Long Life Stieff Silver Factory, Love and Silversmithing in Baltimore, Maryland Kirk-Stieff

I snapped this October 2011.
A lot of people ask me about the Stieff Silver Factory in Baltimore.  Have I seen it? Oh yes.   Who can forget it?  It was a sad day when I heard the news that Stieff was closing it's doors the end of 1998. (Operations officially ceased in Baltimore, January 1999.) For that day, Another Made-In-America, but even more importantly, Made-In-My-Hometown business would bite the dust.  Someone in Baltimore, knows someone in Baltimore, who knows someone's grandmother or grandfather who worked there or someone who knew a Stieff.  Everyone knows someone who has Stieff products. What some of you don't realize is just how prominent the Stieff's were in Baltimore. Charles Maximilian Stieff emigrated here, not only a skilled piano maker but keen business man. Sons , Grandsons and more would follow in these footsteps.

Circa 1906-1910 advertisement.

PIANOS: In 1914, there are court records showing how Frederick P. Stieff t/a Charles M. Stieff and James Wray (a customer) were in court over the fire damage to a piano, and needing payment thereof. The irony of this is how the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904  somehow spared the Stieff's Piano factory on Liberty Street.  A later fire would not be so kind. As reported to Music Trades on November 27, 1918, the Stieff "warerooms" on Liberty Street suffered heavy fire damage to all of it's existing pianos in stock documented here.    Just one month earlier, October 1918, the piano company reported it's worries over shortages in materials to make it's musical products.  This fire took some time to regroup.

SILVERSMITHS: On other fronts, The Stieff (Silver) Company having been founded in 1892 by Charles C Stieff, who had his son Gideon helping him.  In April 1918 the story claims Gideon (then President) and his fiance' Claire were having a picnic at Druid Hill Park, which would start the dreams for the future Wyman Park home of the factory. (Credit given to milady!).  Imagine my confusion over several announcements in the 1919 Jeweler's Circular circa March - April 1919  indicting  that the "Silver Plating" business by Charles C. Stieff & Co. (Roland Park--this would indeed be Gideon's father) that had been in business 40 years (1880's) was selling out to Eska Manufacturing Company, and would be absorbed into the Redwood Street Address where it would make silver plating and cut glass. However, further reading indicated this had nothing to do with the other part of Steiff, which was then located at McLane Place, in Baltimore, and full shares of this had already been left to Charles' son two years prior (after his 1917 retirement.)     The Stieff's had several businesses and were very intelligent industrialists.

Here is a rare photo from Music Trades of the "Picnic Celebration" of several hundred employees of the Stieff Companies from 1918-1919 era.  They would celebrate their founder, Charles M. Stieff by picnicing and grave decorating of the prominent members from both companies.

Just six years later another celebration would take place, that would be the "ground-breaking" with a Stieff (sterling) silver shovel .  (Current Realtors report this building structure is from 1928) however the actual construction of it takes place circa 1925. (Refer to this great site for photos HERE.)  I truly believe their success and love went hand in hand. I always thought the Stieff's came out on top because the blood and integrity of the original founder ran though it. Others married into it over the years. These were Baltimore men who worked hard and appreciated those who worked for them.  Fast forward to the 1970's, Charles Stieff, III was Executive VP of the Company, around the same time a new addition to the factory building was built. Things were looking good during those days, distributing through 1200 companies and locations nationwide. They even acquired other companies (most notably Kirk and Sons in 1979, another prominent silversmith company.)  In 1980, The Stieff Company officially became Kirk-Stieff. By 1986 they employed approximately 225 people.  In 1990, the Stieff family sold to Lenox. Six years later, the Baltimore factory would close doors (rumored to have put around 75 people out of work.)

Snapped March 2011 by yours truly.
The Baltimore Story stops there, but the memories live on in silver teapots, flatware and decorative objects lining homes nationwide. The only thing that brings a smile to my face about this is how the original integrity of this building has been preserved. It's amazing sign illuminated for miles at night.  Sold in April 2000 to the tune of $1.7 million dollars, it now serves as office space.

This photo, obtained by Cushman Wakefield /Co-Star, shows the inside after the 2001 renovations.
As you can see, the renovations in 2001 did preserve the original building structures.The outside brick and sign are a given, but inside, exposed ceiling beams, original metal windows, and some of the flooring.  I am so glad it was done this way.  Standing proudly it is currently used by Johns Hopkins, GWWO Architects, and the Boy Scouts (Scout Shop). I pass it often and stop and look often snapping new photos as the backdrop of the sky always changes. Architecturally, it's magnificent. Historically, it's amazing. So much silver and so much love ,and so much Baltimore money produced there.

You may like this great site by Scott Perkins with input from the Stieff Family here:  The Stieff Company

Scott also shows how silver is made (it's amazing) HERE.

MY References: Standard Directory of Advertisers (Stieff Listing), circa 1986
Chilton's jewelers' circular/keystone 1970 jewelers' directory issue Vol 141
The Southeastern reporter, Volume 88  /  By West Publishing Company 1914
Music Trades 1900-1919
Replaements LTD
Jones Falls Article