This article discusses the various types of fine jewelry that was popular among 18th-century Americans, using advertisements written by jewelers and notices written by Americans who had lost precious pieces as examples. It was originally published as a two-part series in the March and April 1941 issues of American Collector magazine, a publication which ran from 1933-1948 and served antique collectors and dealers.
“Deer’s Foot — Lost on Tuesday last the 12 Instant at Boston, a small Guinea Deer’s foot tipt with Gold.” Boston News-Letter September 11, 1704.
“Snuff Box — Dropt in Boston on Wednesday the last 12th Current, A Snuff Box almost square, the bottom and sides are of Silver, and the top steel, the Inside wash’d with Gold; Twelve Shillings Reward.” Boston News-Letter, December 10, 1711.
“Forty Shillings Reward for the return of a string of Gold beads of small size with a heart stone locket. Jacob Hurd.” Boston News-Letter, September 21, 1732.
“Gold Sleeve Button — Taken up last Tuesday, a large Gold Sleeve-Button; the Owner may have it again, telling the Marks and paying the Charge of this Advertisement.” Boston News-Letter, March 7, 1746.
“Flowered Silver Buckle — Lost yesterday between the Rev. Mr. Cooper’s Meeting-House, and Quaker-Lane, a flower’d Silver Buckle.” Boston Gazette, January 31, 1757.
“Snuff Box — Lost or left on one of the Pews in the Presbyterian Meeting-House, an oval Silver Snuff-Box with a Mother-o’pearl Top. Five Shillings Reward.” The New-York Mercury, March 3, 1766.
“Mourning Ring — Found in the BroadWay, A Mourning Ring, with a stone in the Top in the Form of a Coffin.” The New-York Mercury, January 4, 1768.
“Girdle Buckle — Lately lost a Gold Girdle Buckle, set round with small diamonds. If it is sold or pawn’d the Money shall be returned. N.B. One of the diamonds is Lost.” The New-York Weekly Journal, April 15, 1734.
“Gold Thimble. — Lost last Thursday night a Gold Thimble mark’d M.H.I. Blowers.” Boston Gazette, March 13, 1738.
“Seal — Dropt in the Street in the Month of December, a Gold Seal, Cornelian Stone with the two letters C.A. engraved thereon. There was fastened to it, Part of a Steel Chain and a Watch Key. Reward, Three Dollars.” The New-York Gazette or the Weekly Post-Boy, April 8, 1771.
“Sword — Lost or Stolen. Some time since a Silver Hilted Sword with Abraham Livingston’s name cut on the blade. Twenty Shillings reward.” The New-York Journal or the General Advertiser, May 18, 1775.
“Five Pounds Reward. Lost, last week one pair of large Shoe Buckles, nicely carved, open and Oval Work, Maker’s name T.W. with a Lion rampant, marked Hall. Also a pair of large knee buckles, neatly carved, but not of the same pattern as the Shoe Buckles. Laughlin Martin on Mr. John Cross’s Wharf.” South Carolina Gazette & Country Journal, December 8, 1772.
These lost and found advertisements selected at random from various 18th-Century newspapers are a fair indication of the jewelry possessed and occasionally lost by the colonial American. They also put to rest any idea that his garb was exclusively homespun and unadorned except by a pair of shoe buckles and a few buttons.
Although carelessness, loss by theft, and general wear and tear have taken a heavy toll on colonial jewelry so that a comparatively small amount is still extant, portraits of well-to-do citizens and their families from Puritan-founded New England to South Carolina and newspaper advertisements of colonial goldsmiths show that jewelry of all sorts was in high favor. In fact, it was a natural accessory to the elaborate satin and brocaded costumes affected by both men and women of substance and social standing.
So, there was a steady demand for jewelry. How it was satisfied and the forms it took is best told by a glance at other newspaper advertising of the 18th Century.
Some of this jewelry was imported; much was made by the various gold and silversmiths of the colonies. In any case their stock was evidently as tempting to the “have-nots” of that time as it is today, for news items and advertisements about robberies were fairly numerous.
A typical one has to do with the shop of Joseph Edwards, Jr., Boston goldsmith, who announced it in the Boston News- Letter of March 21, 1765: “The shop of the Subscriber was last Night broke open and the following Articles stolen.”
Omitting the pieces of table silver his list included, “34 pairs of wrought Silver Shoe Buckles, 20 pair of similar knee buckles, 6 pair of plain shoe buckles, 2 Silver Snuff Boxes, one with a Tortoise Shell Top, 9 Stock Buckles, 3 gold Necklaces, 5 gold Rings, several pair Stone Buttons, 3 pair brilliant Stone Earings, set in Gold, 5 pair gold cypher earings, several pair of silver cypher earings, several stone Rings; a Box of Gold Beads; 3 child’s Whistles; one pair of gold Buttons and 1 silver Pipe. — Whoever will make Discovery of the Thief or Thieves, so that they may be brought to Justice, and I may recover my Goods again shall receive TWENTY DOLLARS Reward and all Necessary Charges paid.”
We do not know whether Mr. Edwards ever recovered his jewelry and silverware, but the long arm of the law finally gathered in the thief. On November 25 of the same year the Boston Gazette recorded: “Friday last Joseph Pomory received 40 stripes at the public Whipping Post, for stealing a Quantity of Plate &c from Mr. Joseph Edwards, jun &c of this Town.”
Incidentally, Edwards was a member of a prominent family of Boston goldsmiths. His grandfather John, who was born in England, arrived in Boston in 1688 at the age of seventeen. He served an apprenticeship under some unknown master and thereafter followed the trade of goldsmith until his death in 1746.
He trained his sons Thomas and Samuel to the same craft and it was probably under one of them that Joseph Junior served his apprenticeship. At any rate, he was a well-established goldsmith at the time of the robbery and continued in business for some years afterward.
That he was prosperous and successful is indicated by the number of items stolen, but thieves were not above breaking and entering more modest establishments. For instance, in 1763 the shop of Jacob Jennings, who worked in comparatively rural Norwalk, Connecticut, was visited by a burglar on the night of April 6.
In his advertisement of the crime, published in the Boston Gazette, April 18, he set the amount of the robbery at “above £100 Lawful Money” and added, “any Person or Persons that will apprehend said thief and commit him to any of His Majesty’s Gaols so that he may be convicted…shall have TWENTY DOLLARS reward.”
The jewelry lost included “a great many pair of Stone Buttons, Gold Studs, Jewels, and Silver Buttons; several Pair of Silver Buckles, some without Flukes and Tongs.”
With shops obviously not secure against covetous prowlers, it is not surprising that goldsmiths of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and smaller towns did not often advertise detailed information as to the goods they had in stock. Many of them considered it enough to state that they had on hand “an elegant assortment of Goldsmiths and Jewellry ware just imported from London” and they were also equipped to make on order all sorts of jewelry “after the best and newest manner.”
However, there were enough advertisers who felt it was better in the long run to broadcast in print about their stocks. From their detailed lists we get an excellent idea of the kinds of jewelry the 18th-Century American had opportunity to buy.
If one may judge by length of advertising space needed, Edmund Milne of Philadelphia undoubtedly had one of the largest stocks in America. On December 15, 1763, he advertised in the Pennsylvania Journal:
“Edmund Milne, Goldsmith and Jeweller. At the Sign of the Crown and three Pearls, next door to the corner of Market street in Second Street, begs leave to inform the Public, that he has just imported in the last vessels from London, an elegant Assortment of Goldsmiths and Jewellry ware.”
Then follows a list of some two hundred different items. These include knee, shoe stock buckles of silver, gilt and pinchbeck, some set with garnets; others with paste stones; silver and steel watch chains: and among the articles for feminine adornment, “Mocoa bracelets set round with garnets, pastes, and brazil topazecs.” (Mocoas were moss agates from the Arabian port of Mocha.)
There were also brooches set with the same stones and others of double heart shape, “paste and chrystal stay hooks,” “garnet and chrystal single and three-drop ear-rings,” “paste girdle and stay buckles,” enamelled gold heart lockets set with garnets, gold wire earrings, coral necklaces and blue turkey (torquoise) bead necklaces.
For men he offered single seals set in gold, silver, and pinchbeck; red and train Cornelian seals set in gold; buttons set in gold, Mocoa ones set with garnets; buttons of silver engraved with olive branch; and others for coat and vest of tortoise shell. His snuffboxes included enameled ones and those “in the shape of birds, fruits, and flowers and some shoe fashion and others of paper.”
