One of the oldest jewelers in America, Shreve, Crump & Low, has a rich past that dovetails with over 200 years of American history.
John MacFarlane, a silversmith, who opened shop in Boston a few short years after the end of the Revolutionary War, founded Shreve, Crump & Low in 1796. He sold the business in 1813 to a fellow silversmith, Jabez Baldwin, whose apprentice, John Low, became a partner in 1822. Ownership, as well as the company name, changed over the next several decades, until 1869, when the business reorganized. By that time, two more partners were added: William Shreve, a Civil War veteran, and Charles Crump, who would assume management of the firm.
Business was good, and Crump made frequent trips to Europe to bring back jewelry and silver items.
In 1872, the store was gutted during the great Boston fire that devastated the city. The store moved its location and managed to thrive until it was able to return to its home in Boston. Shreve, Crump & Low is still in business to this day.
The California Gold Rush lured Samuel and George Shreve westward. In 1852, they answered the siren call and set sail for San Francisco by way of the Cape Horn. The brothers set up shop as “Shreve & Company,” now considered the oldest commercial establishment in San Francisco.
Good fortune was tempered with tragedy. Samuel, who drowned in the Isthmus of Panama, left his considerable estate to his brother. This action ensured the survival of the fledgling jeweler, which continued to grow as the American West prospered.
Shreve & Co. had the misfortune of opening a new building in 1906, just one month before the devastating San Francisco Earthquake and subsequent fire. The quick thinking of the employees saved much of the inventory, which they hastily stored in the vault. The inventory was safe, but it would be three weeks before the vault cooled enough for anyone to access its contents.
The business moved to a temporary location in Oakland, California, where it remained for two years. During this period, the firm added flatware to its assortment and began to produce illustrated catalogs to promote its wares.
Although Shreve & Company has changed owners several times, the firm still has a presence in San Francisco.
Shreve has consistently offered traditional, exceptional quality jewelry and timepieces plus tableware and other silver products. Throughout their history, they have also sold opera glasses, stationery, fine china, and luggage, among other luxury-quality goods.
Prized for their craftsmanship and timeless appeal, the Shreve companies remained up-to-date with the times. Still, they shied away from couture and extravagant designs, choosing to stay the course by creating simple, elegant pieces that appealed to a broad audience.
In the 1930s, at the height of the “flower style,” Shreve was at the forefront of the trend, offering a lovely assortment of styles, many created by jewelry manufacturer Oscar Heyman & Bros.
1935: Shreve partnered with Patek Philippe, the famous Swiss watch manufacturer, to produce an innovative new timepiece, named the Calatrava. Other partnerships with European watch companies would follow.
Hollywood celebrities were not exempt from the firm’s charms. In 1965, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton had their wedding rings engraved, while they waited, at Shreve, Crump & Low.
Throughout the 20th Century, Shreve would provide America’s elite with the finest gemstones, dinnerware, and high-quality giftware. Clientele included prominent financiers such as the Cabots, Lodges, Vanderbilts, and Rockefellers, as well as the Kennedy Family.
Shreve, Crump & Low Commissions
- 1835: Daniel Webster, Massachusetts State Senator, was presented with a massive silver vase designed by the firm. It was inscribed, “To Daniel Webster, defender of the Constitution of the United States; from the Citizens of Boston, Oct. 12, 1835.”
- 1840: Commissioned by the city of Boston for making Boston Harbor the official port in the U.S. for the Cunnard Company, a 30-inch cup was presented to Samuel Cunnard.
- 1848: William Thomas Green Morton was presented with a Shreve’s silver box by the Massachusetts General Hospital for discovering anesthetic ether.
- 1870s: Shreve, Crump & Low, working in semi-precious metals, created fixtures for some of Boston’s most famous landmarks. Trinity Church enjoyed a new chandelier and sounding board; the Old South Church and the Parker House Hotel received new lighting fixtures.
- 1908: Shreve, Crump & Low designed an award, presented to Cy Young on August 13, 1908, during an event staged to give tribute to the mighty Boston Red Sox pitcher.
Shreve & Company Exhibitions
Shreve & Company silver, featuring a complete set of the Iris pattern, with flatware, candlesticks, serving bowls and centerpieces, is on display at the de Young Museum in San Francisco.
On display at the California Historical Society, along with other items created by Shreve & Company, is the silver spade President William Howard Taft used to turn over the first shovelful of dirt for the Panama Pacific International Exhibition, held in San Francisco in 1915.