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Attleboro Massachusetts: How The City Became Known as The Jewelry Capital of The World

Tanzy Ward

When collecting and researching antique jewelry, Attleboro, Massachusetts is a common place of origin for many makers & businesses of the 18th and 19th centuries. Originally, the area was inhabited by indigenous groups like the Pokanoket Tribe before English settlers migrated to the area in 1634. Prior to being called Attleboro, the area was called the town of Attleborough, but adopted it's current name in 1914 as the reincorporated city of Attleboro. 

(1909 Postcard of Downtown Attleboro, Massachusetts. Arthur Unknown) 

Dating as far back as the 1790's, Attleboro was home to a variety of manufacturing firms that specialized in accessory making. One of the earliest items produced in mass quantity were metal buttons for waist coats. One of the first businesses dedicated to the improvement and manufacturing of buttons was George W. Robinson's company, known as R&W Robinson Co. Robinson built his factory in Attleboro, Massachusetts, and it became one of the most recognized producers of metal buttons for waist coats. One of the earliest jewelry-makers to create in Attleboro was simply known as 'the french-man', before manufacturing facilities were created. Little is known about 'the french man', but he was a soldier who came to Massachusetts from France with General Lafayette in 1772, then set up a shop in an abandoned forge in Attleboro, Massachusetts.  He was sometimes referred to as 'the foreigner'. He made gold buttons for the American Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. Before the shop disappeared in 1810, 'the french-man' taught other locals the trade of jewelry making. 

(R&W Robinson Co. button. Robinson's factory became one of the most recognized producers for metal waistcoat buttons. Courtesy of Relicman Sales Catalog.)

By the mid 19th century, jewelry became a go-to accessory for casual outfits, and society showed a growing interest in the innovative developments of machine production. While handmade jewelry was still very common, the mass production of jewelry became increasingly popular as new technological advances were introduced during the Victorian Era. Several of the most popular jewelry manufacturing firms were created in Attleboro, Massachusetts. R.F Simmons Company, founded in 1873 by Robert Fitz Simmons, created jewelry chains and lightweight gold jewelry such as bangles and hoop earrings. The first manufacturers of the iconic 'sweetheart bracelet' were Attleboro businesses. D.F Briggs Company (founded in 1892) and the McRae & Keeler Company (founded in 1893), were the two first recorded businesses to manufacture sweetheart bracelets. D.F Briggs Company manufactured their bracelets under the name 'Carmen', while McRae & Keeler chose the 'American Queen' brand name.  Another notable jewelry manufacturing firm that originated in Attleboro was the L.G Balfour Company. Founded in 1913 by Lloyd Garfield "Bally" Balfour , the company created insignia and class rings for high schools and colleges. They were known for their skilled craftsmanship and quality of fraternity jewelry. The company is still in operation today. There were also many other known jewelry firms who created quality highly collected pieces as well. Some of these historic businesses includes the Guyot Brothers, Leach & Garner, Austin and Stone, & James A. Murphy Co. By the mid 20th century, Attleboro was home to a variety of quality jewelry businesses and a dedicated history of innovative craftsmanship. 

 

(R.F Simmons Co. Jewelry Victorian Jewelry Ad, c.1886)

(D.F Briggs & Co. antique 'Carmen' Bracelet. The Company Manufactured Their Jewelry in Attleboro, Massachusetts and Was Founded in 1892. Zanathia Collection)  

 

(Edwardian Era Monogrammed Locket by Attleboro Jewelry Firm, Austin & Stone. The business ceased operations in 1915. Zanathia Collection)

By the 1950's, Attleboro, Massachusetts was considered the 'jewelry capital of the world' by Life Magazine when they visited the city. In modern times, there are still many jewelry businesses and independent artisans that are located in the city. The historical significance of Attleboro and its manufacturing background is not only important to remember, but to preserve as well. The industrial preservation of the brick factories that housed the machinery used for jewelry making and many of its workers are important valuables of history. Fortunately, some of these historic factories and original business storefronts are being used for modern spaces. Attleboro, a city that has direct ties to the American Revolution and innovative manufacturing firms is a major influential presence in today's world. It is not uncommon to come across an antique jewelry piece that has originated from Attleboro, Massachusetts. The place once deem 'the jewelry capital of the world' is still synonymous with quality crafted pieces that are collected and treasured in the 21st century.  

 


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