Saturday, August 14, 2010

Signs and Tags and My Father's Jewelry Business

Besides working as a foreman in a steel mill, my father, Lee Doyle, was a part-time, self-employed jeweler. His shingle - a lighted sign - hung on the west side of our front porch on Furnace Street, facing Main Street.

I must not have paid too much attention to what the sign looked like, except that it was a golden yellow and had his name on it. 

People came to our house from the Ridge as well as some out-lying areas. They dropped off wristwatches, alarm and other kinds of clocks, and jewelry for repair. Some people called ahead but most just knocked on the door. I think most of Dad's business came by word of mouth.

When someone brought an item for repair, we wrote the individual's name and phone number on a tag. The older tags were numbered with a tear-off ticket to give to the customer as a receipt. The newer ones that he used in later years had only a space for a name and phone number. I think people were more trusting in those days and didn't mind not receiving a receipt indicating that they'd left an item at our house.

We would lay the item on Dad's desk so he would see it when he came home and was ready to work. After he repaired the item, he put it in an envelope and he or my mom would call the customer to let him/her know that the item had been repaired and how much it cost. Sometimes they made arrangements for day and time for the person to come retrieve the watch or whatever it was. More often than not, the people just stopped by.

I doubt my father ever made very much money with his watch repair business but it must have been worthwhile for one reason or another for him to continue.

In those days all the clocks were wind-up and had tiny gears and wheels and springs. Dad was giving up his repair business at about the time battery-operated clocks began to be popular.

If you want to learn about the roll top desk where my father worked on the jewelry, you can read My Father's Desk.

If you'd like to read about and see photos of some of the tools he used and see boxes from some of his suppliers, you can read From Inside My Father's Desk.

If you'd like to look at some other old photographs and read about them, you can go to Sepia Saturday.

Do you have any self-employed ancestors? Do you remember any small businesses that were set up inside individuals' homes?


  1. i know my maternal grandpa used to do accounting for local businesses, aside from his office job for the CANADIAN NATIONAL RAILWAY.
    judging from the look of her, somebody was promised something for behaving while being photographed. ice cream perhaps???...

  2. Great story. I imagine, after a day at the steel mill, repairing clocks and watches provided a nice antidote to the noise, heat and so on.

  3. I love that you still have the tags. That's the sort of thing I can't bear to throw away!

  4. Wonderful SS post. My maternal grandmother, who we lived with was a professional seamstress with her business at home. She didn't do an advertising
    just her regular customers and word of mouth. I learned to sew from her, which was great.

  5. I wonder which sign came first. The one on the right has your father's name larger. Could this have been when he had more confidence in the business?

  6. I wish there was a watch repair business like that where I live. The story immediately brought back images from the Carson McCullers' book, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Mick's father is a carpenter, but runs a watch-repair business out of his home. That's probably where the similarities end.

  7. Thanks to all of you for your comments. So often the comments offer a view that's different than my own to ponder and think about.

    My brother filled in some blanks for me about the sign that's upsidedown leaning against the garage wall. At one time and for a while it was mounted on a short pole at the top of our street at the intersection of Main Street and directed people to our house. He said it was metal held inside a tube made of plumbing pipe. It was held to the frame with metal loops. So it seems that both signs were up at the same time.

    TickleBear, it's my older sister in front of the sign and, now that you mention it, she does look very happy about something. I'll have to ask her if she remembers when the photo was taken and if ice cream was a subsequent treat/reward.

    Martin, my dad worked shifts at the mill, 5 nights, 2 days off, 5 afternoons, 2 days off, and 5 days, 2 days off. It must have been a horrible schedule to get any good rest. I almost think he spent half his life tired. But I agree that the watch repair was probably a nice change from the bigness of work at the mill.

    Vicki, I'm like that too. In fact, I still have my dad's rubber stamp. They're such little things to keep, and yet when there are lots of little things....

    Daylily, how old were you when you learned to sew? Did you also learn to alter? If so, I admire you!

    Barbara and Nancy, it's possible that he put up the sign with his name in larger letters later. I'll have to ask my brother and sister if they remember when the signs went up.

    Christine, I'm embarrassed to admit that I've never read *The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.* I'll put it on my list of books to read.

  8. Hello Nancy, Were you that beautiful happy little girl standing beside the sign with your bike? I also see a cute car in the driveway. Enlanging the photo allowed me to see it more closely.
    I think perhaps your father loved repairing watches...such detailed careful work.
    And people were more trusting years ago. It was a lovely era.
    Also, I have written down the name of the book you recommended,"My granfather Lew." and will look for it on Amazon. Thank you very much for your kindness. Bless you. CML

  9. It is so difficult to find a watch repairman these days. Nearly impossible. Boy would I have a ton of work for your dad. Nice memories. And I'm sure there are a lot of people who remember that sign at night lighting their way.

  10. Crystal Mary, that little girl is my older sister. The car you see is parked across the street from the front of our house. (We had a street that was 2 cars wide.) It IS a cute little car, isn't it?

    Tatter and Lost - It's nearly impossible to find anyone who works on wind-up clocks these days. I hope you find someone near you!

  11. oh!! even if she doesn't remember, something tells me there was...definitely!!

  12. So nice that you have the photos and the tags of a time now passed. I find it so interesting to learn about how others lived and worked it times gone by.
    Thanks so much for visiting my blog - my grandfather loved cooking and he was a cook during his WW1 service.

  13. What an interesting story. We had a farmer, neighbor that repaired tv's on the side. He would carry all the glass tubes needed to make that old television work. Enjoyed reading your blog.

  14. How fascinating. My grandfather was also a part-time self-employed watch and clock repairer, although, in his case, he was also a window-cleaner. No tags or receipts ever survived, but his eldest son (my Uncle John) inherited a number of fine clocks that were repaired but never collected.

  15. Yes, Alan, there were clocks and watches in our home that people never retrieved, too. I'd forgotten about that. I don't think any of them were especially fine clocks of great value, though. I don't know what ever happened to them....

    It's unusual to find others who have ancestors who were watch & clock repairmen. It must not have been a common occupation.

    Do you remember visiting your grandfather's home and hearing many clocks ticking? It was the rhythm of my childhood, in the back background, and one I grew so accustomed to hearing that sometimes I hardly heard it at all.

  16. Its A Nice Thought.............Perhaps there are several clocks & watches still ticking away Now because of your Dad's repair!?!


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