A Complete History Of Whiting & Davis
Welcome to the complete history of Whiting & Davis, in this extensive guide on the history of this esteemed company we are covering the following topics:
1. When was the Whiting & Davis Manufacturing Company formed?
2. Who formed the company?
3. When was the making of mesh purses and accessories automated?
4. Who invented these machines?
5. What are Dresden / Baby Fine mesh purses?
This post includes:
Patent numbers of Whiting & Davis machines and jewellery designs.
Patent drawings & descriptions of Whiting & Davis designs and also patents owned by Wade Davis & Company, the company that preceded them.
J R MATHEWSON OF WRENTHAM MASSACHUSETTS PATENT DESIGN
Wade Davis & Company:
In 1876 William H. Wade, Edward P. Davis and Louis Heckman founded the manufacturing and jewellery concern known as Wade Davis & Company. Souvenir spoons, jewellery, sterling silver stick pins, bar pins, earrings and bracelets were among items listed for sale when the company began trading in August.
The image above shows the invention of James R Mathewson.
In 1880 Charles A. Whiting began his employment at Wade Davis & Company. His first role was that of office and errand boy for which he was paid 9 cents an hour.
In 1881 Louis Heckman applied for a patent of a design of hoop earrings that would not easily open and fall out. The hoop at the back would clip into a slot, which is shown as d on the diagrams above. The publication date was August 9th 1881.
Louis Heckman stated in his patent application:
The main advantages are, first, that the barb d is dispensed with, thus preventing the liability of tearing the flesh in removing the earring, and facilitating placing it in the ear; second, that the ear-ring is much more easily clasped and unclasped, little or no springing of the car-wire being required; third, that the hoop ends may be made nearer together, and thus present the appearance of passing-through the lobe of the ear.
The address of the firm is noted as being Wrentham, Massachusetts.
During his early days working for Wade Davis Charles Whiting was given training to become one of the highly skilled artisans. After serving time crafting products for sale he was also given training to become a salesman. His hard work and dedication earned him a promotion to salesman foreman. Ten years after he began working for the firm he had risen to the rank of representative for the New York office. He was twenty-six years of age.
WADE DAVIS & COMPANY 1890 PATENT
In 1890 James R. Mathewson filed for his patent on behalf of Wade Davis & Company. This relates to the class of ornamental bracelets in which the links consist of shells or hollow balls of any suitable shape.... slipped over and strung upon a spring which supports them and gives shape to the bracelet.
This design was patented on behalf of Wade Davis & Company on May 13 1890.
His claim is shown below:
What I claim and desire to secure by Letters Patent, is - In a bracelet of the character described, hollow links or shells, as A, provided with two opposite holes, (a) the former being a small hole and the latter a large hole, said links or shells being arranged or strung on a spring, as described, whereby the large opening.... overlaps or takes in a portion of the next link having the small hole (a), thus keeping the spring concealed, substantially as set forth.
ANTIQUE MESH PURSE WITH SIMPLE TWIST CLASP
During the year of 1892, Charles Whiting used the skills he gained during this time working at Wade & Davis to handcraft what is said to be the first Whiting & Davis mesh purse. He was using the ancient skill of crafting chainmail to make luxurious accessories! The purse was tiny, only three inches square. A simple twist closure ensured it could be securely closed and opened with relative ease.
It is said that the first mesh purses were made from precious metals.
Mesh bags are deceptively tough. These purses were made out of the same sort of metal links used in armour. Some people refer to them as armour or armor mesh purses. In the late 1800s, the mediaeval look was all the rage, so chainmail-like coin purses that attached to a chatelaine were stylish accessories for Victorian ladies.
When was the Whiting & Davis Manufacturing Company formed and who formed the company?
In 1896 Charles Whiting joined forces with Edward P. Davis to raise the capital needed to purchase Wade Davis & Company. The firm was subsequently renamed the Whiting & Davis Manufacturing Company.
QUEEN VICTORIA'S ENGAGEMENT RING
Iconic jewellery from the Victorian era inspired Whiting & Davis.
Queen Victoria's famous serpent engagement ring set a trend for snake-themed jewellery. The 18 ct gold ring was set with rubies which formed the eyes, diamonds for the mouth and a large emerald was set in the middle of the head. The significance of the emerald is that it was Victoria’s birthstone (May). It is said that Prince Albert designed the ring. Since Roman times the serpent has symbolised everlasting love.
