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tline3open  ORIGIN AND DEVELOPMENT OF THE JEWELRY INDUSTRY IN ATTLEBORO - 1894

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Author Topic:   ORIGIN AND DEVELOPMENT OF THE JEWELRY INDUSTRY IN ATTLEBORO - 1894
Scott Martin
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THE JEWELERS’ CIRCULAR
Oct. 24, 1894
pg 10-17

quote:
ORIGIN AND DEVELOPMENT OF THE JEWELRY INDUSTRY IN ATTLEBORO
By J. ANDREW WELSH

What is to-day the sustaining industry of the Attleboros, the industry that gives employment to thousands, in fact nine-tenths of the residents of the twin towns, and the industry which has made the name of Attleboro synonymous with jewelry, had a very humble commencement.

The first authentic instance of the manufacture of jewelry was by a Frenchman. Had this person known what trouble and trials the future residents and the historians of the town were to have, he may perhaps have been thoughtful enough to have chiseled his name on a rock or placed it in some accessible place. But he did not do so, and the name and identity of the first jewelry maker in the town which has just celebrated the 2ooth anniversary of its incorporation will perhaps ever remain a mystery.

This Frenchman settled in what is now North Attleboro, but which was the original Attleboro, in 1779. It appears that in 1780 he set up his bench in a building known as the brick shop, which was formerly a blacksmith’s forge, and was located in the vicinity of the recently destroyed Washington St. depot. His product was a sort of wire article and it had quite a sale. Suddenly this man whom the Puritanical settlers were satisfied to know as “the foreigner,” disappeared. Where he went and where he came from, careful research has failed to show.

While the manufacture of the luxury had its origin here with him, the gradual development, which led the town to be a center of the industry, was due to the Robnsons, Draper, Tifft & Co., and the Richards. There is no actual connecting link between the Frenchman’s start and any future firm. A few years after he departed, the manufacture of "carbon jewelry” was commenced by Major Robinson, at Robinsonville, a part of Falls Village. The building he occupied, it is certain, was the first structure erected in the then existing Attleboro, for the exclusive manufacture of jewelry, and it was built for that purpose alone. It is still in existence, having been remodeled, and is now used as a dwelling house, being situated near Freeman St. nearly opposite the Simmons mansion, on Commonwealth Ave. An illustration of this building is printed in this article.

At one time the claim was put forth that the Price building, which is also illustrated here, was the first shop, but it is a very easy matter to refute this statement, and prove by records in the Price family that it was the third built for the purpose. Mr. Price’s connection with the trade is referred to further on.

The success of the Robinsons is directly traceable to the manufacture of metal buttons which was commenced in 1812 by Col. Obed and Otis Robinson, and that of glass buttons, in 1813, by Richard Robinson, Willard Robinson and Virgil Blackinton, under the name of Richard Robinson & Co. Later the different persons interested in the above firms and their successors departed from the exclusive manufacture of buttons and entered other branches of the trade. This was not for years, however, as will be shown, and some samples of buttons, now exhibited in a large case at the Robinson homestead at the Falls came close to being "jewelry" in those days.

The firm of Richard Robinson & Co. was continued until 1817, from which time the business was carried on by Richard Robinson alone until 1826, when a new company was formed under the same name for a term of five years, at the end of which time another firm was organized consisting of Richard Robbinson, Wm. H. Jones, H. M. Draper and Willard Robinson. This firm was known as Robinson, Jones & Co. They commenced business in a small shop, probably about 35 X 22 feet, and the machinery was operated by the rather primitive horsepower. In 1827, this corporation which was unusually successful from the start, erected a brick factory, two stories high and 60 X 25 feet, an addition of 25 feet in length being soon after built. Horse-power had been succeeded by water power from the Ten Mile River, and the number of hands given work in this "improved factory" was in 1834, about 75, 30 of that number being females. One hundred gross of gilt buttons were being turned out daily, and in 1830 many fancy lines of goods were being made.

A writer in 1834 said; "This firm manufactured many ornamental articles for the hair, hands, etc. They have also since 1832 manufactured all varieties of navy, military, fancy and sporting buttons. This company has received all the contested premiums in New York, Philadelphia and Boston."

Of course many improvements were made in the process of manufacture, mainly of Willard Robinson’s invention, and they were patented. They all tended to the more rapid production of goods; yet the busy, hurried manufacturer of to-day may be surprised to read this extract from a paper in the possession of the family : “A common gilt button, which appears so simple when finished, undergoes in the process of being manufactured, over 30 different processes, some of which require a great deal of skill and experience, being handled over 20 times.” It appears the annual consumption of pure gold by this firm amounted at that time to $15,000.

Records, or so called records, vary considerably regarding the subsequent movements of the firm; there were occasional divisions of co-partnership, and it would seem that some of those who learned the trade and were interested in this firm moved to North Attleboro, and others to Old town or South Attleboro.

Draper, Tifft & Co. probably graduated more successful manufacturers from their shop than any other firm during the first half of this century. In the records one frequently sees the sentence, “he was an apprentice of Draper, Tifft & Co.” The firm was composed of two Drapers and Mr. Tifft. Their shop was near the old Boston turnpike and almost on the site of what is now referred to as Barden’s store. They started early in the century and remained there for years. Plain goods were their first effort and later they went on rolled plate work.

George Price was an apprentice of Draper, Tifft & Co. and the owner of the third building erected for the manufacture of jewelry. This was in 1830, and the firm occupying it was Richards & Price, the partner being Calvin Richards. The building is still in existence, and is located in what is now deemed as a decidedly out of the way place. Mr. Price later took as a partner S. L. Daggett, and they commenced the making of fire gilt jewe1ry. The firm, for years only employed six persons, yet managed to manufacture large quantities of goods. Mr. Price retired from the trade in 1856 and devoted his energies to farming. The shop was then closed.

Among the pioneers of the trade was Harvey Manning Richards, better known as Manning Richards. To him belongs the honor of opening the first shop for the sole manufacture of jewelry in the present Attleboro. This building, which is illustrated here, is located on South Main St., a short distance from the corner jewelry store of George M. Herrick. As near as can be learned it was started in 1837 or 1838.

Mr. Richards, who was born in North Attleboro in 1812, remained on the farm until the death of his father. Manning Richards, in 1826. His father added to the income of the farm by manufacturing jewelry during the Winter in a little shop, which he built near his house on the Cumberland road. Harvey M. soon after his 15th year apprenticed himself to his uncle Ira Richards, who later became a member of Draper, Tifft & Co., and manifested such an earnestness and showed such brilliancy for one so young that he was in business for himself before he reached his majority. He commenced work in 1831 in a small shop on the Boston turnpike, near the old Union house, a famous hostelry in its day, and manufactured finger rings, breast pins, guard chains, watch keys, and many smaller articles. The building was two stories high, and he rented a smaller building. His output at first amounted to about $8,000 a year. A fire interfered with his prospects, but he soon rallied and opened the South Main St. shop associating with George Morse, who looked after the manufacturing, while he went on the road as salesman.

When Mr. Richards was 21 years of age, he took for a partner E. Ira Richards, who was only 18 years of age. Fortune now smiled on the young men, and business was so prosperous that Ira Richards, the uncle to whom Harvey M. was first apprenticed, withdrew from Draper, Tifft & Co., in 1834, and associated with them under the name of Ira Richards & Co. It is said the profits of this new concern averaged $1,000 a week for the first six months.

Mr. Richards went to Boston, was unsuccessful, and in 1843 returned to North Attleboro, and with the aid of his uncle, started in the building at Plainville now occupied by Lincoln, Bacon & Co. In 1857, the panic struck him hard; he lost heavily, and in 1863 he moved to Boston and started business at 7 Green St., with his son, Eugene H. Richards. Not until 1876 did he retire from active business. Then he sold his interests to E. H. Richards & Co. July 19, 1886, Mr. Richards died at the advanced age of 74 years and eight days.

The residents of the present Attleboro, which for years was known as East Attleboro, have not been so careful in keeping record of the onward march of the trade in their town as have the residents "up north." They err largely about dates, and hardly any two persons seem to name alike the year of the commencement of a firm.

As near as can be ascertained, Joseph B. Draper and Enos Richardson started on South Main St. probably soon after Mr. Richards went there. Theirs was a two story building, and their line of work principally gold plated.

E. D. Barney opened a shop on North Main St., and the building he occupied is now in the rear of the building used for the District Court, on Main St.

James G. Bradford, an Englishman, did quite a lucrative business in the manufacture of gold pencils. He employed a few hands and was his own salesman. His chasing work was at that time considered nothing short of remarkable. “A proud, eccentric man, yet generous” is the way one who at that time was a boy describes him. Bradford died suddenly.

The first shop in the present Attleboro run by power of any kind was that of Thompson, Heywood & Lewis. This building was at what is called Mechanics’ Village, and was first used by the firm in 1850. They employed from 50 to 100 persons, as trade required. The firm later divided, each member interesting himself in some other firm. Heywood & Briggs were one firm resulting from the division.

“Attleboro cheap jewelry” is a term one hears quite frequently, and it is decidedly misapplied in the majority of cases. Perhaps historian A. T. Wales’ explanation of the origin of the term may be correct. At least, it is humorous. Mr. Wales says; “Somewhere m the fifties, perhaps a little earlier. Mason & Smith were doing business on Pleasant St. Noah Mason was the head of the firm. They made the lowest grade, in fact, the cheapest lot of goods I ever saw before or since. Why, sir, they decided one day they wanted to dissolve partnership, and when the day of settling came how do you think the jewelry was divided? By weight? Oh, no. Mason just took a common, ordinary scoop, and each one received so many scoops full of goods. And they were not so particular about getting just so much in each scoop.”

A. A. Bliss, who had been employed by several firms, opened the first shop at Farmer’s village. The building is now used as a school house.

South Attleboro, frequently called Attleboro City and Oldtown, though a small appearing place, figured quite prominently in the advance of the trade. Far back in the thirties Dennis Everett and Alfred Barrows commenced business in the basement of a house near the Four Corners. They did not continue long in this isolated place, and when the partnership was dissolved, Mr. Everett moved to a little shop on Jay St. and made chains.

Lewis Robinson and George H. Fuller were in business in what might have been called a shanty. Mr. Fuller later moved to Pawtucket.


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Scott Martin
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quote:
One of the earliest firms was composed of Y. H. Blackinton and a Mr. Guild, under the name of Guild & Blackinton. Draper & Sandland were another early firm, the partners being Thomas Sandland, father of Thomas G. Sandland, of the present firm of Sandland, Capron & Co., and A. H. Draper, who occasionally before commencing business, made business trips for Ricljard Robinson & Co. Mr. Sandland resided in New York a great deal of his time, and had an office at 20 Maiden Lane. He came to this country from England at the solicitation of the Robinsons. Draper & Sandland were enterprising, and when the fashion changed in the trimming of clothing, they discarded buttons for jewelry, and later made plated goods.

Samuel Phillips evidently believed in commencing at the bottom of the ladder — or at the bottom of the house — because he started in the cellar kitchen of Milton Barrows’ house, and made a variety of small articles. He later built a shop adjoining the South Attleboro post office.

Sadler Bros, and White & Shaw are the only firms now doing business at South Attleboro. At one time, when the InterState electric railway was started it looked as if this section would receive several of the smaller firms, but the road has not been in operation for a year.

About 1837 W. H. Robinson built the brick shop now occupied by D. H. Robinson on the road to Pawtucket. The firm with which he was identified was Daggett & Robinson. Mr. Daggett had been previously with George Price.

Alfred Barrows, father of the present head of H. F. Barrows & Co., commenced about 1830 or 1831 and manufactured the usual variety of goods which were in vogue at that time. At the demise of Mr. Barrows the firm of H. F. Barrows & Co. were formed.

In 1832, Robinson, Hall & Co. started a button factory, which embodied principally the making of sleeve and shirt buttons of a fancy pattern, and they actually were the starters of this line of goods.

Perhaps William D. Whiting, who died Nov. 25, 1891, was responsible for the commencement of the manufacture of silver ware here. Mr. Whiting was also an apprentice of Draper, Tifft & Co., and like many others who served for this firm and started out for themselves, he was attended with success. At 21 years of age he started in to work for R. & W. Robinson, then went with Draper & Blackinton, was foreman for H. M. Richards, and in 1840, after having been in business on a small scale, formed the firm of Tifft & Whiting. The partner was Albert C. Tifft, and the capital at the start amounted to $500 cash. This firm commenced to make gold goods in an old blacksmith shop near the Ten Mile River. In 1847 the site and water privilege of the present Whiting factory were purchased for the small sum of $2,000, and the stone building was erected. About 1853 Mr. Tifft retired from the concern, in consideration of receiving $90,000, and then Mr. Whiting began making silver combs for ladies. Soon the silver branch of the business became a very important item, and the production was greatly enlarged. Subsequently only silver ware was made. The removal of the corporation to New York in 1876 is still fresh in the memory of the trade. Subsequently Mr. Whiting returned to North Attleboro and organized the present firm of F. M. Whiting & Co.

It was Of course natural that sons should follow in the footsteps of their fathers, particularly when the paths led to fortune. This was the case in the Attleboros, and when one learned the business he either became a partner in the firm or started for himself. Thus Attleboro became a large center, and outside manufacturers were attracted here. From 1830 to i860 there were constantly new firms springing up, new shops were built and it might be said that a short time before the war the business was firmly established, and the town deserved the application of “Jewelrydom.”

One cannot help remarking the contrast between the primitive shops and the ones recently erected for R. F. Simmons & Co., and the W. H. Wilmarth Co. corporation. Will the development be as great in the next century as it has during the last? Or will the advance be equal to that of the last 25 years? Three new large factories are already being planned, and the indications are that Attleboro will advance very rapidly.

The first efforts of the manufacturers to refine their sweepings, was like the commencement of the manufacture of jewelry itself, through the aid of a Frenchman. This particular one used to travel through the town from Providence to Boston, and it was his custom to stop at Attleboro (now North Attleboro) to collect the sweepings. He carried them in separate papers in a large handkerchief. Later the stuff was sent to New York. C. E. W. Sherman, at that time an engraver and designer of high reputation, saw a chance to make considerable money in this connection, and in 1855 with a Mr. Davis he built the first shop for refining. It is in the rear of the Sherman dwelling house on Elm St. and directly across the river from the Whitney brick building.

It being the intention to refer to the pioneers in all lines commonly identified with the trade, it is necessary to make mention of the enamelers. In 1855, J. E. Maintien & Son were established in Plainville, which is virtually a part of North Attleboro, although annexed to another town. This firm later became J. B. Maintien & Son and is now W. E. Maintien & Co., the family always controlling the firm. Like all branches of the business, that of enameling has flourished and there are now many firms, the latest being presided over by a woman, a fact mentioned in The Circular a few weeks ago. This woman is Mrs. Daniel Kendall, who has a shop on North Main St. She has five employees, and is doing a good business. This is the only shop in the Attleboros that is run by a woman, though the number of women employed in the shops is large.

There is only one watch case factory in the Attleboros, that of Hates & Itacon This firm organized in 1882, the partners being Joseph M. Hates and George M. Bacon. Mr. Bales now composes the firm. The exhibit of tins firm at the World’s Columbian Exposition was grand. The factory is on Railroad Ave., Attleboro, and Mr. Bates says he will not stop at anything in the line of cases, no matter how fine or what finishing is needed.

There has been much dispute about the introduction of rolled plate in these towns. Some writers have attributed it to Draper, Tifft & Co. In a letter to the press, a few days ago, John F. Sturdy claims this honor for his predecessors in the family. He says rolled plate was not used here until 1849, and then by John F. and James H. Sturdy, who moved from Providence to Attleboro Falls, and later became Draper, Sturdy & Co.

In conclusion, it may prove interesting to give an idea of the standing of the industry at present. A person who has spent considerable time in collecting figures furnishes the following : The number of manufacturing firms is 125 number of men and women employed, 5,000 estimated amount of capital invested, over $4,000,000 and; the value of fine gold and coin used annually, $1,500,000. These figures, while probably not exactly correct, are hardly exaggerated.


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chicagosilver

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iconnumber posted 06-14-2017 09:32 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for chicagosilver     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Very cool. Thanks for this!

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