The Jewelry Trade
The manufacture of jewelry in this country is one of the oldest industries of which there is tangible record. It antedates the United States, the foundation of the colonies, and even history itself; for history takes us back only to the discovery of America in 1492, and it is merely a matter of speculation how many centuries previous to that the native Indians had lived on this soil. Next to his girdle of scalps the Indian loved nothing better than his beads and his necklaces of wampum and of bits of ivory, bone, and metal. These were his articles of personal adornment - our definition of jewelry. It is, then, to the native American Indian's love of personal adornment that we trace the origin of jewelry in America. The Indian chiefs covered themselves with the best that the handiwork of their tribes could produce, and we are told that their wrists, ankles, heads, ears, and even noses, all bore tribute to their vanity and their love for adorning their persons with trinkets, though they were entirely indifferent to our modern necessity of clothing.
The history of the early Dutch settlers informs us that they brought with them such articles as they needed for their personal adornment in the new settlements, and it is evident that they were as thoroughly human in this respect as all known races of the human family are reputed to have been; for from the very foundation of the colonies no one's attire was considered complete in the English-speaking towns without buckles, brooches, and rings made of the metals in vogue at that time. These being the customs of the early settlers, the industry of gold and silver smithing was soon established, and by reference to the history of the three principal towns in the colonies we learn that in each there were numerous gold and silver smiths, whose principal products were medals and other trinkets for Indian chiefs, and snuff-boxes. The use of snuff was then universal, and every man took a pinch when proffered, whether he liked it or not. This usage led to considerable rivalry in the production and possession of beautiful snuff-boxes. Another product of the early silversmiths much in evidence was elaborate boxes in which were inclosed the parchments conferring the freedom of the city upon distinguished guests. These boxes or receptacles were usually made of silver with a lining of gold, and frequently of gold studded with precious stones. After Andrew Hamilton defended the liberty of the press in New York in 1734 the corporation bestowed their citizenship upon him, inclosing the parchment conferring this in a very elaborate box; and later others were presented to Lafayette, Washington, and Scott. The making of ornamental insignia conferred upon distinguished men developed into an important feature of the goldsmith's work, and the craft received so many accessions to its ranks that in 1788, when the adoption of the Federal Constitution was celebrated in Philadelphia, thirty-five goldsmiths and jewelers turned out in the procession.
More than twenty years before this, previous to the Declaration of Independence, the profusion of silverware, jewelry, and other evidences of wealth in a prominent New York residence, it is said, incited Townshend to introduce the historic bill known as the Stamp Act, the entering wedge by which the colonies were finally separated from the mother country. The viands and the silver in the Walton house were so rich and in so great abundance that English officers who dined there declared that they could see no reason why a country whose inhabitants could afford to live so extravagantly should not be taxed. This fell on Townshend's willing ears, and as a result the British House of Commons began to attempt the collection of revenue from the colonies. Those of them which had the richest inhabitants, and as a consequence those who spent most in personal adornment, were South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, and Massachusetts. Connecticut, although populous, had few citizens distinguished above the rest for means.
There are no returns in the earlier censuses giving the quantity of production or the places where the various arts which are loosely grouped under the head of jewelers and gold and silver smiths were carried on. Providence, Newark, Philadelphia, New York, and Attleboro have long been, and still are, noted centers of the trade. The tools used in the earlier days were much like those used by workers in other metals at that time, except that they were smaller and better finished for finer work. The extreme tenuity and the lack of brittleness of gold and silver gave play to great ingenuity in varying ordinary patterns with fanciful designs, and the attaining of a polished or burnished surface made necessary a more tender treatment. In the earlier years of the century the frosting of gold and the satin finishing of silver were unknown arts, everything coming from the workshop with a glittering surface, most of the ornamental or decorative work being either crude enameling, applied work, or engraving. Later the precious metals were also used conjointly with other metals, wood, mother-of-pearl, glass, porcelain, pearls, and gems; but most of these attempts were ambitious efforts to realize the ideals formed from studying, in books and single engravings that from time to time found their way to this country, the illustrations of metal-work. However, nearly every one who engaged in the business at that time learned it thoroughly, in the old-fashioned way that embodied all branches of the trade. A good workman could chisel out a ring or repair a clock, could fix your spectacles, put a new spout on your coffee-pot, or "doctor" your watch. What ever was to be done mattered little to him, for he was equally competent in every branch; and good honest work was invariably the rule, resulting in articles not equaling in delicacy of workmanship those of the present time, but substantially made and suited to the requirements of the day. A hundred years ago it was impossible to draw a distinction between the occupation of jeweler and either goldsmith or silversmith, or between watchmaker and either clockmaker or maker of fine mathematical instruments - each of these branches involving the others. An artisan, though expert, rarely found sufficient work to employ all his time in any one department of his handiwork, and thus, from no matter of choice, but from compulsion, divided his time and skill between his own and kindred trades. The seller of these goods then was a workman rather than a dealer, and it was essential for him to have an intimate knowledge of all kinds of metal and fancy work.