WHITING & DAVIS SNAKE BRACELET PATENT DRAWINGS
On January 2 1902 a patent application was filed by Edward P. Davis regarding this snake bracelet.
-What I claim is- 1. A bracelet formed of sections pivoted to -ether at their ends, one of said sections having secured therein a spring which extends into the adjacent section in its extreme open position, a cam the end of the adjacent section which engages with said spring and holds the two sections in the open and closed positions, and means which limit the extent of the opening movement, substantially as described.
2. A bracelet formed of hollow sections pivoted together at their ends, one of said sections having secured therein a spring having a free end that extends into the hollow end of the adjacent section both while closed and is while in the extreme open position, a cam fixed to said adjacent section which engages with said spring and holds the spring close to the inside walls of the said sections when in their extreme open position, substantially as described.
3. A bracelet formed of curved tubular sections pivoted together, a spring secured inside 704,243 of one of said tubular sections and having a free end which extends across into the inside of the opposing section when the joint is in its extreme open position, a cam. fixed to said opposing section, and having a projection the extreme end of which engages the said spring when the joint is in its extreme open position and holds the said spring close to the inside walls of the sections, and means which limit the extent of opening of said sections, substantially as described.
In testimony whereof, I have affixed my signature in presence of two witnesses.
EDWARD P. DAVIS.
FRED B. BYRAM, WALTER E. COLLINS.
The publication date was July 8 1902.
The document lists - Edward P. Davis of Wrentham, Massachusetts and his co-partner, Charles A. Whiting of Brooklyn, New York.
WHITING & DAVIS PATENT US704243A
At least one version of the Whiting & Davis snake bracelet was available for sale as fine jewellery. This elegant bracelet was made from sterling silver.
The snake motif was so popular that it would be used throughout the years in both their fine and costume jewellery lines. As well as bracelets, rings, necklaces and earrings were also embellished with serpents.
WHITING & DAVIS PATENT DRAWING
Whiting & Davis became market leaders through hard work, dedication and innovation.
On the 27th September 1902 Edward Davis filed a patent application for his invention that would allow easy opening of a bracelet by using hinges fitted on each side. Bracelet was unusual for the time, as the hinges were seamless and a spring, rather than a clasp, was incorporated into the design. The patent was published on 14 April 1903.
In the 1910s a double-headed snake bracelet became part of the collection. The firm's artisans finished this piece in enamel. The inspiration for this design could be attributed to Cleopatra rather than Queen Victoria.
When was the making of mesh purses and accessories automated?
Up until 1909 ring mesh accessories were entirely crafted by hand. This slow and laborious work made products very expensive. Some of the ring mesh bags were made from sterling silver and gilded silver.
Occasionally purses and bags were made from solid gold. Very few people could afford such luxuries but the demand for mesh purses was high and so more affordable bags were made from metal.
Nevertheless, the lack of automation meant that these accessories were costly to make both in terms of time and labour.
Charles Whiting engaged the services of the inventor Alphonso Comstock Pratt to mechanise the mesh manufacturing process. On 10 March 1909 A.C. Pratt lodged a patent application with the US Patent Office for a machine for making mesh links. On 8 February 1910, the patent (US948615A) was published.
WHITING & DAVIS PATENT US1414829A
On December 27 1920 a patent application for the firm was made for a machine making mesh link. On May 2 1922 the patent (US1414829A) for this machine was published. The inventor was A.C. Pratt.
MESH MAKING MACHINE PATENT NO. US1414829A
MESH MAKING MACHINE PATENT NO. US1414829A
It appears as though Whiting & Davis were aided in the automation of their plant by at least three inventors.
MACHINE MAKING MESH LINKS INVENTOR A.C. PRATT (US1414829A)
Patents were lodged on behalf of the firm for mesh cutting, mesh link making and also machines which would feed the mesh into the other machines and hold it fast.
The machines were capable of making 400 mesh rings per minute. These machines were instrumental in the company becoming the leading maker of mesh accessories.
In 1921 another inventor, Richard H. Berkeley, applied for a patent for a machine for cutting mesh link. The patent (US1440762A) was published on January 2 1923.
MESH CUTTING MACHINE
Inventor Richard H. Berkeley
Richard H. Berkeley describes his design in the following paragraph.
