When you are talking about jewelry and metalwork, the three Bs — as in Bailey Banks & Biddle — occupy an important place in history.
Founded in 1832 as Bailey & Kitchen, the firm that today bears the name Bailey Banks & Biddle (after Mr. Kitchen retired and new partnerships were formed) has a long and illustrious past intertwined with American history. The original location of the operation was on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia and the factory was on Samson Street, in the heart of the city’s jewelry district. By the late 19th century, the firm’s reputation was solidified as one of the country’s leading jewelers and go-to source for all manner of fine things — Joseph T. Bailey II is said to have traveled abroad (by steamship, of course, in that era) 140 times in search of interesting merchandise to sell in his shop — including everything from fine Sèvres porcelain, rare stones and diamonds, elegant jewelry, statuary, paintings, silver service, to unusual curios. Additionally, in an effort to service the aristocratic elite for all their needs, they crafted luxe wedding invitations, dinner menus, ball programs and the like.
From the Beladora Archives: Bailey Banks & Biddle 0.78 Carat H/VS1 Diamond Ring in Platinum
The shop was responsible for producing countless seminal medals and honoraria for the U. S. government, perhaps starting with the mortuary medal for President Lincoln’s casket. Over the years, the company has created the Purple Heart, the Medal of Honor, and the Silver and Bronze Stars. Perhaps its greatest achievement for the government was the creation, in 1902, of the Great Seal of the United States. The old seal, created by Tiffany & Co., in 1885, had lasted a mere 17 years and was fuzzy, somewhat inaccurate, and needed an update and refinement. BB&B was selected to create the new bald eagle seal, and it is that seal that has endured to this day — emblazoned above every embassy around the world, on thousands of official documents yearly, and which appears on every dollar bill, among other uses.
The company’s jewelry was refined, elegant, and well-crafted and they were known and respected as purveyors of quality engagement and wedding rings and suites of jewelry. The business was bought by the Zale Corporation in the early 1960s and was resold to Finlay Enterprises, which sadly, filed for bankruptcy in 2009. BB&B was rescued by a group of investors shortly thereafter. While the company today may not be what it once was, it has a rich and glorious heritage that makes the earliest pieces very noteworthy.