The year is 1837. President Andrew Jackson is in power, until he is succeeded in March by Martin VanBuren. The state of Michigan is admitted into the Union as the 26th state. Both Houston, Texas, and Chicago, Illinois, are granted city charters from their respective states. Grover Cleveland (the 24th and 26th President of the United States) is born, as are men by the names of J. P. Morgan and James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok. And in Alton, Illinois, abolitionist printer Elijah P. Lovejoy is shot and killed by a pro-slavery mob while he attempts to protect his printing shop from being destroyed a third time. So, not much notice was probably given when a 25-year-old man named Charles Lewis Tiffany opened a small “stationary and fancy goods” shop in New York City with his friend John P. Young, naming it Tiffany and Young.
The House of Tiffany & Co. – Part I
For decades, if not centuries, England and France had been the trendsetters for all things fashion, but New York was proving to be an up and coming rival. While the US didn’t have formal royalty, we did have burgeoning millionaires that were just as revered. Millionaires who were tiring of having to sail across the ocean to stock their closets and jewelry boxes with the latest trends. Mr. Tiffany and Mr. Young took notice, and began to stock fine jewelry imported from Europe for their discerning clientele. Call it luck or call it divine intervention, but Mr. Young happened to be on a buying trip in France as the second revolution raged on. Nobles and royal loyalists were desperate to get out of the country and a quick way to liquidate assets and garner some cash was to sell off their impressive diamonds at discounted rates and in large numbers. And Mr. Young just happened to be on the scene to help them out. Therein beginning a long-standing tradition at Tiffany’s – it became the place to go for diamonds.
A few years later, the now iconic “Blue Book” was first issued in the US – a novelty, the “mail order catalog” was just catching on and Tiffany & Young didn’t want to miss out on possible sales from far off lands like Montana and Colorado, where men were all but printing money in the copper, silver and gold mines. Things were going well and in 1850 the two men opened a shop in Paris to help keep their finger on the pulse of the latest fashions being demanded by the US elite. We can only assume that perhaps Mr. Young grew tired of the business or there was some disagreement on the direction the business should take, but in 1853, Mr Tiffany took sole control of the shops and changed the name to the now familiar Tiffany & Co.
Mr. Tiffany Take the Reins
With his ownership of the stores secure, Tiffany redirected the firm’s emphasis to rely more heavily on fine jewelry, marked his goods clearly with prices to forestall any possible haggling and unlike other shop keepers of the time, refused to sell on credit. By 1862, Tiffany & Co. was supplying the Union Army with implements, swords and flags, as the Civil War raged on (one had to do their part and try to stay afloat all a the same time, you see). Then once the war had ended and folks were back to thinking about fashion and style, Tiffany & Co. entered and was the first US firm to win an award for the excellence in silverware at the Exposition Universelle in Paris. That meant that Tiffany & Co. was finally kind of a big deal.
First Class Award Winners
And when you are a big deal, you need to look like yore a big deal. In 1870, the company built a new store building at the more fashionable address of 15 Union Square West, Manhattan, costing $500,000 and it was described by The New York Times as a “palace of jewels”. As the century progressed, Tiffany & Co. became known world-wide for more than just award winning silver pieces. George Frederick Kunz, considered by some to be the greatest gemologist of all time, was now Tiffany’s chief gemologist and responsible for securing some usual stones for their latest designs. With the help of Tiffany’s designers Edward Moore and Paulding Farnham, he introduced the world to Montana sapphires, Mexican turquoise and fire opals, tourmalines from New England and Russian demantoid garnets. Their collective work won acclaim at international expositions (Paris 1878, 1884, 1889, 1900; Chicago 1893) and at the 1900 Paris Exposition the firm won the Grand Prize for jewelry. It was the first time ever that an American firm was bestowed with this honor.
History At Home
Their awards provided the Tiffany & Co. name with additional cache and prestige. Purchasing the French Crown Jewels certainly also didn’t hurt their reputation as a purveyor of high quality goods and definitely garnered the kind of publicity a shop owner could only dream of. But there was yet another legacy to be created a little closer to home. It was Tiffany & Co. that in 1877 created an insignia – one that would later become the famous New York Yankees “NY” logo. It was first struck on a police medal of honor and then adopted by the Yankees more than 30 years later in 1909, securing their place in the hearts of many a current and future New Yorker.
But change was a-comin’. Mr. Charles Tiffany passed from this earth in 1902 and his son and heir, Louis Comfort Tiffany, was now running the show. We’ll pick up from here in our next blog post, The House of Tiffany & Co. – Part II.
Until then, tell us your favorite stories about Tiffany & Co. We’d love to hear them in the comments section below!