Reed & Barton - Return to a Gilded Age

Written By: Rebecca Hyman

As you walk through the legendary silver doors of the former Reed & Barton factory in Taunton, Massachusetts, you step into a different time and place - a Great Gatsby era of elegance and glamour when men donned dinner jackets and women wrapped themselves in fur and jewels before stepping out for the evening

Walk up the art deco staircase to the executive dining room and you can almost hear the crystal glasses clinking across the decades.This is where the silver barons of Taunton wined and dined captains of industry from around the world. It was a time when champagne was chilled in sterling ice buckets, every course had its own utensils, cigars were stored in monogrammed mahogany humidors, and Reed & Barton silversmiths were in the thick of it all.

“When you’d walk down Fifth Avenue and look in the high-end shop windows, one of the names you’d see was Reed & Barton,” said Taunton historian and author Bill Hanna.

There are more than two dozen buildings on the historic 14.5-acre site of the world-renowned silversmith, which closed its Taunton operation in May 2015 after nearly 200 years in business.

Acuity Management purchased the property in December 2015 with an eye toward re-inventing it as a mixed-use legacy destination that pays homage to the property’s illustrious past and takes advantage of its distinctive features. The possibilities are wide open, including loft-style apartments, a micro brewery and professional office space, said Taunton native Sarah DaRosa, who has been working with Acuity on the project. The Reed & Barton property is a gorgeous mix of Restoration Hardware meets Newport Mansions – only it’s all original and authentic. Just when you think the buildings are typical New England factories, with their rugged-industrial-chic brick walls, wide-board floors and utilitarian fixtures, you catch a glimpse of a glistening showroom frozen in time and find yourself in the Land of Oz.

One entire wall is still lined with hundreds of sterling silver flatware samples in the many Reed & Barton patterns, from streamlined and modernist to baroque and ornate.

The very height of opulent must-have tableware was the turn-of-the-century French Renaissance-style Francis I pattern, which adorned the tables of no fewer than four U.S. presidents -  Woodrow Wilson, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower and Gerald Ford – and was presented to none other than movie icon Shirley Temple as a wedding gift in 1945, according to Pete Mozzone, who worked in Reed & Barton’s in-house photography shop from 1996 to 2008 and volunteered as the plant historian.

And as if to seal the deal on Francis I’s sterling reputation, the Marharajah of Barwani purchased a whopping $100,000 worth of the service in 1924, Mozzone said. The precious cargo made its way from Taunton to New York then onto Liverpool and Bombay, followed by 800 miles inland by train, 400 miles by mule and 100 miles on the backs of carriers.

“The building and doors were there to tell people, this was a place to be reckoned with,” Hanna said. Taunton is known far and wide as “The Silver City” in no small measure because of Reed & Barton – and the prestige and pride it brought to this little corner of Southeastern Massachusetts. Reed & Barton was never one of the largest silver makers in the world. But it was never about being big, Hanna said. It was about being the best.

“The original Reed and Barton were craftsmen who started from the bottom up. They knew every facet of silver making. They never wanted to be a mass producer. It was about quality,” Hanna said.

Back when the country was still young, a pair of enterprising teenagers, Henry G. Reed and Charles E. Barton, became apprentices at the Taunton jewelry shop of Babbitt & Crossman. According to Mozzone, Crossman told a foreman when he took Reed on as an apprentice in 1828: “This is a boy who wants to learn a trade. Set him to work and see what becomes of him.” And, oh, what became of him. His name lives on, engraved into prized tableware scattered around the world.

DaRosa has been working closely with Acuity Vice President Ross Cameron, whose father Peter started the company in 1991. Peter is also CEO of Lenox, the china manufacturing giant that purchased Reed & Barton in May 2015 and has kept the name alive.

DaRosa, who grew up in Taunton riding her bicycle past those famous silver doors, said she was captivated by the drama and rich history of the building and knew it would make the perfect set. She loved the juxtaposition of the models – decked out in modern clothes that harken back to the go-go, lavish, pre-Depression 1920s – against the backdrop of the now-vacant factory that epitomized that era and lifestyle in real time.

DaRosa’s own grandmother worked at Reed & Barton as a secretary and remembers the magical feeling of walking through those gilded doors, DaRosa said.

And isn’t that what fine living is all about? Taking the ordinary and elevating it through artistry, style and a splash of panache into something extraordinary and unforgettable.