The more progressive of these artisans developed by degrees into manufacturers, beginning usually with one, two, or three articles in stock, such as spoons, forks, rings, and other small pieces; and later hollow silverware, coffee-urns, tea pots, etc. Providence became early one of the centers of the trade; for the industry secured a footing in that city soon after the Revolution, when the manufacture of silverware was begun by Messrs. Sanders & Pitman and Cyril Dodge. In 1805 four establishments were located there. These belonged to Nehemiah Dodge, Ezekiel Burr, John C. Jenckes, and Pitman & Dorrance. Their products were chiefly silver spoons, gold beads, and finger-rings, and they employed in all about thirty men. Some of them soon branched out into cheap gold jewelry, silver and other alloys being largely used, with a very small fraction of gold, while large articles were plated by the hammering process. Breastpins, earrings, sleeve-buttons, and key-rings, in addition to the articles mentioned, were among the early products at Providence. About the same time work was also begun in Attleboro, which town for many years held pre�minence in the trade. In 1812 it was stated that there was then sufiicient gold and silverware manufactured to meet every demand in the United States. In Newark the business of manufacturing goods of this kind began early in the century . The town was favorably situated for manufactures, and the men originally interested in the enterprise, Hinsdale & Taylor, combined industry with enterprise. Philadelphia was always very prominent as a manufacturing town, and a large trade, particularly with the South and West, sprang up there. Bailey & Company were one of the jewelry houses early established in that city, and the firm, under a different name, still exists. More than sixty years ago Maiden Lane, of New York City, became the great center of the jewelry business in this country, and throughout the world the name of that thoroughfare is inseparably linked with the trade. With the improvements in manufacturing elsewhere, new ideas began to affect the trade. People had grown tired of things which had been always in their possession; they valued the jewels of their ancestors for their associations, but they wanted for their own use something new, something different in design; and this feeling gave animpetus to the trade, New York becoming the natural market for the introduction of every new product.
Among the New York houses that became early prominent in the trade was the firm of Marquand & Gelston, later Marquand & Company. In the New York "Mercantile Register" of 1848-49, in the chapter devoted to manufacturers of silverware, watches, jewelry, etc., we find the advertisements of the following houses, in the order named: Ball, Tompkins & Black (late Marquand & Company), 247 Broadway; Allcock & Allen, 341 Broadway; Gale & Hayden, 116 Fulton Street; Tiffany, Young & Ellis, 271 Broadway; Wood & Hughes, 142 Fulton Street; Samuel W. Benedict, 5 Wall Street; George C. Allen, 51 Wall Street; Squire & Brother, 92 Fulton Street and 182 Bowery; and others. Some of these houses have gone out of existence, one still retains its original firm name, and three are conducted under different firm names, which yet embody some part of the original title. All branches of art education have been developed to a remarkable degree. In 1830 there were probably not in the entire country as many good paintings as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in Central Park, contains to-day; and the same holds true, in other departments of art, of fine bronzes and marbles, of ceramics, pottery, and glass; indeed, cultivated taste and artistic discrimination find no where better expression than in the selection of choice bits of ceramics, porcelain, and bric-a-brac. If, as a nation, we have made, during the past fifty years, exceptional progress in mechanical improvements and inventions that enter into the practical part of life, our artistic faculties have in no sense been neglected; and although all have not become connoisseurs, appreciation of the artistic and the ornate in form and color is a feeling that knows no social or territorial distinction, existing in the largest cities and the smallest hamlets. It finds expression in the beautiful landscape-work of our parks and the architecture of our buildings; in the wares offered in our shops, and in the manner of their display; in the binding and the press-work of our books; in the illustration of our periodicals and other publications; and in divers other directions; but in nothing is it more pronounced than in the art metal-work of the gold and silver smiths, which has long since placed American products at the head of the art metal-work of the world.
With our increased spending capacity, our greater appreciation of the artistic, and our wider knowledge of articles into whose manufacture good taste enters as an important factor, it is not surprising that, relatively to the population, far more jewelry and silverware are demanded than formerly. The designers now employed by gold and silversmiths are men of liberal education, who can, if required, draw and model from life, and paint in oil or water-colors. They have been specially instructed as artists, and in many instances their training in the art schools and the designing-rooms of the workshops here is not restricted to the study of art from books and engravings, but is supplemented by visits to the galleries and museums of Europe; and in their work on jewelry and silverware, although guided by the universal principles of their art, success depends largely upon the individuality of their work and upon their ability to unite utility of form with appropriateness of color and decoration.
