The Bailey Banks & Biddle story begins on September 10, 1832. On that day, Joseph Trowbridge Bailey and his original partner, Andrew Kitchen, opened our first Store on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia. This distinguishes us as the Oldest Nation Wide Jeweler in America. One of the earliest acknowledgements of this distinction dates back to 1904, when the Philadelphia Press newspaper referred to us as “the oldest business of its line in the United States”.
Our Customers have always included leading families of the day. One of our ledger books from 1834 lists three purchases by Andrew Jackson Jr., the son of then current President of the United States, Andrew Jackson.
The first changes in management occurred in 1846 when, Joseph Bailey’s original partner, Andrew Kitchen retired. Mr. Kitchen was in failing health and passed away, four years later, in 1850.
From the start, Mr. Bailey was committed to finest quality merchandise of the most exquisite design. For example, we were the first jeweler to introduce the British Sterling Silver standard in America. American silversmiths worked in what is called Coin Silver, of 90% purity. Mr. Bailey raised his standard to 92.5% so that our silver would compete with the finest imports from around the world.
Joseph T. Bailey II, the son of our founder and the distinguished gentleman whose picture hangs in your Store, entered the business in 1851.
On March 12, 1854, our founder, Joseph T. Bailey, died in Cuba. He had traveled there, for the mild climate, because of his own failing health. An obituary for Joseph Bailey Sr. described him as “a businessman who succeeded without family money or loans of any kind; he was literally a self-made man. He never smoked nor drank a drop of intoxicating liquor.”
Many of our Clients were from the South. In 1860, the Confederate States of America contracted Bailey & Co. to produce one-cent pieces for the South. Our designer and engraver, Robert Lovett, designed a coin which showed a woman’s head in profile on the obverse, or front side, and the principle products of the South on the reverse side… cotton, tobacco, corn & rice. Mr. Lovett struck 12 specimens as samples, but by then, the Civil War had escalated. He feared the consequences of the discovery of his work by the Union authorities. Instead of delivering them, he hid the 12 samples in his cellar. That was the end of the Bailey & Co. Confederate one-cent piece. Many years later, one of the pennies showed up in a coin show. The Confederate penny was extremely worn. It turned out that Mr. Lovett had carried it as a lucky charm. Nine of the coins survived and one was auctioned in 1984 for $11,500.
Bailey & Co. was not an anti-Union firm. We were commissioned to produce important presentation swords for Union Civil War notables, including General Meade and General Ulysses S. Grant. Some of these swords are in the Smithsonian, including one presented to General George McClellan by the City of Philadelphia.
The Civil War ended at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865. On April 14th, Good Friday, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. After lying in state at the White House, President Lincoln’s body traveled a slow funeral procession through the major cities en route to Springfield, Illinois. Bailey & Co. created the mortuary medal for the occasion. The obverse shows a profile of Lincoln with his name and the year, 1865. On the reverse is a broken column with a shield and tablet inscribed A.L. Two flags are draped on each side of the column, and the inscription reads, “He is in Glory and the Nation is in tears”.
After the Civil War, Joseph T. Bailey II began to travel abroad in search of rare and beautiful objects for our Store. Mr. Bailey personally purchased all imported merchandise until he was well into his 60’s. He crossed the Atlantic 140 times, by steamship, on buying trips.
To give you some idea of the diverse merchandise Mr. Bailey sourced, an 1868 notice describes a “Grand Public Sale of Magnificent Oil Paintings”. Another ad, from 1867, describes the “Great Christmas Novelty of Viennese Skate Bags exclusive to Bailey & Co.”
Many items from this era are nothing less than national treasures. One such little treasure, in the Smithsonian, is an 1868 snuff box. Made of oak, trimmed in solid gold, it is inscribed “Oak from one of the rafters that supported the roof of the Hall of Independence on the 4th of July 1776”
The final name change to our firm occurred in 1878. On March 1st of that year, the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin reported that our new management team would consist of general partners Joseph T. Bailey II, George W. Banks of J.E. Caldwell & Co, and Samuel Biddle of Robbins, Biddle & Co. The new name would be Bailey Banks & Biddle.
