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Bailey, Banks & Biddle records

1832-2003 Majority of material found within 1880-1980
 Collection
Accession: 2453

Abstract

Bailey, Banks & Biddle (BB&B) was a renowned upscale jewelry firm that made and sold high quality merchandise in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The Bailey Banks & Biddle records were collected and maintained in-house as a combination of archival documents and historical research files and used primarily for public relations purposes. The collection primarily documents the sales and remounting of diamonds between 1879 and 1962.

Dates

  • 1832-2003
  • Majority of material found within 1880-1980

Creator

Extent

59 Linear Feet

Historical Note

Bailey, Banks & Biddle (BB&B) was a renowned upscale jewelry firm that made and sold high quality merchandise. Joseph Trowbridge Bailey (1806-1854) entered into a co-partnership with Andrew B. Kitchen (1809-1850) on September 20, 1832 to establish the Bailey & Kitchen Jewelry Company at 136 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Bailey was an American jeweler and silversmith who is said to have enjoyed the almost unlimited confidence of his customers. A number of Southern landowners entrusted him with sums of money to disburse to their sons and daughters attending Philadelphia schools. This custom continued even after Bailey’s death until the Civil War.

The partnership of Bailey & Kitchen was dissolved by mutual consent in November 1846. The business continued when Eli Westcott Bailey (1809-1899), the brother of J.T. Bailey, Jeremiah Robbins (1813-1886), and James Gallagher (1810-?) formed a new partnership under the name of Bailey & Company and operated the business at the same location until 1859 when they constructed a new building at 819 Chestnut Street. In 1869 the company moved to Chestnut at Twelfth Street. In 1903 to 1904 they built a technologically progressive showroom and eight-story factory at 1218-20-22 Chestnut Street.

Joseph Trowbridge Bailey, II (1835-1918), entered the business as an apprentice in 1851, became company president in 1854 after his father’s death, and was admitted into partnership in 1856. E.W. Bailey retired from the firm in 1866. On March 1, 1878 J.T. Bailey, II, George Banks (1837-1924) of J.E. Caldwell & Company and Samuel Biddle (1844-1919) of Robbins, Clark & Biddle, formed a partnership under the new name Bailey, Banks & Biddle. In that year the firm moved to 1218 Chestnut where it remained until 1953 when it established its headquarters on the corner of Chestnut and Sixteenth Streets.

By the 1880s, BB&B’s only serious competition came from rival jeweler Tiffany & Co. Biddle retired in 1893 and Banks retired in 1894. On March 2, 1894 the business was incorporated as Bailey, Banks & Biddle Company with J.T. Bailey, II as president; Charles Weaver Bailey (1861-1922), son of J.T. Bailey II, as vice-president and treasurer; and Clement Weaver (1848-1913) as secretary. The store flourished and was the most extensive jewelry and silversmith business in Philadelphia. C.W. Bailey was the last in the direct line of Baileys to head the firm. He became president after his father’s death in 1918.

By the late nineteenth century, BB&B had a successful insignia department which designed and manufactured medals, ribbons and honor awards for the U.S. government and military and naval academies. For nearly a century, BB&B produced the Congressional Medal of Honor, the first 40,000 Purple Hearts awarded, and class rings for West Point and Annapolis. Among the medals designed or produced by the firm’s corps of artists, die cutters, engravers and illuminators were the Distinguished Service Medal, Distinguished Service Cross and Distinguished Flying Cross. Charles Lindbergh (1902-1974) and Admiral Richard E. Byrd (1888-1957) received the first two Distinguished Flying Crosses in 1927. The current version of the Great Seal of the United States was designed by a BB&B artist in 1904. The Stationery Department, according to company legend, produced the invitations for the presidential inauguration of James Buchanan (1791-1868) in 1857. President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) was familiar with the company’s work after receiving a silver cup and plate personally crafted for him as a Christmas gift.

BB&B expanded to more than 100 retail locations in thirty-one states across the United States and Puerto Rico. It became part of the Zale Corporation on October 2, 1961. The Zale Corporation completed its sale of BB&B to Finlay Fine Jewelry Corporation for $200 million on November 12, 2007.

