The Jewel Tea Company, headquartered in Illinois, started its door-to-door grocery-delivery business in 1899. Founded by Frank Vernon Skiff and his brother-in-law Frank P. Ross, horse and wagon were their earliest delivery vehicle! The customers, collectively known as “Mrs. Brown,” shared their product feedback with “Jewel Lady” – the company’s anonymous first customer service representative. These tidbits paint a simpler life and evoke nostalgia, no?
One wonders how the Jewel Tea Company, a home shopping service in operation from 1899 to 1981, catalogued its myriad of products. For historical purposes, it should have stored at least one copy of every item it had ever carried in its warehouse. Perishables must be discarded, yet product packaging and labels can be easily preserved; so why didn’t the Jewel Tea Company? Perhaps its management deemed such a project pointless or mission impossible? Maybe the corporate files were lost? Fortunately there are loyal customers who value the canisters, the boxes, the bottles just as much as baseball cards. The author of the 1997 book The Jewel Tea Company: Its History and Products, C.L. Miller, interviewed organizations, Jewel salesmen, and private collectors and painstakingly photographed and documented all items found.
The paper label on the rusted Jewel Brand Pan Fired Japan Tea tin in the Hamilton collection reads, “Seventy Five Cents. Imported and packed with special care by Jewel Tea Co. Chicago, U.S.A.” On the label of the Busch collection’s Imperial Gunpowder Green Tea tin, it’s “Enjoy Its Cheery Friendliness.” 1946 marks the year during which the Jewel Tea Company started manufacturing a new line of paper tea bag and re-introduced green tea after World War II. The Hamiltons and the Busches likely never imagined their keepsake-garnering attention decades later.
In the mid-1920s, the Hall China Company — established in 1903 — collaborated with the Jewel Tea Company to produce a series of potteries with the Autumn Leaf pattern. National Autumn Leaf Collectors Club, founded in 1978, provides a forum where Jewel Tea customers and collectors reminisce about their association with the company. I prefer the Cameo Rose motif, first offered in 1951. It, however, does not have enough enthusiasts to form a national club.
Left: Autumn Leaves, Right: Cameo Rose
In my desk drawer I found a few tea containers used to store paper clips, stickers, etc. Lupicia Tea has closed all of its SoCal locations; my MOMOKO tin — which no longer smells a blend of green tea, heath flower, rose petal, and cornflower — may be “collectible” now? There must be at least one Metropolitan Tea Company’s wooden box purchased at a tourist destination somewhere inside your house? Will these items be someone’s quest, say, 100 years from now? Only if their creators do not keep a copy.
Image 1 provided and copyright held by author
Images 2 and 3 are photos the author took of pages in the book “The Jewel Tea Company: Its History and Products” by C.L. Miller
Image 4 provided and copyright held by author