Throughout history, jewelry boxes were handcrafted luxuries that only the wealthy could afford with artisans creating boxes for royal households, members of the clergy, and other affluent patrons. Some areas became known for the expertise of their artists, such as the enamel painting of Limoges, France. Often the boxes were works of art in their own right, inlayed with precious gemstones and metals.
The Industrial Revolution changed all of that. For the first time, jewelry boxes could be made by machine. This allowed for mass-production of different styles, and a price that was affordable for the middle class. Mail order catalogs such as Sears and Montgomery Ward began to carry jewelry boxes as a regular item.
Several American companies became known for their jewelry box designs. The boxes were usually machine cast of pewter or silver, and then lined with rich silks and brocades. Manufacturers became known for their signature styles, similar to the artisans of centuries past. Two of the prevailing trends were the art deco style, popular in the early 20th century, and colonial styles, which echoed the designs of early Americana.
The Jennings Brothers Manufacturing Company in Bridgeport, CT, was a well-known creator of art nouveau styles. Many boxes featured intricately sculptured lids, which might include life sized flowers, vines, and other floral motifs. Although the company closed in the 1950’s, their boxes and other items are prized by collectors, both on online website and in antique houses and auctions.
The Weidlich Brothers Company was another popular American company. They worked mostly in silver and silver plate, and created items in a colonial style. Jewelry boxes often included some of the same detailing that could be seen on colonial era furniture, such as pedestal bases, six pointed stars, and claw style feet.
The N.B. Rogers Silver Plate Company was a third American company that constructed boxes in yet a different style. Many of their jewelry boxes featured cherubs and cupids, which were part of the Victorian fascination with romantic symbolism. Specific flowers might also be part of the design such as roses for romantic love or lilies for beauty.
As the 20th century passed, jewelry box styles diversified, following the multitude of fashion and furniture trends. Many styles were imported from overseas, particularly from Germany, where metal smiths perfected electroplating techniques for their designs. Consumers could purchase boxes in almost any department store from a variety of manufacturers. The original American crafters became less well known, although their creations are still sought after to this day.