LONDON" embossed on the underside of an ear. See "Old Friends" for an example.
Dimitri Omersa had to look overseas to expand his market. He took the animals to North America and in 1963 won a Gold medal at the Californian State Fair for the donkey. The animals were sold through Abercrombie and Fitch during the 1960's - 80's and developed a significant following in the USA which we continue to enjoy.
Dimitri Omersa passed away in 1975 and the business continued under the supervision of his wife, Inge until 1985.
Jane and Jeremy Cave, another "Hitchin" family acquired the business from Inge Omersa in 1985. Jane continued to add to the range - the pony with tack, ram, labrador, galapagos turtle to name but a few. She also reintroduced the miniature range to the collection and developed the "small" size in response to the economic woes of the UK in the early 1990's. After a further 15 years of successful trading, Jane and Jeremy decided to retire and sold the business to Josie Dale.
The business was relocated to rural Lincolnshire in April 1999 after a period of intensive training and hand over in Hitchin. The business is now firmly settled in its new premises and employs approximately seven staff and produces around 1500 animals per annum.
Josie and her team continue to add new pieces to the Omersa collection. Some of the additions have been based on customer requests. The process of adding new animals is not an easy one and very time consuming - but a great reward when a new piece finally comes together!