A machine constructed in accordance with the consists of a support for the fabric to be cult, a cutter which may be in the form of a rotary saw and a means for feeding the fabric progressively over the surface of the support - to carry the rings of one row of the fabric successively into engages with the cutter.
Richard Berkeley noted that the link mesh used extensively in the jewelry trade, and particularly fabric of the finer quality having rings of small size, is comparatively fragile and the rings of the fabric must not be subjected to any substantial stain (from the machine).
He described the machine as consisting of a single-wheel arranged adjacent to and in U - plane - with the rotary saw so that it will feed the fabric to the cutter.... Preferably the teeth of the feeding wheel are spaced apart to correspond to the spacing of the links of the mesh being cut.
The third inventor involved in the mechanisation of the mesh making process was Oscar Soderstrom of Plainville, Massachusetts. The images below show the patent drawings for his mesh cutting machine.
The patent (US1440845A) was published on January 2 1923.
MESH CUTTING MACHINE PATENT US1440845A
Inventor Oscar Soderstrom
MESH CUTTING MACHINE PATENT US1440845A
Now the machines were patented and in use, Whiting & Davis began to dominate the market of mesh jewellery and accessories.
At first, the firm only had a few working machines. Eventually, the company had five hundred working machines and a highly skilled workforce which ensured the company was history in the making. Such a sound footing that the company is still in business today.
Their huge success in America led to expansion into Canada. The firm opened an office in Quebec c.1914.
SUPPORT FOR LINK MESH FABRIC PATENT US1470019A
On June 17 1921 the inventor, Fred Harris Lynds, of North Attleboro submitted his patent application on behalf of Whiting & Davis for a support for link mesh fabric. The machine fed fabric, in this case, mesh, into link making machines and held it in place. The publishing date of the patent (US1470019A) was October 9 1923.
Information registered at the US Patent Office gives the names of three inventors who designed machines for the Whiting & Davis Manufacturing Company.
Who invented these machines?
Alphonso Comstock Pratt
Richard H. Berkeley
High-quality accessories could now be produced to supply the demand.
Whilst the thought of armour or chain may not be that inspiring.
Whiting & Davis accessories are!
Gilded frames, vibrant enamels and gorgeous Art Deco designs ensure that these antiques are highly collectible today.
What are Dresden / Baby Fine Mesh Enamel Purses?
Mesh handbags made of fine wire metal mesh have been around for a long time, but they hit their peak in popularity in the Art Deco era of the 1920s.
From 1910 to the mid-1930s mesh purses were what the fashionable girl about town needed to accessorise her smart day or evening attire.
Dresden or Baby Fine metal wirework mesh purses were made from tiny rings of wire joined together in chain fashion. Dresden bags have the appearance of a watercolour painting. This process was achieved by a stencilling method of applying enamel paint. The rings of the mesh are subtly colored in watercolour-like enamel paint creating a pattern. The Baby Fine mesh bags, also known as Dresden mesh, had softer hues and a more muted appearance.
They were all decorated through silk screening accomplished over several days – one colour dried for 24 hours before another colour was applied. The effect was a delicate beautiful purse that looked like a watercolour painting. Although this process was both laborious & expensive the bags were as sought-after then as they are today. They are highly collectible. Production of Dresden mesh purses ceased in the 1940s with the onset of WWII.
There are even retro 1970s & 1980s mesh purses but they look different from the antique bags. They are a modern version of the silver-tone & gold-tone metal mesh purses which Whiting & Davis started to produce in the 1930s. Specialist dealers & collectors would easily be able to tell a retro bag from an antique or vintage bag. The most obvious way to date an item where no other identifying brand names are evident is patina. This is usually most visible on the chain handle. Also, the style of the handle is a great aid in the dating of bags & purses.
The invention patented & developed by A.C. Pratt of Newark, NJ of mesh making machines was also developed in Germany by Dresden & Weiss using Pratt's designs, which caused some legal problems. Whiting & Davis owned the patents to this machinery & eventually they acquired all the Dresden machinery.
Wire or chain mesh purses became a large part of the 'Roaring Twenties'. The major producers in the United States were Whiting & Davis and the Mandalian Mfg. Co. These bags were also made in many other countries such as France and England.
