Artists & Designers

Ball, Black & Co. (American, 1851-1874)

The Ball, Black & Co. firm descended from the retail establishment of Frederick Marquand, who had been in business in New York since 1823. In 1833 the firm of Marquand & Co. included William Black and Henry Ball. In 1836 Erastus O. Tompkins and J. D. Williams were admitted to the firm, and in 1839 the name was changed to Ball,Tompkins & Black. In 1851 it became Ball, Black & Co. In 1852 Ebenezer Monroe became a partner.

There can be no doubt that Ball, Black & Co. was the leading jewelry house in the nation until it was overtaken by Tiffany & Co. From the beginning, it was entrusted with important commissions of jewelry and silverware. When the firm moved to its new building at 247 Broadway in 1848, it was equipped with some of the first large plate glass windows, perfect for the display of goods. In 1851 the company exhibited nineteen gold-sheathed swords of its design, made for the State of Illinois for presentation to the officers of the Illinois regiments who had served in the Mexican-American War. Such offerings received tremendous amounts of publicity for the time.

In 1859 Ball, Black & Co. purchased the lot at the southwest corner of Broadway and Prince Streets (565-67 Broadway) and erected a marble "palace" that opened in 1860 and still stands today. It was touted as the first completely fireproof building constructed in America. Its imported French plate glass windows were the largest in the country, and its steam driven elevator was a rarity. On 14 October 1860, the Prince of Wales visited the establishment under the guidance of William Ball. Before his departure, he placed orders for jewelry and silverware worth in excess of $12,000, a large sum for the time.

Ball, Black & Co. instituted the first modern safe deposit vault system in the country. The basement of the new building ran the full length of the premises and into areas under the surrounding pavement. Within was an area 50 feet long, 25 feet wide, and 16 feet high designated as a "safe" and surrounded by heavy bars of chilled iron. The entrance had a massive door with a combination lock. For further safety, this enclosed area contained a smaller burglarproof vault "for the safekeeping of coin, diamonds and jewels of great value." It was attended at all times by a heavily armed group of six men. Reportedly, chests of plate and jewelry belonging to wealthy Southern families survived the Civil War inside the Ball, Black & Co. vault while all their other possessions were lost.

Enormous amounts of American-made silver were sold by the firm. It is reported that William Gale supplied goods for Marquand & Co. Nicholas Bogert and John Moore made silver tea sets and other hollowware for Ball, Tompkins & Black. The great designer and manufacturer of American "fancy" flatware patterns, Michael Gibney, had a special relationship with the firm which was continued after his death in 1860 by his son Francis. Many other noted American silversmiths produced for the store. But perhaps none is less known or more important than John R. Wendt, who relocated from Boston in order to occupy two floors of factory space in the 565-67 Broadway building. A billhead advertisement from the early Marquand years leads us to believe that the company may have produced some of its own silver. However, the successor firms, although prominent manufacturers of jewelry, only retailed silverware.

Adapted from

Charles L. Venable, Silver in America, 1840-1940: A Century of Splendor (Dallas, Texas: Dallas Museum of Art; New York, New York; Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1994), 315.