Shreve & Co.
Shreve & Co. (Est. 1852-) Shreve & Company is often referred to as the oldest commercial establishment in San Francisco. When gold was discovered in California in 1848-49, George Coates Shreve (1828-1893) and his nephew, Samuel S. Shreve moved from New York to San Francisco where they established Shreve Jewelers in 1852.
George was a talented goldsmith who had trained alongside his older half-brother Benjamin who operated a jewelry shop in Boston called, “Shreve’s,” later, Shreve, Crump & Low.
The store that the uncle and nephew opened, The Shreve Jewelry Company, at Montgomery and Clay, in San Francisco, was intended to capitalize on the city’s influx of wealth from the gold rush. The two filled the store with silver objects, European fancy goods, and fine jewelry.
By the 1860s, the company had established a reputation as the finest silver and goldsmiths in America. Many of Shreve’s spectacular pieces were acquired by presidents, business tycoons, and establishment families. Many of these pieces are now owned by museums and are also found in private collections around the world.
Teddy Roosevelt especially treasured a 10-inch tall solid gold Teddy Bear crafted by Shreve and commissioned as a gift to him by the citizens of San Francisco.
During the 1880’s, the firm established itself as one of the foremost producers of fine silver in America specializing in Arts and Crafts designs. It was considered among the finest silversmiths in the United States selling high quality timepieces, gold, and silver jewelry in addition to diamonds and precious stones.
Shreve’s offerings were handsomely finished often featuring hand hammering and cut-out designs. The business, which had opened at Montgomery and Clay, prospered and the store moved to a new location on Market Street.
George died in 1893, a very wealthy man. In 1894, his son George Rodman Shreve inherited the business now called, Shreve & Co. and, together with his father’s business partner George Bonny took on another partner Albert Lewis.
In March 1906, the firm relocated to a newly constructed earthquake-proof building on Post and Grant. When the devastating San Francisco earthquake struck one month later, the building, unlike most others in the city, stood.
The building was built with reinforced concrete construction and survived completely intact. Despite their incredible luck, the destruction to the rest of the city plus the damage sustained by the interior of their building meant that the firm had to relocate to Oakland for two years.
It was during this period that the company first started producing illustrated catalogs. Their advertisements promoted their willingness to make arrangements for “transacting business with out-of-town customers,” and increased their client base.
When their building was finally restored, the company returned to its location and business returned to normal. The interior showroom, a pantheon to jewelry, became a jewelry connoisseur’s travel destination and would remain so at that location until 2015.
A photograph, taken in 1909, shows a highly luxurious, open, light-filled and beautiful interior. Advertisements from the period show that their stock included cut glass, leather goods, pewter ware, china, precious stones, watches, and imported ‘European Novelties.’
The company again closed its doors during World War I, as its silversmiths were put to work manufacturing airplane parts. It reopened in 1918 and business flourished during the remainder of the 20th century. Pieces were bought by prominent Americans and others and the firm was regarded as the country’s most prestigious jewelry and silverware firm outside New York.
The company’s notable collections include the silver Iris service crafted between 1903 and 1917. San Francisco’s de Young Museum exhibits Shreve & Co. silver featuring a complete set of the Iris pattern, including flatware, candlesticks, serving bowls, and centerpieces. The museum’s archives house over 1600 of Shreve & Co. factory drawings and photographs taken at the Shreve & Co. factory.
The California Historical Society has the silver spade used by President William Howard Taft, and other objects from Shreve & Co., including the Mellon Tea Set, a Silver Punch Bowl presentation piece, The Huntington Prize, from 1899, a matching silver tray, and silver medals made in 1902 with presentation cases, for the Mechanics Institute.
The San Francisco Museum and Historical Society has the silver spade used by San Francisco Mayor James Rolphe at the groundbreaking for the city hall and the civic center plus other objects made by Shreve & Co.
The Oakland Museum of California has a large collection of Shreve & Co. silver from the collection of the late Dr. Elliot Evans who was curator of the Society of Pioneers from 1956–1971.
The San Francisco Public Library main branch displays the silver trowel used for the Library’s groundbreaking by Mayor Rolphe, an original miniature spade, the original enclosure card, and the tower of jewels souvenir made by Shreve & Co.
Shreve & Co.’s flatware production began in 1904 and, in 1908, the firm acquired W.K. Vanderslice & Co. who were makers and retailers of quality sterling flatware, hollow-ware, and jewelry. Some flatware patterns were also made for Shreve by Old Newbury Crafters.
Among its notable silver flatware patterns are Adam first introduced in 1909 and designed by Joseph E. Birmingham, Antique, introduced in 1904, Buckingham introduced in 1915, and Dolores (named after San Francisco’s Mission Dolores) and also introduced in 1909.
The firm’s family-ownership ended in 1967 when the company was sold to the Dayton-Hudson Corporation. Silver manufacturing stopped then although the company continued selling fine jewelry. In 1992, the firm filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy from which it ultimately recovered.
As a quake survivor, the jeweler was a sponsor of San Francisco’s official Centennial Ball in 2006. It gave each of 700 attendees a small Shreve & Co. blue box with silver lettering containing a replica of the silver spade, a foldout of the company’s history, and a “Once in a Century” $100 gift certificate. Later recipients of the promotional box included customers at a Shreve & Co. trunk show, guests of a nationally known San Francisco antiques show, and guests of a hotel chain using its “Shop San Francisco” package. Another 1,000 shovels were ordered for the rest of the year.
Since 1992, Shreve & Co. has been part of Schiffman’s, a fourth-generation, family-owned and operated independent luxury jeweler based in Greensboro, North Carolina.
In 2011, after more than a century of operating within California, the company launched its first store in Portland, Oregon, offering timepieces from A. Lange & Söhne, Baume & Mercier, IWC, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Officine Panerai, Patek Philippe, Rolex, Wellendorff and Vacheron Constantin.
In 2015, after 110 years, and due to San Francisco’s booming real estate market, the company announced it could no longer afford the lease at its namesake building and lost it to Harry Winston. After temporarily moving into a smaller space, Shreve & Co. opened its doors at a new 150 Post Street flagship location less than a block away from its old home.
The newly designed store is more than 15,000 square feet. With two full floors of selling space, there are in-store boutiques, private selling suites, and an entertainment room complete with all the technology needed to communicate with sellers and buyers from around the world. In addition to the firm’s own signature jewelry collections, a few of the store’s specialized boutiques include Patek Philippe, Rolex, Harry Kotlar Diamonds, Mikimoto, and Marco Bicego. All services are on the premises, from a watchmaker to an estate jewelry appraiser and consultant.
In November 2016, Shreve & Co. announced that, after five years, it would close its Pioneer Square location at 640 SW Broadway and leave the Portland market.
Also, in 2016, Ren Schiffman, a fifth generation member of the current owner’s family joined the company after completing his gemology degree at the Gemological Institute of America in Carlsbad, California. His passion, experience and talent is representative of the “new” Shreve & Co.
Despite its several upheavals, both physical and financial, the store has remained an important source of fine jewelry and silver in San Francisco and well-known and regarded in other jewelry capitals. Its loyal customers reside worldwide.
With more than fifty jewelry designers and timepiece masters, Shreve takes pride in its long-standing partnerships with many of the finest jewelry and timepiece brands in the world including Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin, Rolex, Panerai, Hearts On Fire, Harry Kotlar, Wellendorff, Mikimoto, Marco Bicego, Kwiat and more. Locations include the 150 Post Street store in San Francisco and another at the Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto.