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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 and businesses of the 18th and 19th centuries. Initially, the area was inhabited by indigenous groups like the Pokanoket Tribe before English settlers migrated to the area in 1634. Before being called Attleboro, the area was called the town of Attleborough but adopted its current name in 1914 as the reincorporated city of Attleboro. 

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

Dating as far back as the 1790s, Attleboro was home to various manufacturing firms specializing in the accessory making. One of the earliest items produced in mass quantity were metal buttons for waistcoats. One of the first businesses dedicated to improving and manufacturing controls 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 waistcoats. One of the earliest jewelry-makers to create in Attleboro was known as 'the Frenchman' before manufacturing facilities were built. 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 Revolutionary War. Before the shop disappeared in 1810, 'the Frenchman' taught other locals the trade of jewelry making. 

(R&W Robinson Co. button. Robinson's factory became one of the most recognized producers of 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 prevalent, the mass production of jewelry became increasingly popular as new technological advances were introduced during the Victorian Era. Several famous jewelry manufacturing firms were created in Attleboro, Massachusetts. R.F Simmons Company, founded in 1873 by Robert Fitz Simmons, made 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 and Keeler Company (founded in 1893) were the two first recorded businesses to manufacture sweetheart bracelets. D.F Briggs Company manufactured their bracelets under 'Carmen,' while McRae and 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. Many other known jewelry firms created quality, highly collected pieces as well. Some of these historic businesses include the Guyot Brothers, Leach and Garner, Austin and Stone, and James A. Murphy Co. By the mid-20th century, Attleboro was home to various quality jewelry businesses and dedicated history of innovative craftsmanship. 


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


By the 1950s, Attleboro, Massachusetts, was considered the 'jewelry capital of the world by Life Magazine when they visited the city. In modern times, many jewelry businesses and independent artisans are still in town. 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 historic factories and original business storefronts are used for modern spaces. Attleboro, a city with direct ties to the American Revolution and innovative manufacturing firms, is a significant influence in today's world. It is not uncommon to come across an antique jewelry piece originating from Attleboro, Massachusetts. The place once deemed 'the jewelry capital of the world is still synonymous with quality crafted pieces collected and treasured in the 21st century.  


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