Solomon Blanckensee & Sons
Blanckensee & Sons – a Victorian success story
The firm of S Blanckensee and Sons is one of success. The firm traces its routes to the business of Solomon Blanckensee, an émigré of Prussia. Solomon originally founded his business in Bristol in 1826 but soon moved his family and base of operations to the Victorian hub of jewellery manufacturing, Birmingham, establishing a workshop and showrooms there.
The firm rapidly grew in size and fame, manufacturing a wide variety of gold and silver articles and jewellery, always with a mind for using cutting edge technologies and producing fashionable jewellery, especially for its London-based clientele.
With the death of Solomon in 1863, his two eldest sons, Abraham and Aaron, together with other family members (Solomon had 11 children with his wife Julia), took on the mantle of running the successful jewellery manufacturing business.
In 1885 the brothers purchased the well-known Emanuel & Davis jewellery makers and moved into Sovereign Hall, an imposing two storey building in Birmingham’s jewellery quarter (14/15 Frederick Street), which contained a workshop and ample showroom and office space, thus cementing their reputation as one of the pre-eminent jewellery businesses to develop in Victorian Britain. The firm ran their business from here right through until the 1940s.
The £17.5 million family business
In 1887, the business was incorporated into a company, raising £80,000 in capital from subscribers with the family taking a further £40,000 in shares together with over £30,000 in cash as consideration for contributing the business’ assets to the new company. This capital raise valued the company at £120,000 at the time which in today’s money would be approximately £17.5 million; not an insignificant sum for a family business built from the ground up in 60 years! Interestingly, the advertisement for the share issuance refers to the Blanckensee’s attempt at offshoring operations, having set up a workshop in Madrid. This was a relatively short-lived experiment with workshop staff seemingly not enamoured with the Spanish lifestyle and returning to Birmingham in drinks and drabs before the operation was shut down and the remaining staff repatriated to Britain.
By 1912, the firm had acquired the well-known jewellery manufacturing businesses of Nathan & Hayes and Isaac Silverstone. At this time, the business moved their manufacturing operations to Great Hampton Street whilst retaining Frederick Street as their showroom. The firm also acquired the Albion Chain Co, an innovative jewellery machining business, in 1916, the manufacturing business of another renowned jeweller, Stokes & Ireland, and, in 1929, the business of jeweller A & J Zimmerman.
The result of these acquisitions and innovative businesses was a formidable jewellery company with few rivals to match it, producing exquisite pieces of fine
Here is a beautiful example of jewellery produced by S. Blanckensee & Sons in the 19th Century. It is a Mizpah ring made using three types of gold - yellow, pink and green (the rarest of colours in Victorian jewellery. The application and engraving of the ring shows the innovative techniques the firm had developed.
“infamy, Infamy! They’ve all got it in for me!”
As the success of the family business grew, the firm managed to attract the attention of the rather unwanted kind on several occasions. There are contemporary reports in the press of the Blanckensee family being the subject of robberies when travelling around the country to show their wares to regional retail jewellers and of two burglaries in their Frederick Street premises in quick succession:
“On Monday a case containing jewellery valued at £1,000 [approx £130,000 in today’s money] was abstracted from the trap of a Mr. Blankensee, principal of a Birmingham firm of manufacturing jewellers, which was standing outside a shop in Tottenham Court-road, London. The coachman stood at the horse's head, and a policeman was standing within a few yards of the end of the vehicle at the time.”
Source: The Pembrokeshire Herald and General Advertiser - 27th January 1882.
“For the second time within six weeks the premises in Frederick-street occupied by Messrs. J. Blanckensee and Co., and Messrs. Kirwan and Co., have been broken into during the dinner hour. In the former instance the thieves seem to have been disturbed, and not much damage was done. This time, however, they seem to have got well to work, and ransacked the places pretty thoroughly. Fortunately, however, there were not many valuables lying about, and their utmost find was a few cigars, which doubtless they appreciated. Several oddments of value which were exposed seem to have escaped attention.”
Source: The Watchmaker, Jeweller and Silversmith - 1st August 1893
“A daring robbery from a London railway station of £6,000 [approx £760,000 in today’s money] worth of jewels is reported. It was made at King's Cross Station of the Great Northern Railway. The victim is Mr. Blanckensee, of Messrs. S. Blanckensee and Son, Ltd., wholesale manufacturing jewellers, of Frederick-street, Great Hampton-street, Birmingham, manufacturing jewellers, with a London office at Ely-place, Holborn. Mr. Harry Blanckensee is well known on the road as a traveller in high-class goods. He arrived from Hull about 8 o'clock on Friday night and handed in at a temporary cloakroom close by the entrance to the Tube Railway at King's Cross Station a brass-bound leather case containing his samples, valued at £6,000.”
Source: Llais Llafur – 28th February 1914
The end of the Blanckensee jewellery name
The end of the story of the firm is rather unremarkable in many ways. During the Second World War, the firm turned its attentions to general engineering in support of the war effort and, by all accounts, had considerable success in the field. Following the war, the firm continued to specialise in engineering alongside iits jewellery business until, in 1952, a Mr Podolsky acquired the jewellery elements of the business. This meant the acquisition of S. Blanckensee & Son LTD and the Albion Chain Company, bringing these businesses under the Podolsky brand for the first time and really spelling the end of the Blanckensee name in jewellery manufacturing but not it’s legacy for fine jewellery and innovation!