Much work in ornamental gold and silverware has been done in this country within the past forty years, notably in the way of loving-cups, vases, metallic designs, and presentation pieces. As conspicuous among these may be mentioned the gold medals, valued at $1000 and $500, presented by the State of New York in 1858 to Dr. E. K. Kane and Commander H. S. Hartstein, the Arctic explorers; and the silver vase made in honor of William Cullen Bryant, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The testimonials presented to Cyrus Field upon the completion of the Atlantic cable in 1866 include a gold medal struck for the occasion, a gold box, and many pieces of silverware. Other notable specimens are the silver services presented to the arbitrators of the Alabama claims in 1873; the silver centerpiece, "Liberty Enlightening the World," presented to August Bartholdi in 1886; the testimonial presented to William Ewart Gladstone in 1887; the loving-cup to Edwin Booth; and a great number of yachting trophies for international and other regattas. Many of these trophies annually made are of exceptional merit, and examples of art metal work that cannot be duplicated or equaled in any other country.
The discovery of gold in California in 1848 and 1849 gave us a home supply of this metal, and gave employment to metallurgists and miners. The opening of the expositions in London and Paris revealed to us the forms of art and the increasing business of the manufacturing jewelers in this country, and made comparatively easy the acquirement of inventions in machinery and tools necessary to reduce the cost of products. Great improvements have been made in machinery. At present many articles are prepared by the aid of electro-metallurgy. Since 1860 all kinds of goods for which plating is employed have been largely made in this way, the center of production being chiefly in Connecticut, there being also large plants at Newark, N. J., and Providence, R. I. This process is highly valuable, because it places within the reach of people of limited means attractive tableware and other articles of utility now deemed indispensable, which, if not as artistic and as highly finished as solid silverware, are serviceable, and in many instances possess exceptional merit.
The production of silver-plated ware, although a great industry, has not retarded or encroached upon the demand for solid silver; in fact, many instances of recent date would indicate that, with the present low valuation of silver bullion and the mechanical improvements that have further reduced the cost of production, solid silver is rapidly increasing in popular favor and making serious inroads upon the sale of all small articles still manufactured in plated ware. The production of watches is another American industry closely related to the jewelry trade. They are manufactured in a number of States, notably Massachusetts, Illinois, and New Jersey, the making of the watch-cases forming a separate industry, which thrives especially in Brooklyn and Philadelphia. The highest grades of watches, such as complicated chronographs, calendar and stop watches, and very small watches for ladies, are still imported from Switzerland.
Until about 1850 precious gems and articles of virtue of high order were seldom sold in the United States. Wealthy families bought such things abroad, and these sometimes, owing to reverses or other causes, found their way, in the course of time, to the jewelry shops; but the great variety of beautiful and artistic products that can now be purchased at many establishments could not be found on sale in this country fifty years ago. New York or Philadelphia jewelers acted merely as agents to obtain for patrons some desired articles from a European house. But this state of things no longer exists.
The objects of art and other accessories of a modem jeweler's stock represent many thousands of dollars, and include opera-glasses, S�vres ware, fine pottery, ceramics, enamels, glass, objects in rock crystal, clocks, bronzes, marbles, plaques, antiquities, curios, and many costly pieces of bric-a-brac and cabinet ornaments that appeal chiefly to collectors and connoisseurs of art. In diamonds and precious stones, that most costly and important department of a jeweler's stock, America is in the front rank of nations, not as producer, but as consumer. It is now conceded that New York is the largest market for gems and precious stones in the world, and that more precious stones are annually consumed - or purchased, in other words - in America than in any other country.
The art of diamond cutting and polishing, although established here for a number of years, recently, through the changes made in the tariff regulations, received such an impetus as to attract many diamond cutters from Holland to this country; and if further revisions are made in the tariff, admitting diamonds in the rough free of duty, it is not unlikely that the industry, which for generations has centered in Amsterdam and Rotterdam, will be centered before many years in New York, Brooklyn, and other cities of the United States.
