J. B. Williams: From Soap to Silver

The back of the little silver plated demitasse spoon was marked “WB 1900”.  That mark was unfamiliar to me and, of course, my research began.  I determined that “WB” stood for Williams Brothers Manufacturing Co.  (UPDATE: This is incorrect. “WB 1900” is a trademark of Wallace Brothers. I will be writing a separate post on this subject. ) Further search indicated that Williams Brothers Manufacturing Co. had been located in Glastonbury, Connecticut.  It was formed in 1880 by brothers, James Baker and William Stuart Williams.  The company was very successful and in business for approximately 70 years, until approximately 1950.

For those of you unfamiliar with the greater Hartford area of Connecticut, Glastonbury is on the other side (east side) of the Connecticut River and just a little bit south of Hartford.  It surprised me that there had been a silver plate manufacturer in the bucolic town of Glastonbury.  When I think of Glastonbury, I think of gorgeous historic houses and apple and peach orchards.  I didn’t think of factory buildings.  But I’m wiser now.

The demitasse spoon is listed at my Etsy shop and can be found here:  https://www.etsy.com/listing/106533042/williams-bros-silver-plate-demitasse

Williams Brothers Silver Plate Demitasse Spoon

Williams Brothers Silver Plate Demitasse Spoon

Who, exactly, were the Williams Brothers?  I found that although they were successful manufacturers of silver plated goods, they gained fame for their soap!  Have you heard of Aqua Velva and Williams ‘Lectric Shave?  Never mind their original product, “Williams’ Genuine Yankee Soap”, the first successfully manufactured soap in the world for use in shaving mugs.  And it’s still being made and sold today!  That’s them.

James Baker Williams was born in 1818 in Lebanon, Connecticut.  At the age of 16 he began working at a general store and apothocary in Manchester.  Four years later he was offered half interest in the store, which he accepted.  And two years after that, in 1840, he sold his interest in the store but retained his share of the drug department.  He went into partnership with his brother George W. and that’s when he began manufacturing the shaving soap.  It’s evident from the image below that Mr. Williams did not use his own product!

James Baker Williams

James Baker Williams

A very detailed account of James B. Williams and his family can be found in an 1898 book entitled “Men of Progress:  Biographical sketches and portraits of leaders in business and professional life in and of the State of Connecticut; comp. under the supervision of Richard Herndon; ed. by Richard Burton 1898.  Boston: New England Magazine 1898”.  This book can be found in Google Books.  A section of this account follows:

1898 Article on James B. Williams

1898 Article on James B. Williams

Around 1880 James Williams’ son, David, started his own company which manufactured “Ivorine” soap.  Within five years David’s company was merged with his father’s company.  The “Ivorine” name was subsequently sold to Proctor & Gamble who manufactured their version, “Ivory Soap”.

Ivorine Soap Advertisement

Ivorine Soap Advertisement

James Williams supervised many aspects of the company until shortly before his death in 1907 at the age of eighty-eight. The Williams family continued to manage the company there in Glastonbury until it was sold in 1957 to Pharmaceuticals, Inc. The new owner, maker of Geritol, Serutan and Sominex, moved the Williams Company to Cranford, New Jersey in 1960, adopting the name J.B. Williams Company.

I have an Etsy listing with three original J. B. Williams’ Shaving Soap ads that were taken from 1900 and 1901 issues of Youth’s Companion:

Williams' Shaving Soap Ad "This Puzzle Free"

Williams’ Shaving Soap Ad “This Puzzle Free”

Williams' Shaving Soap "These Faces Show" Ad

Williams' Shaving Soap "Prize Game" Ad

Williams’ Shaving Soap “Prize Game” Ad

The ads shown above can be found here at my Etsy shop: https://www.etsy.com/listing/176687779/3-original-j-b-williams-shaving-soap-ads

The J. B. Williams’ plant in Connecticut was taken over by ten former Williams’ employees who wanted to preserve the old soap-making process, and became Glastonbury Toiletries.  The firm made shaving soaps, bathroom soaps, castile soap, aerosol shaving creams, body lotions, and shampoos.  Its largest contract was with the J. B. Williams Company.

In 1971, the J.B. Williams Company was sold to Nabisco, and in 1977, Glastonbury Toiletries closed. The original 1847 factory is still standing, and, in 1979, was converted into a condominium complex with part used as the Glastonbury Board of Education office. In 1983 it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

It is my understanding that James Williams was suspicious of the stock market and preferred to invest in the local economy.  One of his investments was in the Curtisville Manufacturing Company factory building located in the Naubuc section of Glastonbury.

The Curtisville Manufacturing Company, which produced German silver products, including flatware, hollowware and spectacles, was originally started by Frederick Curtis sometime in 1834 and was located in Hartford at 1 Asylum Street.  About 1846 the company moved to Glastonbury.  In 1848 Curtis officially went into partnership with his brother, Joseph S. Curtis and the comany was then called F. Curtis & Co.    Around 1850 the plant was located on approximately 18 acres of land on Salmon Brook.  The company was reorganized under the name of Curtisville Manufacturing Co. on September 18, 1854.  By 1857 the area occupied by the factory was called Curtisville, with its own postmaster.

I also discovered that in 1846 Frederick Curtis purchased Blome’s Cigar Factory which had been in operation in Glastonbury since at least 1820.