He had both ivory and enameled patch boxes and smelling bottles of enameled figured china topped with gold. His assortment of rings included diamonds, fancy rings set with diamonds and garnets, twisted wire topaz rings with diamond brilliants as well as false stone and enameled motto rings and “grape rings.”
Further reading of what may well have been Christmas suggestions in the year 1763, as advertised jay the Philadelphia jeweler, Edmund Milne, reveals that he had a variety of watches to sell. They were of gold, silver, and pinchbeck — chased and plain. Still others had japanned cases.
Anyone who had strength to read to the end of this considerable list found that he also had “many other articles too tedious to insert.” But more interesting for the present-day collector is his indication that he is more than an importer.
He states that “he also makes up work bespoke in all its branches and gives the best prices for old gold, silver and lace. N.B. He has also to sell some brilliants and rose diamonds not manufactured.” He also includes a list of watchmakers’ supplies and a number of tools for them and for goldsmiths.
In fact, the goldsmiths in the larger centers at least had sufficient patronage in American-made jewelry so that they employed a number of journeymen, apprentices and indentured servants. This is shown by numerous advertisements asking the apprehension and return of runaway servants and slaves trained to the trade of jeweler.
Also significant are such advertisements as that of William Bateman of New York who described himself as a stone-seal engraver, lapidary and jeweler from London and emphasized his ability to cut coats of arms, crests and cyphers. He concluded on the following helpful note: “N.B. Has a book of heraldry which contains some thousands of names, where gentlemen who want their coat of arms engraved by him and do not know them, may search the book gratis.” This was in 1774, less than two years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
During the war years, engraving of crests and working with precious stones and metals naturally fell off, but once the country became settled again the business of the jewelers revived and many advertisements appeared in the various newspapers. Of particular interest is that of Jeremiah Andrews in the Maryland Journal or Baltimore Advertiser of December 17, 1784. It reads:
“Jeremiah Andrews, Jeweller, Takes this Method of presenting his Respects to the Members of the Cincinnati Society, in particular to those Gentlemen who first engaged him to undertake the making of the Medals for that Society, and has now the Pleasure to inform them that he has compleated a Number of them, which are allowed by many of the Society to be preferable to those imported. They contain the whole of the Order, as directed at the Meeting of the Society, in this City, May 3, 1784. Orders for the Purchase of these Medals, are received by Mr. Wagster, Jeweller and Silversmith, at his Shop in Market-Street, Baltimore, where some of them are left for sale, or at the Subscriber’s Shop in Second-Street, near Market-Street, in this city. Jeremiah Andrews.”
In light of the fact that General Van Cortlandt’s gold badge in this society, identified as American work and dated 1783, was recently sold for one thousand dollars by the Parke-Bernet Galleries, it would be interesting if the maker could be identified. Was he Jeremiah Andrews or some other American goldsmith who also worked from the design drawn by Major L’Enfant, an example of which in ink and water colors was included in the Erskine Hewitt sale at the same galleries in 1938?
As the first newspaper in America was not published until 1704, the story of 17th-Century American jewelry must remain of a fragmentary nature. Assuredly, the early colonists of Virginia, New York, and New England must have possessed some jewelry. The first pieces were naturally mementoes brought from their homeland, but goldsmiths were working in the American colonies by the middle of the 17th Century and probably had clients who wanted jewelry.
The earliest example of work in gold that has come to my attention, while of English origin, has an interesting American history. It is the gold locket circa 1648 that encases the miniature of John Leverett later governor of Massachusetts. It was included in the Harvard Tercentenary Exhibition in 1936. An oval only an inch by three-quarters in dimension, the subject is shown in the uniform of a captain in Oliver Cromwell’s army and must have been painted before he returned to Boston to be elected a representative in the General Court in 1651. From 1673 to 1679 he was governor of the colony and was also made a baronet by Charles II.
Also among his possessions still extant is a silver seal, cut for hill in England. Another early American piece of jewelry, also probably of European workmanship, is the silver seal ring which belonged to Governor Abraham de Peyster, 1657-1728, of New York.
Of the pieces of established American workmanship is a coral necklace with gold double-heart clasp, bearing the mark of Jacob Bolen, New York, 1680-1727. It is one of the earliest known examples. Ranking with it is the gold wedding ring with the mark of John Edwards, Boston, 1671-1746, and bearing the date “April 13th 1718,” which was loaned to the exhibition of Masterpieces of New England Silver, held at the Gallery of Fine Arts, Yale University, in the summer of 1939.
