I was doing research on The Hartford Manufacturing Company (for a separate post on silverplate manufacturers of Hartford, CT) and came across a brief mention of E.W. Sperry in the 1856 book “Leading Pursuits and Leading Men: A Treatise on the Principal Trades” edited by Edwin Troxell Freedley. Within this book it states that Mr. Sperry claims that the very first German silver forks made in this country of rolled metal were made by him in 1845-46 for Wm. B. Cowles & Company of Spoonville, Conn.
It’s “Spoonville” that caught my attention. Where was it and what was the history of Wm. B. Cowles & Company?
So the search for Spoonville began. And the search took me to East Granby, Connecticut. Spoonville was a small village on the northeast side of the Farmington river about 10-12 miles north of Hartford, a section of East Granby. Before it was known as “Spoonville”, it was called “Turkey Hills”.
The bridge that crossed the Farmington River was called the “Scotland Bridge” (later called the “Spoonville Bridge”).
So we know where “Spoonville” is. Now I needed to do some research on Wm. B. Coles.
William Brown Cowles was born May 13, 1813 and died October 31, 1887. He was the son of Whitfield Cowles who was born in 1764 and died November 19, 1840. Whitfield is a very interesting individual. He studied theology at Yale and became a licensed minister in 1790.
“Biographical sketches of the graduates of Yale with annals of the college history”, v. 4 by Franklin Bowditch Dexter, 1907 provides the following:
Having been “removed” from the ministry, Whitfield began other endeavors. According to “Century of Silver, 1847-1947, Connecticut Yankees and a Noble Metal” by Earl Chapin May, Whitfield made the first cotton cloth produced in the vicinity, ran a wire factory and a peppermint distillery, sold clocks throughout the South, and finally essayed the trade of silverplating. He was certainly a very busy man and, it appears, a very successful man.
Whitfield “essayed” the trade of silverplating, according to Mr. May. I have to admit, I had to look this word up in the dictionary. “Essayed” as it is used here means “to make an often tentative or experimental effort to perform”.
According to Rainwater’s book “American Silverplate”, “In 1832 Cowles took his sons into business under the name Whitfield Cowles & Sons. This business led to the first real development in commercial silverplating in this country.” When Whitfield died in 1840, the Rainwater book goes on to say that one or more of his sons continued the business under the name of Cowles and Company. My understanding is that Madison and Gilbert were the two sons who went into business with their father, Whitfield. When Whitfield died as well as his son, Madison, the son Gilbert no longer was apparently interested in the business and gave it to his younger brother, William Brown Cowles.
I found the following article at http://granby-eastgranby.patch.com/groups/around-town/p/spoonville-early-industry-on-granbys-waterways which I found interesting on this subject:
It seems that when William took over, people interested in learning the new process of electroplating began to congregate in Turkey Hills. First some references on electro plating.
Some “interesting” reading:
The following is an excerpt from “Our Country’s Wealth and Influence” (see electroplate reference list above) an 1882 book on electroplating and Cowles. This book mentions that while this company was not successful, it paved the way for others:
From the Granby article above, we see the connection to Birmingham, England. It was in August 1840 that John Wright received British patent number 8447, “Electro-deposition of silver, gold, and copper”, assigned to G. R. & H. Elkington. So in the United States, Cowles was one of the few right in step, attracting those individuals with previous experience in the manufacture of coin-silver as well as those with no experience. The Rainwater book suggests some of the more important names later involved in the silverplating industry, explaining there were many others not identified. Can you imagine the conversations between these people interested in something so new that might have taken place not only at the mill but also the boarding house Whitfield had constructed earlier.
So William Brown Cowles and his battery operated experimental silver plating “school” seems to be the impetus to creating the industry which we are so familiar with today.
The following information comes from ” findagrave.com “:
And this picture also came from ” findagrave.com “:
From what I understand, the Rogers Brothers took over W. B. Cowles and now we have Coles Manufacturing Company. Following are some excerpts from various resources:
After all this, which was tedious to say the least, I have a few questions:
1. Where did the batteries come from? Who’s idea was that, Whitfield’s?
2. Why in Spoonville? I find it interesting that so many like minds gathered at this time in that place.
3. Could the following mark, Cowles Mfg., be Rogers Brothers earliest mark?
And, finally, these are some Whitfield Cowles references: