Friday, June 08, 2007

Birmingham's Jewelry Quarter Museum

Steve and I went to the Jewelry Quarter Museum during our trip to Birmingham last February. We didn't have time to take the tour but enjoyed the excellent exhibit focusing on the various materials used to make jewelry, such as bone, feathers, egg shells, pearls, coral, silver, gold, platinum, aluminum, coal, and all the precious and semi-precious gems. I knew I wanted to return for the tour...the entire place is totally free and just down the street from Mathias' flat. So Alex and I went.

The tour was amazingly good. Part of this was due to the enthusiasm and knowledge of the guide. Part of it was the array of "stuff". Evidently this jewelry firm had remained very unchanged during its years of operation. It was a family business called Smith and Pepper; it was started in the 1920 and passed down to three of nine children. These three never married. They were devoted to the business and worked until 1977 when they simply locked the doors...leaving everything inside just as it had been. They were in their late 70s and early 80s at the time. Perhaps they thought they'd return and deal with their aging equipment and the jewelry recession that was plaguing their industry...but they never did. The entire place seemed like a unique time capsule. No safety inspector visited the place. It never met code. The filing was still done by hand in ledgers. The tools and machinery were largely original. Even the umbrellas and marmalade containers were still there. I absolutely loved all the rusted parts and tools. I learned quite a bit about how jewelry is made and my appreciation for this art form was enhanced greatly.

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