Mr. Biddle retired in 1893 and Mr. Banks retired in 1894. Joseph T. Bailey served as President and his son Charles Weaver Bailey served as Vice President and Treasurer.
Bailey Banks & Biddle went public on March 2, 1894. The name remained the same, but Co. was added. We have a stock certificate from that day. We believe it was the first share issued, and it was saved for sentimental reasons.
By the late 19th century, Bailey Banks & Biddle was firmly established as the pre-eminent American jeweler. The Pennsylvania Historical Review of 1886 describes our company as “one of two leading establishments of the kind in the United States. As manufacturing jewelers and diamond mounters, no house in the United States has achieved a higher reputation. Bailey Banks & Biddle’s inventory includes the rarest and choicest gems, watches, jewelry, the rarest first water brilliants, matched stones and diamonds from ½ to 20 carats. They also manufacture silverware and sell imported bronzes, the choicest Sevres, marble statuary, original and reproductions of famous masterpieces, paintings and curios. Finally, they also produce stationary, wedding invitations, ball programs, dinner menus, visiting cards, initials, crests and monograms.”
As the 20th century dawned, Bailey Banks & Biddle remained the jeweler to America’s great families. Mrs. Woodrow Wilson became a Bailey Banks & Biddle Customer. She purchased a brooch on April 30, 1902, that she wore as First Lady in 1913. Ellen Louise Axson Wilson was the original First Lady to adopt an official cause. Mrs. Wilson’s cause was homelessness and social equality issues which foreshadowed the Civil Rights Movement, still 50 years away. Even then, we were the jeweler of choice for stylish, independent, self purchasing women.
In 1904 Bailey Banks & Biddle moved to a modern new building further north on Chestnut Street. The Store was a state of the art showplace for our exquisite merchandise. A news story of the day described the new Store as having “pneumatic tube service that covers the Store and factory and a telephone system that touches every section… no less than 50 phones being on the line!” The article goes on to praise the modern “electric lighting and the dainty resting room in blue and white which is so convenient for women Customers”. The tradition of a shopping experience equal, in quality to our merchandise, is an old and important piece of our heritage.
1904 was the year that Bailey Banks & Biddle created the updated and final version of the Great Seal of the United States. The Great Seal of the United States is used to officially seal over 2,000 documents a year. From treaties and ceremonial foreign communications, to the appointment of Ambassadors and Cabinet Members, the Seal is a living part of our Country’s identity. The Seal appears on every dollar bill and is above the doorway of every American Embassy around the world. The Seal is executed in stained glass in the prayer room of the Capitol building. It appears on Military Uniforms and Monuments. The Great Seal symbolizes the principles upon which our Country was founded.
The history of the Great Seal dates back to the very day our Country was founded, July 4, 1776. After signing the Declaration of Independence, the First Continental Congress appointed a committee of three great men, Dr. Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, to design a Seal. The task proved challenging. It took six years, two more committees and a total of fourteen men to design the first version of our Great Seal.
In 1782 the first die was cut in brass by an engraver who has never been positively identified. By 1841, the die had become worn. A new die was cut by a Washington engraver, Peter Van Ness Throop. This die has been referred to as the “Illegal Seal” because of faults in the design. The eagle held only six arrows, rather than thirteen, as specified by the original designers. The 1844 die wore and was replaced, in 1877, with a new die engraved by Herman Baumgarten of Washington DC. Mr. Baumgarten copied his die from the 1844 die, mistakes and all..
By 1885, the need for a new die, correcting the errors and omissions of the past two versions, became clear. Tiffany and Co. was contracted to produce a new die with several stylistic changes as well as the corrections. By 1902, after only seventeen years, the Tiffany die was no longer producing clear impressions.
