Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Napier Co: A Complete History

Tonight at the Prime Time Emmy awards Hollywood's finest take the walk down the red carpet in gorgeous gowns and fabulous jewels. I always think of the stunning looks when award season rolls around, especially the jewelry. It made me think of the history of jewelry and compelled me to share the ULTIMATE resource guide to the history of the Napier Company.  Seriously this is THE MOST comprehensive and extensive reference book on jewelry that I have ever seen. PS- I'm obsessed with jewelry, own a Vintage clothing and accessory company and have been a student of fashion my entire life, so I have seen my fair share of books on the subject. This book by Melinda L. Lewis with Henry Swen is a serious feast for the eyes, a gift for fashion historians and women who have a passion for jewelry.
Napier Cuff c. 1954

There are 1011 pages backed with over 4,000 high quality photos and information. The book walks the reader through the historical emergence of jewelry in fashion and it's place in the era's preceding Napier's conception. It guides you through the  initial history of the Napier Co., starting in 1875 and decade by decade discusses the significance of this company's impact on the costume jewelry market and in fashion. 
Excerpt from the book

A pictorial history accompanies all of the facts with amazing images of jewelry pieces, sets, original sketches of designs and Napier advertisements. She also provides a detailed look at clasps, findings and stamps which is a great resource when trying to date your Napier pieces.
1970-Ad: Francis Fujio, Napier Co. Archives.

Melinda spent the better part of 11 years researching and gathering data, images and facts from many resources, including individuals who were employed by the Napier Co. 

I had the chance to chat with this Author and Jewelry Maven recently,

LG: Why Napier? 

ML: I had the opportunity to purchase some Napier jewelry in 2001. I was fairly new to collecting and eager to learn everything I could about costume jewelry. I had taken the pieces of Napier and spread them out on the family room floor while trying to organize the jewelry by decade. There were some pieces I could identify as being 1950s, but I realized too there were many pieces which I could not accurately identify, and I could not find any resources that had the information I needed to circa date the jewelry. Having only a single paragraph or so about the company’s history available on the Internet, it occurred to me that if this company had been in business since “1875,” there had to more substance to the company than the brief summary I found available. With search engines not being as advanced as they are today, it took me a while to locate the name of the former president of the company, but once I did, that first contact led to 11 years of research.
LG:  What was your favorite part of this journey? any items/info particularly harder to find? 

ML: One of the favorite parts of this experience was to share with former employees how much collectors loved the product. How they (the Napier employees) related to the jewelry was very different. Yes, they were proud of their work, but they had no idea people wanted to know everything they could about a piece; from how it was made to the designer who created it. For many, Napier had been part of their family for generations. It was a job … a good job, and folks always said it had a family-like atmosphere, but they had no idea about the world of costume jewelry collectors. It was great fun for them to see how excited I would get over a piece or when I learned an inside story. These folks were responsible for bringing so much enjoyment and pleasure to the world through their art and skill in making jewelry.
I remember once being down in Florida, interviewing former president and CEO, Howard Schaefer. We were in the middle of a nice conversation talking about the history of the company and about Mr. Napier. I was recording the conversation and of course I was in heaven, then he abruptly turned to me and said, “Why in the hell do you want to write about Napier? Turn that damn thing off!”  I think many employees were a little dumbfounded that I found the company interesting. Nevertheless, Mr. Schaefer was incredibly charming, and we had a fabulous time with both him and his wife. I learn some amazing things about Mr. Napier, most of which I kept out of the book and private.
LG: Who was this book created/written for?

ML: The book was written first for both the collector and the fashion historian. I felt there was a void in the documented history of the Napier Co and the history that was available was either incomplete or inaccurate. However, as the research got more involved, and I had interviewed with more Napier employees, it became a project written for the legacy of the company and its employees. It was a way to recognize Napier and its significant influence in fashion adornment over decades.
One of her all time FAV pieces: "Horse Nail."

LG: Do you have a large Napier jewelry collection? 

ML: I do have a number of Napier pieces and perhaps more than the average collector of vintage costume jewelry. However, my collection pales in comparison to some Napier collectors who have been collecting for decades, or who live near Meriden where the old plant use to be.  Napier use to sell jewelry very inexpensively at a factory outlet store; it was the first company in Meriden’s business district to open a factory store and it proved to be a very profitable move for them. Ultimately, the company opened 10 factory stores around the country.

This past year, I have tried to acquire more pieces as my goal will be, to someday, share this collection in some sort of exhibit. But, as Napier becomes more sought-after, it is getting harder for me to purchase it than ever before.  

This reference book is a steal at $139 and  I feel so fortunate to have it as part of my showroom library.
(Final Prince $129)

Connect with Melinda

Will you buy the book? or do you have it? 
share your comments below!

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