Also in this exhibition, and in others of recent date, were the following pieces of American jewelry made either of gold or silver:
Silver tobacco box by John Coney, 16591722, Boston, dated 1701.
Gold locket, made before 1715 by John Noyes, Boston, 1674-1749, for Rebecca Russell.
Two gold funeral rings by Edward Winslow, Boston, 1669-1753. One is engraved, “I Dudley late Govr. of NE ob 2 Apr. 1720 AE 73.” the other, dated 1740, was inscribed for his second wife, Elizabeth.
Made by Jacob Hurd, Boston, 1702-1758, octagonal gold buttons, silver snuffbox, engraved “Joseph Burbeen, 1729″ ; silver seal cut for Spencer Phips, Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts, 1732-1757, and a gold thimble engraved “Elizh Gooch” on the inside.
A silver book clasp, engraved “Mercy English-1722,” by William Jones, Marblehead, 1694-1730.
Silver patch box and a silver snuffbox by Edward Webb, Boston, who died in 1718.
Silver snuffbox engraved “John Holland,” by Samuel Edwards, Boston, 1705-1762.
Gold funeral ring, engraved “E Kitchen Obt 25 Oct 1736 AE 3,” by Jeffrey Lang, Salem, 1707-1758.
Gold funeral ring engraved “Rvd. D. Leavit ob 7 Feb 1762 AE 41,” by Richard Lang, Salem, 1733-1820. He was a son of Jeffrey Lang just cited.
Gold locket engraved “I B over P A” and 1742 on reverse. This was given by John Burrington to his granddaughter, Patience Anthony and was made by Daniel Russell, Newport, R. I., before 1750.
Silver tobacco box, engraved with coat of arms and design of squirrels, rabbits, and acanthus leaves, by Joseph Goldwaite, Boston, 1706-1780.
Silver snuffbox, bright cut, by William Homes, Jr., Boston, 1742-1825.
Silver snuffbox engraved “Mary Loring, 1752,” by Thomas Dane, Boston, c. 1724-c. 1760.
Gold funeral ring, engraved “P. Bowman Ob 20 December 1751 AE 78,” by Josiah Austin, Charlestown, Mass., 17181780.
Gold buttons, small, round, engraved with rosette encircled by band of laurel leaves, by James Boyer, Boston, died 1741.
Octagonal engraved gold buttons by James Butler, Boston, 1713-1776.
Gold locket, oval, plain center, band of laurel, by William Cowell, Jr., Boston, 1713-1761.
Gold betrothal ring engraved “Let virtue be a guide to thee,” by William Ball, Concord, Mass., adv. 1763-1767.
Gold funeral ring decorated with chased winged skull and engraved “Madm. Debr. Prince ob 1 June 1766 AE 67.”
Octagonal gold buttons engraved with four-petal flower design by Zachariah Brigden, Boston, 1734-1787.
Gold seal fob, oval plate pivoting in scroll bracket. Obverse N. G., reverse green arms cut intaglio. Unmarked, but attributed on excellent grounds to Paul Revere, Boston, 1735-1818.
In the Yale exhibition of masterpieces was also included a small gold medal, bearing no maker’s mark, that is a most unusual memento of our 18th-Century merchant marine. The obverse is engraved with a brigatine under full sail, armed with seven guns and flying the English flag. On the reverse is an inscription that reads “This Medall given by the Underwritters to the Bearer Captain James Weir of the Mars for his Brave defence against Two French Privateer’s April & July 1760.”
As stated before, with the close of the American Revolution and the later establishment of a Federal Government, there presently came commercial stability and national prosperity. This reacted favorably for the goldsmiths and gave them a larger buying public for their wares.
Some of the early and purely American pieces of jewelry that they made under these new conditions were the Washington memorial lockets, brooches, and rings. Individual mourning jewelry was nothing new, but commemorative items indicating loss to the young nation of its most important public figure were an innovation. These were made in various forms immediately following General Washington’s death and for several years afterward.
They included portraits of our first president; views supposed to depict his tomb and representations of proposed monuments to be erected in his honor. These pieces of Washington jewelry have always been highly regarded and for many years eagerly sought.
This article originally appeared in American Collector magazine, a publication which ran from 1933-1948 and served antique collectors and dealers.