In 1902, the Department of State ordered a new die from Bailey Banks & Biddle. The original contract called for a “facsimile of the Tiffany design of 1885 to be delivered not later than June 15, 1903”. The Bailey Banks & Biddle die was engraved in hardened steel by Max Zeitler, one of our renowned artist and craftsmen. The Bailey Banks & Biddle die was sharper and clearer than any previous die. It corrected several heraldic errors that existed in the Tiffany die. The die also advanced the stylistic design of the Seal with more pointed and defined feathers on the eagle and distinctly clearer clouds on the crest.
The Bailey Banks & Biddle die was first used on January 27, 1904. It remained in constant use for twenty six years, producing perfectly crisp impressions. A master die was reproduced from the Bailey Banks & Biddle design. In 1986 it was established that the Bailey Banks & Biddle design would remain the official and final version of the Great Seal of the United States.
The Great Seal is rich in symbolism. It connects us with the vision of our founding fathers. It keeps alive their spirit, which gave birth to our Nation and gave us our freedom.
On the obverse side of the Seal is the eagle. One of its chief designers was Charles Thomson. He specified that the eagle should be “on the wing and rising”. Charles Thomson was very aware of the customs of the Native American peoples, and his use of the eagle acknowledges the great bird’s spiritual significance.
The eagle has olive branches with thirteen leaves and thirteen olives in his right, or “dexter”, talon. He has thirteen arrows clutched in his left, or “sinister”, talon. The olive branches and arrows symbolize the power of peace and war. Note that the symbol of peace is held in the stronger right talon. The eagle faces the olive branches, further emphasizing peace.
The Presidential Seal also shows an eagle holding olive branches and arrows. On the Presidential Seal, the eagle always faced the arrows. At the end of World War II, in 1945, President Truman ordered the Presidential Seal redesigned, with the eagle facing the olive branches, the symbols of peace.
Upon the chest of the eagle is the shield, without supports. Traditionally, in heraldic design, shields are held up by side supporting figures.
Charles Thomson, an original designer of the Great Seal, specified “The Shield is born on the breast of an American Eagle without any other supporters, to denote that the United States of America ought to rely on their own Virtue."
The shield has thirteen vertical red and white stripes, or “pales”, as they are known in heraldic design. Atop the stripes is a blue crest or “chief”. The white stripes represent purity and innocence. The red stripes represent hardiness and valor. The blue chief is symbolic of the Congress, holding together the individual States. The blue represents vigilance, perseverance and justice. An interesting note is that the shield on the Great Seal contains seven white stripes and six red. The Flag contains seven red and six white stripes.
The eagle holds a ribbon that says “E pluribus Unum”, meaning “from many one”, alluding to the union of the States. Above the eagle is a “golden glory” breaking through a cloud with thirteen stars forming a constellation. This brings to mind familiar phrases, such as “One Nation under God”, or “God bless America”. The original designers tell us "The Constellation denotes a new State taking its place and rank among other sovereign powers." The first version of the Seal had six point stars. Since 1841, all versions of the Great Seal have had five point stars.
The symbolism on the reverse side of the Great Seal is much more enigmatic. The original designers tell us that “the pyramid represents strength and duration”. It contains thirteen steps and is unfinished. The founding fathers never specifically said why it was unfinished, however, a great poet, Walt Whitman, saw symbolic beauty in the unfinished pyramid. Whitman wrote, "The architects of These States laid their foundations. . . Now are needed other architects, whose duty is not less difficult, but perhaps more difficult. Each age forever needs architects. America is not finished, perhaps never will be."
Atop the pyramid is an eye. The eye puzzles people more than any other symbol on the Seal. In the official description of the Seal, the founders write "A Pyramid unfinished. In the Zenith an Eye in a triangle surrounded with a glory... Over the Eye these words Annuit Coeptis." This Latin phrase means “It has favored our undertakings”. The “It” is referring to the “providence”, or the power, of the creator. The eye represents that power. This is a symbolic interpretation of “God shed his light on thee”.