The gorgeous gilt frame and enamel are still vibrant and detailed. Both sides of the enamel purse are equally beautiful. They match perfectly & the glorious colours appear just like a watercolour painting. The frame & chain handle are gilded. The frame and closure are such wonderful examples of the Art Deco era - embossed geometric shapes arranged in perfect symmetry. The bag is lined with pale yellow silk.
Some antique Whiting & Davis bags have very stylish frames which are equally as interesting as the patterns crafted on to the mesh. It is easy to understand why this brand has such a big following.
We hope to shed some light on the methods employed by this company to create their delightful accessories.
On April 7 1919 Harry Bradley Rowan applied to patent his new and useful Improvements in Handbags. This invention was patented on February 1 1921. Patent number 1367207.
Harry Bradley Rowan was the assignor to Whiting & Davis Company of Plainville Massachusetts.
He describes his invention as:
Thomas H. Rammel was one of many inventors who sold the rights to their inventions to the Whiting & Davis Company. As we can see from the images above he designed an elegant locking clasp.
WHITING & DAVIS PATENTED LOCKING CLASP
The clasp shown above was patented on December 11 1923.
The inventor describes how to open the clasp as follows:
Whiting & Davis ornamental mesh bags are highly collectible.
Charles A. Whiting applied to patent a Method of Producing Ornamental Mesh Fabric on August 13 1927. The patent (1678966) was granted on July 31 1928.
His description of the patented process follows:
This invention relates to the manufacture of metal mesh fabric and is concerned more particularly with the production of ornamental mesh in which selected portions have an appearance different from that of other portions so that the finished product may resemble a colored textile fabric, tapestry or the like.
Charles A. Whiting continues:
In accordance with this invention, the desired ornamental effect may be secured in numerous ways, as, for example, by the application of colouring material, such as enamel, to selected links of the fabric, and if desired, the entire fabric may be given a ground colouring by means of such enamel, and selected links may thereafter be given other colors in accordance with the desired pattern.
This invention is of particular utility in the application of ornamentation to mesh of the “fish-scale” type which consists of longitudinal and transverse alternate rows of rings and cruciform links…
Charles A. Whitings description of decorating the mesh fabric
While spraying increased productivity, the process of applying the stencils was highly skilled work.
Fig. 7 shows the masking (stencil) plate in place over the mesh
Charles A. Whiting goes on to explain the difficulties experienced when embellishing mesh with enamel:
In using the stencil plate, the plate must be placed exactly in position with respect to the mesh, so that only the desired links are exposed, and the mounting of the mesh in position to be treated is a difficult operation which cannot be performed except with the utmost attention and skill on the part of the operator. As mesh is highly flexible, it is difficult to hold the piece of mesh with the fabric fully extended…
Fig. 9 is a sectional view on an enlarged scale showing the application of color to a single link of the fabric.
In this document the quotations from the inventors are shown in American English and our observations are in English, hence the differences in spelling. The ground color means the background colour. The application of the background colour would take place after a thorough cleaning of the mesh. Frequently, the mesh would also be given a surface plating of a precious metal by an electrolytic plating operation. The mesh would be cleaned again. The ground color was applied by immersing the mesh fabric in the enamel or spraying.
As you are probably aware, the Whiting & Davis Company also made beautiful jewellery.
Another Charles A. Whiting's patented design is for a bracelet chain. This patent was published on October 1 1929.
Charles A. Whiting describes his invention as:
The object of this invention to provide a bracelet chain which is simple in structure, strong and of pleasing appearance…
We hope you enjoyed reading about the wonderfully inventive firm.
During the 1930s some mesh purses were decorated with images of famous movie stars!
THE CLARK GABLE BAG
The Clark Gable was offered at auction online in October 1999 reaching a high bid of $1526.
THE RENEE ADOREE BAG
A Renee Adoree bag was auctioned in March 2006.
After 21 bids, the bag closed at $2124.
As well as employing first-rate inventors, jewellers and artisans, the company commissioned famous designers to create the most luxurious and sought-after accessories.
PAUL POIRET WHITING & DAVIS BAG ADVERTISEMENT 1929
Paul Poiret and Elsa Schiaparelli both made designs for Whiting & Davis.
PAUL POIRET (APRIL 20 1879 -APRIL 30 1944)
Paul Poiret was described as The King of Fashion. His influence caused a brief revival of interest in the orient. His creations had an oriental and exotic appearance. It is said that he was the first to design without the rigid corseting of the female torso.
PAUL POIRET FITTING A DRESS
Photo - Underwood & Underwood Corbis
In 1901 Poiret joined the House of Worth. During his time at Worth, he was asked by the son of the founder, Gaston Worth to create what Worth called the fried potatoes. These were practical garments that were side dishes to Worth’s main course of truffles.
The truffles were the fabulous creations for which the House of Worth was famed - evening wear and gowns fit for royalty.
The simple garments created by Poiret were not to everyone's tastes.
One of his creations was a black wool coat with straight lines like a kimono. It was not as elegant and fitted as one client was expecting. The client, the Russian princess, Bariatinsky was not impressed.
She declared - What horror; with us, when there are low fellows who run after our sledges and annoy us, we have their heads cut off, and we put them in sacks just like that.
In 1903 Poiret founded his own fashion house situated at 5 rue Auber. In 1906 he moved to 37 rue Pasquier. Three years later he relocated to 9 avenue d’Antin.
In 1911 he diversified into cosmetics and perfume. This new venture was named after his eldest daughter, Rosine.
Another outlet for his talents was his interior design and decorative arts business which he named after his second daughter, Martine. The location of the premises was 107 Faubourg Saint-Honoré, this building also housed his cosmetic and perfume collection.
THE LAMPSHADE DRESS
In 1913 Poiret designed the lampshade dress. This dress was originally worn by a dancer in the Imperial Russian Ballet. The dress was a tunic over a hobbled skirt which restricted the movement very much in the same way as the narrow width of traditional Chinese costumes and also the bound feet of Chinese women. Both of which prevented free movement and induced a shuffling gait.
POIRET COSTUMES FOR LE MINARET
An Orientalist Themed Play
In the 1920s and 30s Orientalism came to prominence once more. The most fashionable jewellery, bags and vanities were adorned with Chinese patterns, images and materials associated with Eastern Asia such as jade and oriental pearls.
Art Deco patterns were also tremendously fashionable. As you can see from the advertisement below.
POIRET POUCH WHITING & DAVIS BAGS
Poiret lent his name to the Poiret Pouch which he designed in the mid-1920S. It was a ‘chic crossbody clutch’ with a ‘triangle Art Deco frame’. His designs were said to have ‘Parisian allure’ and without a doubt, they were stylish and often groundbreaking.
Such was the popularity of these mesh purses that stars of the screen and stage would be seen both off and on set with them. In the 1920s Whiting & Davis made Broadway theatre curtains. These luxurious mesh creations attracted much admiration and later actresses would be draped in dresses made from similar materials for their red carpet appearances.
These gorgeous and stylish bags were very popular with the Flappers. So jealous were others of their mesh purses that they often had them engraved with their names to prevent theft!
The most sought-after bags were those with screen-printing or enamel Art Deco patterns.
Hand in Hand with Fashion was the company slogan and even in the 21st century Whiting & Davis gowns and accessories are seen as luxurious and appealing to those wishing to make a grand entrance.
In the 1930s the firm commissioned the famous designer, Elsa Schiaparelli, who introduced more modern designs to the collection.
During the Depression, designers switched to base metals like copper and the style almost disappeared during the rations of World War II. During this era many factories were given over to the war effort and so production all but ceased. Whiting & Davis could not find the materials they needed to continue production and they also aided the government by helping with the war effort.
But the mesh bags made a comeback in the late 1940s and 1950s, as stars like Ingrid Bergman and Jane Russell sported them in the movies.
When a particularly spectacular dress was needed for a film part, they were created as custom commissions by Whiting & Davis.
JANE RUSSEL WEARING A WHITING & DAVIS DRESS IN THE FILM MACAO (1952)
Photo - RKO Pictures
The firm is well known for its use of metal mesh fabric in safety apparel.
It supplies mesh for scientific, industrial, architectural and also home decor applications.
Since the 1970s, they have made mesh jewellery designed by Elsa Peretti for Tiffany & Co.
Christie Brinkley covers Cosmopolitan in a Whiting & Davis metal mesh dress.
Even in the twenty-first century, many of the most famous stars have chosen Whiting & Davis to complete their look!
Lady Gaga is shown with a silver-tone Whiting & Davis mesh bag.
United States Patent Office.
The British Museum