J. E. Caldwell & Co.
J. E. Caldwell & Co. (Est.1839 -) As one of America’s most historic, important, and cosmopolitan cities – it was briefly America’s capital – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania was, in the 19th Century, also a magnet for talented artists and artisans to ply their trades. Among these were jewelers whose names remain familiar to this day.
One of them, James Emmett Caldwell (1813-1881), a Native of Poughkeepsie, New York, began to learn the art of silversmithing at age 14 under the supervision of Peter Perret Hayes. At the time, he was the youngest apprentice in the establishment. The oldest was Joseph T. Bailey who became famous in his own right as one of the founders of the jewelry firm, Bailey Banks & Biddle. Bailey and Caldwell became close acquaintances and friendly competitors.
In 1835, after becoming a master silversmith, Caldwell moved to New York City to apprentice in watch-making with Samuel Ward Benedict at his Wall Street shop. A restless and ambitious young man, Caldwell moved to Philadelphia in 1836 where he got first job working with Samuel Hildeburn a wholesale jewelry house located on Market Street. Not much time elapsed before Caldwell was hired by John Farr to work as a watchmaker for the already well-established watch importer and jewelry manufacturer, John C. Farr & Co.
Caldwell opened his first retail store in 1839 at 136 Chestnut Street where he began to supply wealthy Philadelphians with stylish European jewelry, silver, and objets d’art. Consequently, his reputation flourished.
In 1841, Caldwell partnered with James M. Bennett and the two established “Bennett & Caldwell” at 140 Chestnut Street across from Caldwell’s original location. As they continued their work in high quality jewelry, the two men became especially well known for their Art Nouveau and Art Deco pieces.
Caldwell married Sarah Caroline Butler in September 1842. They had two sons, James Albert Caldwell (1844 – 1914) and Clarence Edmund Caldwell 1857 – ????).
The elder Caldwell remained at the 140 Chestnut Street location until 1858 the year Bennett died. Upon Bennett’s death, John C. Farr, one of Caldwell’s first Philadelphia employers, became associated with Caldwell, and, in 1868, the firm changed its name to J. E. Caldwell & Co. and relocated to 822 Chestnut Street, in what was known as, “The Marble Building.”
After fires ravaged the city that same year and two of the store’s clerks perished, the store was rebuilt at 902 Chestnut Street and became a showplace for beautiful and luxurious creations. With characteristic energy, Caldwell pursued an ambitious agenda. Eight years late, he was exhibiting at the 1876 Centennial Exposition and was the representative of the “American Jewelry Maker.” When the elder Caldwell died in 1881, his son, James Albert, became head of the company.
As the 19th Century progressed, the firm began to create beautiful gem-sets and hand fabricated Art Nouveau jewels. These pieces were among the finest examples of American Art Nouveau jewelry and featured finely chased surfaces, unusual gemstones, as well as typical Art Nouveau motifs: curvaceous women, vines, garlands, flowers, and insects.
In 1916, J.E. Caldwell & Co. moved to the corner of Juniper and Chestnut Street in the heart of Center City and steps away from the famed Wanamaker Department store. The company remained at this location until its lamented closing in 2003.
The store, which glittered with 17 French-cut crystal chandeliers hanging from 20-foot-high ceilings was designed by Philadelphia architect Horace Trumbauer in the French Regency style. Customers entered the store through an atrium in the Widener Building.
Throughout the 1920’s, the firm produced fine pieces of Art Deco jewelry for which it remains known and continued to offer high quality jewels in accordance with the styles of the times.
In 1953, under the direction of Austïon Homer, who had become president of Caldwell’s the previous year; the company began a branch store expansion. They opened their second location in the Hotel DuPont in Wilmington, Delaware and also established locations King of Prussia, Ardmore, Princeton, New Jersey and another Delaware location in Christiana.
In 1992 J.E. Caldwell & Co. was acquired by Henry Birks & Sons, a Montreal-based jeweler that continues to produce fine jewelry. When the Center City store closed in 2003, the firm was owned by the private firm of Carlyle & Co., of Greensboro, N.C. which operated many jewelry stores – mostly in the American South.
Caldwell is the official jeweler of the Daughters of the American Revolution and is known to have created, in its stationery department, invitations for presidents, all types of dignitaries and printing the Philadelphia Social Register.
Upon the Center City store’s closing in 2003, a Philadelphia Inquirer article reported that “A very large number of [Caldwell’s] customers [came to the store] through tradition [passed down] through their families. Many a time … mothers were registered for bridal gifts [including] silver or china [and they and their offspring] were devastated by the closing even though they [could still] shop at Caldwell’s in King of Prussia or elsewhere.” It was from the last location that customers carried their perception of Caldwell.
The Company’s mark is ‘J.E.C. & CO.’