M. J. Serbe

I found this one in a pile of random stuff. It was wrapped in ancient cellophane clasped by ancient tape. There are no inscriptions or identities associated with the photograph except for the writing on the store windows, “M. J. Serbe Teas – Coffees” and “M. J. Serbe Spices – Sugars”.

Max John Serbe (1878-1953), born Johann Max Serbe in Berlin to William F. Serbe, born Friedrich Wilhelm Serbe, (1850-1919) and Louisa J. Malke, born Johanne Luise Malke Serbe, (1854-1927). The family and the first five children arrived to the USA in 1884; William took the Oath of Allegience in 1890 and Max was naturalized based on that. William and Louisa had four more children that were born in Maryland.

Max married Eleanore “Ella” S. F. Kronenberg (1883-1951) in about 1902. She was born in Maryland to German-born parents I wasn’t able to identify. Their one child was Milton John Serbe (1905-1952), a newspaper photographer, reporter, and editor, who married a fellow reporter named Norma Lorella Sherburne in Providence, RI in 1939.

Max received a certificate in electricity from the YMCA in 1898 and was running the Columbia Electrical Company in 1933. In the Census records of 1910, 1920, and 1930 listed his occupation as a merchant of tea and coffee, but he was also dealing real estate the whole time and in later years dropped the other enterprises.

Max’s first store was a 776 Columbia Avenue (now Washington Blvd) which he purchased from the estate of William F. Gauer in 1902 for $1000. The house number was sometimes mistakenly written “706” but 706 Columbia was a barbershop owned by Mr. Matthews during these years. Max’s actual residence and real estate business address was 806 Hollins Street.

1905 Baltimore City Directory (1997-2021 Ancestry.com)

George, Otto, and Paul Serbe were Max’s uncles. His father, William, was a piano maker by trade but here is listed as a cabinetmaker. They all lived at 1110 Bowen Street (now Sargeant Street) which was just a couple of blocks away from the tea store.

Max used a wagon to deliver his wares.
Max J. Serbe is pictured on the left in this photograph, from a Peter C. Chambliss (1889-1963) column called “Fisherman’s Luck” which ran in the Sunday and Evening Sunpapers. Max and Milton were avid fishermen.
1940 U. S. Census

I include the above screenshot from the 1940 U. S. Census to illustrate the frustration one sometimes encounters when doing genealogy. In this record, the residents of 806 Hollins Street are recorded as Micheal J. Serbe, his wife Anna V., and his stepmother Victoria. The head of this household’s occupation is listed as the owner of an electronic supply store. The address and occupation are what Max’s would be, but Max had no wife named Anna V. or a stepmother named Victoria. I found no records anywhere else for Anna V. Serbe. The Census taker must have erred in some way.

Do you think the photograph depicts Max holding Milton atop the horse standing in front of 776 Columbia Avenue circa 1906?

M. J. Serbe

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