In the 1930s, the selling philosophy of The Napier Co. was that jewelry needed to have a “promotion story.” According to the company, pieces needed to have meaning or a trick promotion idea to be successful. Symbolism played a big part in creating those stories designed to pique public interest. Two cited examples were four-leaf clover motifs or a more esoteric model such as white rings to suggest life preservers. Again, as stated in the book, actual examples of Napier jewelry from this period are tough to locate. We have written history, but often that history was devoid of visual examples.
The same article that discussed jewelry with a “promotion story” also featured a new cigarette case called “The Glider.” The Glider held 14 cigarettes (seven on a side) and allowed a single cigarette to be pushed out from either end. These cases came in various enamel colors or engine-turned surfaces and could be monogrammed or adorned with applied decorative plaques. The story for this case was the novelty in the delivery of the cigarettes. As was the case for decades, Napier aimed to create conversation pieces that sparked dialog. Much like wearing a piece of jewelry today, it yielded an opportunity to open conversation between complete strangers.
The New York Office of The Napier Co. was recognized as being one of the most beautiful in the city. The office space was designed by the firm of Voorhees, Walker, Smith, and Smith, Architects. Shown here is the personal office of Mr. James H. Napier, president of The Napier Co. The workspace was featured in the 1959 edition of, Interiors Book of Offices, by the Whitney Library of Design.
The Napier Co. and its predecessor, The E. A. Bliss Co., had an extensive history in the jewelry manufacturing industry, but did you know that the company had a large business portfolio of manufacturing novelty and giftware items?
Beyond necklaces, bracelets, earrings and pins, the company from almost its inception to 1974, manufactured a wide range of novelty and giftware products. The company began its small manufacturing business putting out gilt watch chains, chatelaines and silver plate match boxes. Perhaps it was silver plate match boxes that eventually set the groundwork for a plethora of gilt and silver novelties that it would later become known for its quality as the “Tiffany of the Silver City.”
The company’s business thrived in Attleboro, MA, while producing gilt novelties, as well as silver plated jewelry. (Its focus on gilt verses silver seemed to change based on the plant’s location; i.e., Meriden being known as The Silver City.) The wares were sold not only throughout the United States, but were sold in South America, the West Indies, and Europe. However, it seems it was not until the move from North Attleboro, MA, to Meriden, CT, that this small business could begin to make novelties at the large scale its customers demanded.
Thus far, archive documents do not heed much information as to the designs of said pieces, sans a modest advertisement here and there in the local city directory. However, once The E. A. Bliss Co. moved to Meriden, CT, we have a number of accountings of the goods (besides jewelry) that the company made through trade journals, city directories and beautifully detailed catalogs.
There is a whole community that collects Napier Giftware and its sub-categories such as vanity items, tobacciana, barware and more. Most patents on file with the United States Patent and Trademark Office feature barware, tobacciana, hors d’oeuvre servers and baby items. All of these items were manufactured until 1974, and the remaining stock was sold through 1978. A slight exception to the aforementioned statement is the manufacturing of a clam-shaped compact for Givenchy, and a Limited-Edition trinket “box” made in 1990-one of 500 made.
By manufacturing items other than jewelry, this positioned the company to adapt quickly to various market situations. For example, the giftware, barware and tobacciana items filled a niche in the 1930s when jewelry production was down and prohibition created a market for flasks. The Bohemian attitude of the 1920s woman, created a newly opened market for female cigarette smokers who required tasteful and artfully crafted accessories for their indulgences. Rather than having limitations of producing just one genre of product, the company adapted as retained its skilled workforce.
No other company comes to mind that successfully managed to stay at the top of the respected industries as did The E. A. Bliss Co. and The Napier Co.The brilliance of this company’s diverse product lines allowed for similar stampings as those used in the bank below for both giftware and jewelry. The filigree stamping used on top of this elephant is also the same stamping used in many of its 1920-1930 bracelet designs.
The Napier Co.
“Jewelry Company Blazes the Market with Giftware Line”
Or “Napier and The Giftware Line”
This article covers the history of The Napier Co.’s giftware line. A strategic choice that lead to the company’s continued success, especially during the depression.
By Melinda Lewis -May 1, 2014
September 25, 2014
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