Upon the base of the pyramid is the date, “MDCCLXXVI”, 1776 in Roman numerals. Below the pyramid is the Latin phrase “Novus ordo seclorum”. This translates to “A new order of the ages”. This motto shows our founder’s vision for the lasting power of our new Nation.
The Great Seal is a national treasure. Its history and symbolism tells the story of the birth of our Nation. Crafting of the Great Seal of the United States will remain, forever, one of Bailey Banks & Biddle’s proudest achievements.
In 1905, Bailey Banks & Biddle crafted the modern day Medal of Honor, our Country’s highest military award. It is awarded "for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life, above and beyond the call of duty, in actual combat against an armed enemy force." Since it was first awarded during the Civil War, the Medal of Honor has been awarded 3,460 times. The Medal of Honor is presented by the President of the United States, who is also the Commander-in-Chief of the US Armed Forces, on behalf of the American people.
The idea for the new, Type II Medal of Honor was conceived by Brigadier General George Gillespie, a Civil War recipient himself. The original Medal of Honor was not only widely presented with significantly less discretion; it was widely imitated by veterans groups in the 1800’s.
The new Army design is a five pointed star with a profile of Minerva, at the center, surrounded by a green enameled laurel wreath. The Army eagle rests on a bar reading VALOR. Supporting the medal is a blue silk ribbon spangled with thirteen stars. Gillespie gave the eagle three arrows in the “sinister”, or left talon, and an olive branch in his “dexter”, or right talon, obviously deriving from the Great Seal design. The back of the medal is left blank to contain the name of the winner. The bar contains the words “The Congress to…”. Most likely, because of that inscription and the fact that the medal was created with Congressional approval, the decoration has become known as the “Congressional Medal of Honor”… But it should be noted that the winners are chosen by their peers and not by Congress. The official name is simply the Medal of Honor.
We created 3,000 Medals of Honor in the original 1905 contract. Bailey Banks & Biddle Medals of Honor replaced all previous design medals worn by veterans of the Indian and Civil Wars if requested by the soldier.
Original Bailey Banks & Biddle Medals were awarded to 4 soldiers from the Boxer Rebellion, 1 from the Mexican Campaign, 95 from World War I and 292 from World War II. 8 Medals of Honor are in the Tombs of the Unknown Soldiers around the world: In Westminster Abbey in England, the Arc de Triomphe in France, at the Victor Emanuel II monument in Italy, in Rumania and at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. All have a Bailey Banks & Biddle Medal of Honor attached to their uniforms.
Other recipients of Bailey Banks & Biddle Medal of Honors include Charles Lindbergh, Audie Murphy, Douglas MacArthur and Admiral Richard Byrd.
Bailey Banks & Biddle has produced the class rings for West Point and the Naval Academy for more years than any other jeweler. The list of graduates who have worn Bailey Banks & Biddle class rings reads like the Who’s Who of American history. From General George Patton to General Omar Bradley, from Admiral James Stockdale, a POW and Medal of Honor winner who ran as a Vice Presidential candidate, to his running mate, Ross Perot. President Jimmy Carter, General Schwarzkopf, Admiral Richard Byrd, Astronauts Alan Shepard and Wally Schirra… The list of great achievers who have worn class rings crafted by Bailey Banks & Biddle is extraordinary.
Here’s the story behind one of those rings. It begins in Denver, Colorado 90 years ago. In a big home, lived the daughter of a prominent doctor. In this era, the wealthy members of society, of Denver would move their family to a warmer climate during the cold winters of Colorado. For this family, that warmer climate was San Antonio, Texas. In October, 1915, our young lady found herself there with her family. At a social mixer, she met a young Lieutenant who had just graduated from West Point that summer, and was stationed at his first post in San Antonio. It was love at first sight. The two became inseparable. Within weeks, they were making plans for marriage and their life together… but, there were complications.