In the matter of statistics the earliest figures that we have as to the production of jewelry are that in 1812, $100,000 worth was produced in Providence. But as late as 1860 the returns were small. The jewelers and watchmakers of Philadelphia produced in that year $691,430 worth; the silverware men, $516,000; makers of gold watch-cases and chains, $1,714,800. In New York the production was: of gold chains and jewelry, $2,497,761; gold watch cases, $337,690; silverware, $1,250,695. Newark made $1,341,000 worth of jewelry; Providence, $2,251,382 of jewelry, and $490,000 in silverware. No summary has yet been made at Washington of the general results of the census of 1890 in manufacturing, but the products of particular towns are given, from which it is learned that the production of jewelry in the previous year in Providence was $7,801,003; New York, $5,605,634; Newark, $4, 631,500; Philadelphia, $3,139,596; San Francisco, $1,512,571 ; Brooklyn, $1,323,234; Cincinnati, $1,317,000; Chicago, $873,000; and Boston, $661,300. The production of silverware was: Providence, $2,509,869; New York, $1,322,235; and Philadelphia, $272,997. Philadelphia leads in watch cases, with $1,914,222, followed by Brooklyn, with $1,553,993; Newark, with $1,004,584; and New York, with $628,660. Taking the total production in all these articles by cities, Providence comes first, and then, in order, are New York, Newark, Philadelphia, Brooklyn, San Francisco, Cincinnati, Boston, and Chicago. The bulk of the gold and silver products of Providence, Newark, and other Eastern manufacturing centers is sold in New York. These statistics, however, do not indicate what has been accomplished from an artistic standpoint. American jewelry and silverware have steadily advanced in the quality and the character of products as much as the mere quantity. When the industry was in its infancy we looked to London and Paris for our ideas, our designs, and our models.
Paris, the unchallenged arbiter of all fashions, long held supreme sway in things beautiful and artistic, and in nothing more than rich gems and jewelry; and though we still look to Paris and London for our fashion-plates and many artistic creations which we have not yet mastered here, we no longer accept the models and ideas of our French and English cousins in the designing of our jewelry and silverware. We have marked out a path of our own in this country that has led American products to the foremost ranks of the world. Dealers no longer import foreign jewelry and silverware into this country, because American products are fully equal, and in most cases superior, to those of other countries, in both correctness and originality of designs and workmanship. How our gold and silver manufactures are accepted abroad can best be indicated by a review of some of the press comments in connection with the Paris International Expositions of 1878 and 1889. For obvious reasons the firm names which appeared in these extracts are omitted. The London "Spectator" of September 21, 1878, says: "It is a modern mistake to assume that the production of good silver-work demands neither special training nor high artistic power. It will not suffice to study old models, however excellent, unless fresh inspiration be gathered from nature, assimilated by the trained mind, and wrought out by the skilful hand into forms of fresh and seemly designs. We confess we were surprised to find at the Paris Exposition that a New York firm . . . had beaten the old country and the Old World in domestic silver plate."
A Parisian publication wrote, about the same time: "Of the many awards which the American section of the Universal Exposition has received, there are certainly none that will excite so little jealousy as those bestowed upon the house of . . . It has been generally conceded that nothing in the whole Palace of the Champs de Mars so richly deserved recognition as the remarkable display made by this famous firm of New York jewelers and silversmiths. Hence the jury were as one with the public, and the palm of honor will be borne away to Union Square."
Speaking of the Parisian awards to American gold and silver ware, the "International Review" of February, 1879, wrote: "The taking of the coveted Grand Prize by an American exhibitor, with the additional distinction of the decoration of the Legion of Honor, is the highest possible offiicial recognition of the supremacy of our metallic art-work." Closely following these honors and generous tributes, an American house received appointments by Royal Letters as Jewelers, Gold and Silver Smiths, to the following courts of Europe:
The American displays of gold and silverware at the Paris Exposition of 1889 resulted in a repetition of the earlier triumphs, and evoked, if possible, even greater enthusiasm and more generous press comments. "Le Figaro," of Paris, June 16, 1889, said among other things, in a review of the exhibit of American jewelry: "It has only taken a few years for the master jeweler and goldsmith of New York to acquire this pre�minence in this beautiful art, where the nineteenth century rivals the Renaissance. In the future the metals and precious stones are in his hands, as the potter's clay is in the hands of a Falquire and a Dalou. If the committee of 1878 gave him, joined to the gold medal, the supreme reward of the Cross of the Legion of Honor, I ask, what crown can they give in 1889?" The selection of press comments from eminent publications, chiefly foreign, deemed free from any bias favorable to American products, has been an extremely embarrassing task, as in every instance the writers included in their laudatory remarks the name of an individual or firm identified with the products which excited their favorable comment, which names have been eliminated from the extracts quoted. In conclusion, what additional progress has been made, and shown at the World's Columbian Exposition, is of too recent date to present in detail in this article. Much has been written and printed upon the art metal display of the gold and silversmiths, publications at home and abroad for many months dwelling with lavish and minute detail upon the many extraordinary features of the exhibit, which the London "Art Journal" summarizes in an elaborate review, October, 1893, as follows: "Judging by the productions exhibited, one may well be in doubt whether our much-boasted European pre�minence in these things is to last much longer, and whether, after all, we shall not in the near future be compelled to regard the firms of New York as at least our equals, if not superiors, in the production of high-class gold and silver work."
1795-1895. One Hundred Years of American Commerce: A History of American Commerce by One Hundred Americans, with a Chronological Table of the Important Events of American Commerce and Invention Within the Past One Hundred Years, Chauncey Mitchell Depew, D.O. Haynes & Company, 1895