Finlay began as a mail order house for fine jewelry in 1887. In 1924, Abraham Hirshberg (1867-1953) took over the debt-ridden business and expanded with Finlay-Straus stores throughout the metropolitan New York area. In 1968, Finlay was purchased by Seligman & Latz, a publicly traded company listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Seligman & Latz operated Finlay until 1985 when it became privately owned. Finlay remained privately held until April 1995, when its parent, company Finlay Enterprises, Inc. held its initial public stock offering.

With the acquisition of Carlyle & Co. Jewelers in May 2005, Finlay returned to operating freestanding luxury stores. Carlyle consisted of 35 stores located primarily in southeastern United States under the Carlyle, J.E. Caldwell, and Park Promenade names. In November 2006 Congress Jewelers (a group of five stores located in Southwest Florida) was added, By August 2009, there were 182 Finlay locations: sixty-seven Bailey Banks & Biddle, thirty-four Carlyle & Co., four Congress specialty jewelry stores, and seventy-seven licensed departments with The Bon Ton.

On September 24, 2009, Finlay Enterprises announced completion of a bankruptcy auction for its business and assets to Gordon Brothers Retail Partners, LLC. Gordon Brothers was appointed to act as the Company’s agent to conduct “store closings” or similar sales of merchandise located at all of the Company’s retail store locations and the Company’s two distribution centers.

Arrangement

The arrangement is that devised by the company, which consisted merely of grouping like things together according to size without any hierarchical or series organization.

Scope and Content

The Bailey Banks & Biddle records were collected and maintained in-house as a combination of archival documents and historical research files and used primarily for public relations purposes. The collection primarily documents the sales and remounting of diamonds between 1879 and 1962.

The collection is organized into eight series: Diamond sales and remounting; General sales; Minutes; Company correspondence; Agreements, Copyrights, and patents; Contracts; Promotional materials; and Research.

Diamond sales and remounting series makes up a bulk of the collection and consists of a fairly complete set of records pertaining to diamond sales and remounting. BB&B diamond sales registers date from 1879 to 1969. These registers list the sale reference number, item description, weight, price, to whom sold, date, and sales person's number. BB&B diamond remount ledgers date from 1924 to 1947 and list customer name, date, description of repair/redesign work and related information. The earliest record is a sales register for Bailey & Kitchen and date from 1832 to 1833, listing customers' last name in alphabetical order with sale reference numbers. General sales series consists of custom design ledgers dating from 1910 to 1950. These contain descriptions and artwork of pins, medals, and rings for military and civilian organizations. Minutes are the meeting minute books of The Bailey, Banks and Biddle Company from 1894 to 1929.

Company correspondence series consists of selected correspondence dating from 1849 to 1968, mostly with institutional customers.

Agreements, Copyrights, and Patents of the Bailey, Banks and Biddle Company dating from 1891 to 1977.

Contracts series are files containing class rings contracts document purchases by military academies and high schools and colleges.

Promotional materials series include BB&B catalogs and brochures dating from 1917 to 2003 with gaps, advertisements that appeared in the Ladies Home Journal between 1905 and 1906; and newspaper advertisements from 1954 to 1955 and 1979 to 1985. There is also a long run of catalogs from 1922 to 1954 from the Slavick Jewelry Company, founded in Los Angeles in 1917 and acquired by Zale's in 1964.

Research series includes architectural drawings for the remodeling of the Chestnut Street store, reference books on English plate and silver, and BB&B research files with information about its history, medals and decorations, and biographical sketches of famous clients from James Buchanan to George H. W. Bush.

Language of Materials

English


Additional Information

Additional Description

Provenance

Gift of Tom Lozier, 2009

Related Names

Creator

Finding Aid & Administrative Information

Title:
Bailey, Banks & Biddle records
Status:
Description rules:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description:
English
Script of description:
Latin

Repository Details

Repository Details

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

Contact:
PO Box 3630
Wilmington Delaware 19807 USA
302-658-2400