Curtisville

Curtisville

The artist of the painting shown above is James Rabbath, Jr.; it was painted in 1855.  The focal point is the factory complex with the larger of the buildings being used for the plating process.

The Curtis Manufacturing Company was undercapitalized and by 1860 was insolvent.  It was reorganized by Thomas Vail, who continued the manufacture of Britannia ware and silver plated products.  With the advent of the Civil Ware, he reorganized the firm as the “Connecticut Arms and Manufacturing Company”.  A return to peacetime production after the war failed to save the company from bankruptcy in 1869.

In 1870 the property was held jointly by the banks and the American Sterling Co. of Glastonbury until it was purchased by J. B. Williams around 1880 and was known as the Williams Brothers Manufacturing Company.  The J. B. Williams Company purchased silver plated flatware from the Williams Brothers Manufacturing Company to offer as premiums in their boxes of soap.

I realized after doing this research that I had a souvenir spoon from the 1892 World’s Fair that was marked with the American Sterling Co. mark “AM’N STERLING CO.”  So Williams Manufacturing continued to use the American Sterling mark long after they had purchased the Curtisville plant as this mark is on an 1892 World’s Fair souvenir spoon.

1892 World's Fair Columbus Silver Plated Souvenir Spoon

1892 World’s Fair Columbus Silver Plated Souvenir Spoon

American Sterling Co. Mark

American Sterling Co. Mark

This American Sterling Co. World’s Fair spoon can be found here at my Etsy shop:  https://www.etsy.com/listing/96927964/1892-worlds-fair-columbus-silver-plate

My search had begun with a little demitasse spoon marked “WB 1900” and ended with another little spoon marked “AM’N Sterling Co.”  And both came from the same Williams factory in Glastonbury, CT.

I have since added another American Sterling item to my shop:

American Sterling Co. "Calla" Pattern Youth Fork

American Sterling Co. 1883 “Calla” Pattern Youth Fork

This “Calla” fork can be found here at my Etsy shop: https://www.etsy.com/listing/176291636/american-sterling-co-silver-plated-youth

An excellent blog post on J. B. Williams history, advertising and targeting of the female audience can be found here:  http://collectingvintagecompacts.blogspot.com/2012/09/a-brief-flirtation-with-vanity-boxes-j.html#!/2012/09/a-brief-flirtation-with-vanity-boxes-j.html

Detailed information on the J. B. Williams Historic District in Glastonbury can be found here: http://www.livingplaces.com/CT/Hartford_County/Glastonbury_Town/J_B_Williams_Company_Historic_District.html

Additional info on James B. Williams can also be found at these sites:

http://doddcenter.uconn.edu/asc/findaids/JBWilliams/MSS19670001.html

http://www.glasct.org/index.aspx?page=42

http://www.hsgct.org/history.htm

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This entry was posted in CT, Curtisville Manufacturing, Frederick Curtis, Glastonbury CT, J. B. Williams, James Baker Williams, Naubuc, shaving soap, silver plate, silver plate manufacturer, silver plated, Williams Manufacturing, Williams Silver, Williams Soap and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to J. B. Williams: From Soap to Silver

  1. KerryCan says:

    You turn some fascinating tidbits with your research!

  2. Jim Williams says:

    Great article. I wish I had learned more about the family and the business when those who remembered were still around.

    – J. B. Williams (3rd)

  3. Blanche Pinson says:

    I was curious about a beautiful Williams Bros. silver plate pattern and I discovered your article. Thank you for your thorough work. I can tell that you were interested in following the saga, and I was wonderfully sidetracked by the interesting history. (I love the artistry which I have seen so far in their patterns.)

  4. Sharon Williams says:

    Thanks for this post. I am related to J.B. Williams, although I’m not sure if I’m a direct line descendent or more distant relative. I know both my maternal and paternal lineage trace to Glastonbury, CT and I was told growing up that I was related to the Williams of J.B. Williams, Co. Great to see some of the history. Perhaps your previous poster, J.B. Williams III could help enlighten me? I grew up in the Boston, Mass. area.
    I will check out your Etsy site — some very interesting items there!

  5. Kate says:

    Hi! In your research did you happen to come across any more information on the group who took over the soap company after JW Williams – Glastonbury Toiletries?

    • queenofsienna says:

      Hello! No, I don’t know much on Glastonbury Toiletries other than they were in business for 17 years or so. Sorry…

  6. Pingback: W. B. 1900 Star | Behind The Bar

  7. Pingback: Williams Brothers | Behind The Bar

  8. vicky says:

    i have a nut picker with hartford silver co A1

  9. I was just researching a small porringer marked “silver plate by Wallace for the J.B. Williams Company” and while doing so, I came across your wonderful information about J.B. Williams. I live in Glastonbury and found your research beyond what I have come across by local people. I still know nothing about the Wallace porringer, but I do know a great deal about J.B. Williams Company … all because of you. I shall pay great attention to your Etsy offerings. It is evident you love what you do. I research items donated to our local charity and love writing little stories about each item that is at least vintage. With the stories I average a price and the item is not longer a discard but a treasure with a bit of history. Bottom line, our charity, The Village for Families and Children in Hartford, benefit greatly. I know my porringer will do very well because of the information you have provided me. I thank you so much. You made my day!!! Jerry Dean

    • queenofsienna says:

      Jerry, thank you…your kind comments have made my day! I have found info on your Wallace / J. B. Williams porringer. I can’t attach a photo here so I will email it to you.

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