The young officer had a problem. How could he afford, on a 1st Lieutenant’s salary, an engagement ring suitable for this girl who grew up having everything? Then it dawned on him… he called Bailey Banks & Biddle. We had just made his West Point Class Ring. He ordered a miniature of his Class Ring in yellow gold with an amethyst. On Valentines Day, 1916, he got down on bended knee and proposed.
The greatness the young girl had seen in her new husband did not go unnoticed by others. He rose through the ranks of the Army. He became a General. He became the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in World War II. He became President of the United States. The young officer was Dwight David Eisenhower. The young lady was Mamie Dowd.
As First Lady, Mamie dined with Kings and Queens. But through her entire life, that miniature Class Ring remained her most precious possession. It was always with her. Today, the ring, in its original box, is in the Eisenhower Library in Abilene, Kansas.
This story fascinates people because of its history, but this story moves people because it conveys, so powerfully, what makes a piece of Bailey Banks & Biddle jewelry a Treasure.
The year is 1917, and America’s need for new military insignia and medals continues. It is this year that Bailey Banks & Biddle is contracted to produce the first Pilot Wings. These Wings are for Naval Aviators, America’s first military pilots. The design instantly becomes an icon. The original Pilot Wings design served as a template for the first Paratrooper Wings of the Airborne Army and the Nautilus Wings of the Navy’s. Submarine Corps hese were also created by Bailey Banks & Biddle.
In 1926, we produced the Distinguished Flying Cross. The Distinguished Flying Cross “is awarded to any Officer or Enlisted Man of any branch of the Armed Forces that distinguishes himself by heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight, subsequent to November 11, 1918.” The first DFC, produced by Bailey Banks & Biddle, was awarded to Captain Charles Lindbergh, of the US Army Corps Reserve, for his solo flight across the Atlantic. The first Navy man was Commander Richard E. Byrd, of the Navy Air Corps, for his first crossing of the Atlantic in a multi-engine plane. Amelia Earhart received one of the first medals we produced for her achievement as the first woman, and the second person, to cross the Atlantic and for setting new speed and time records. Other recipients have included the Wright brothers and President George H.W. Bush for a heroic bombing mission in WWII.
1932 was the year we designed and made two more of our highest military awards for bravery and merit, the Silver Star and the Bronze Star,. The first Silver Star we made was awarded to General Douglas MacArthur.
The list of Medals crafted by Bailey Banks & Biddle reads like the catalog of American Military history. Other notable BB&B creations include the Navy Cross, second only to the Medal of Honor in distinction and the Legion of Merit, which is awarded to American officers as well as officers and citizens of foreign allies.
One of the most sacred treasures that Bailey Banks & Biddle has made is the Purple Heart. The Purple Heart is America’s first medal. Its story is fascinating and moving.
In 1782, our newly formed country was embroiled in a war for our independence from England. General George Washington was 50 years old, in the field, shoulder to shoulder with his troops. Washington’s army had no medals. This nation had been founded on the premise that all men are created equal. Medals were considered elitist; something a European General would wear on his fancy uniform. As the brutal Revolutionary War waged on however, Washington felt compelled to recognize the selfless sacrifice he saw. It was in this spirit that Washington created the original Purple Heart.
In August of 1782, in Newburgh, New York, Washington created the original Purple Heart. Washington had a seamstress, traveling with his troops sew, from a piece of purple cloth, a small heart. The cloth is believed to have come from the tunic of a fallen soldier. The heart was seamed in silver thread, and embroidered with the single word, “Merit”.
Washington awarded only three of these original Purple Hearts. Today, one of them is in small museum in Newburgh, New York, near the spot where Washington awarded it. One is in Washington, DC, at the Society of Cincinnati Headquarters. The Society of Cincinnati is a Military Order which was established by officers who served directly under Washington and, today, includes their direct descendants. It is America’s oldest Military Order, and Bailey Banks & Biddle designed its insignia, which we still make today. The third Purple Heart has been lost to history.
Charles Weaver Bailey, the son of Joseph T. Bailey II, was the last Bailey to head our firm. He became President after his father’s death in 1918. Born in 1861, Charles served as a Major in World War I. One of his daughters became a baroness. Charles Bailey died in 1922.
Bailey Banks & Biddle became part of Zale Corporation on October 2, 1961. There were three locations at the time, Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, Bryn Mawr, near King of Prussia and the Cherry Hill Mall, which is still in operation in its original location.
The great traditions set forth by the Bailey family continued under the new Zale Corp management. In the 1960’s, our designer George Meell, who designed the Silver and Bronze Stars, prepared solid gold calling cards for the seven Mercury Astronauts. Our firm sold the Astronauts the original Omega Speedmaster, which was selected as the official timepiece for every subsequent NASA mission. Several of the Mercury Astronauts came into our Houston, Texas, branch looking for a suitable watch. They purchased a Longines Conquest, a Bulova Accutron and the Omega Speedmaster. After torture testing all three watches, they placed the famous order with Omega for twelve Speedmasters. The Astronauts knew where to find the “right stuff”.
In 1969, Bailey Banks & Biddle’s Joan Ralston worked with Wedgewood to create the Philadelphia Bowl. The bowl depicts scenes from the City of Philadelphia’s history. Bowls are often presented to visiting dignitaries and guests of the City. This tradition continues with our newest creation of the Washington, DC, Bowl and the soon to be introduced Texas Bowl.
In October, 1981, during his first term in office, President Ronald Reagan hosted the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia. At this gathering of World Leaders, Mayor Greene of Philadelphia, presented President Reagan with an inkwell set created by Bailey Banks & Biddle. The pewter inkwell was a reproduction of the one used by the Founding Fathers to sign the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776. The inkwell became of a favorite of President Reagan. He kept it on his desk in the Oval Office and, today, it is in the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California.
In 1984, Bailey Banks & Biddle created the Order of James Smithson for the Smithsonian Institute The Order is the Smithsonian’s most prestigious award. It has been awarded by the Smithsonian’s Board of Regents only six times in its first twenty years.
In 1988, Bailey Banks & Biddle designed, struck and donated the Philadelphia Liberty Medal to the civic group, the Philadelphia Foundation. The Philadelphia Liberty Medal honors an individual, or an organization from anywhere in the world who has "demonstrated leadership and vision in the pursuit of liberty of conscience or freedom from oppression, ignorance, or deprivation." The medal is presented each year at Independence Hall . Recipients have included President Jimmy Carter, President Nelson Mandela, Secretary of State Colin Powell and Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. 2005’s recipient will be President Viktor Yushenko of the Ukraine.
Today, Bailey Banks & Biddle continues the traditions begun by Joseph T. Bailey in 1832. We preserve the traditions of quality, style and unparalleled service. Bailey Banks & Biddle can lay claim to being not only America’s oldest jeweler, we are also America’s leading luxury jeweler, with more branches from coast to coast then any other luxury jeweler. As the keepers of traditions, our responsibility is great. The history is fascinating, the stories are moving. However, keep in mind, the history and stories don’t belong exclusively to us… they belong to our Customers, to their families, their loved ones. We have an obligation to share the stories. Share them like the little pieces of treasure they are. When you share the stories, with pride and humility, you show your understanding and respect for your Customer. You show your understanding for the importance of their occasion. You show your respect for their family legacy. You honor their good taste and achievement. You show them that they are as important to you and to Bailey Banks & Biddle as any President or hero. Be a hero… Live the Values of Bailey Banks & Biddle.
6450 Lower York Road
New Hope, PA 18938