The simple brick warehouse at 53-55 Prince Street is the surviving portion of the legendary Prince Street Works, the silver department of Tiffany & Co. From this building – in use by Tiffany until 1897 – some of the most influential American silver designs flowed.
Deeds and other records indicate that 53-55 Prince Street was erected by silversmith Edward C. Moore (1827-1891) in 1864. An advertisement in The New York Times in 1864 headlined “Steam Power Near Broadway” offered leases on “large rooms, with extra light, power, steam hoistway and heating pipes; a large basement” and directed those interested directly to Moore. Directory listings indicate that Moore also occupied 53-55 Prince Street in part with his own silver business.
Edward C. Moore was a leading silversmith of the period, and in 1868 Tiffany & Co. (established in 1837) acquired Moore’s firm, retaining him as one of its directors. Tiffany & Co. had been buying silver from outside makers, but was then seeking to expand its grasp on the market. Moore retained ownership of 53-55 Prince Street and leased the building to Tiffany for $6,000 per year.
Old photographs of the building show what is clearly a factory, but it is hard to place stylistically. Does the Prince Street building echo the Gothic and neo-Grec designs – particularly the segmental arches over the windows combined with the stylized Gothic label mouldings – then emerging in Paris? It is not clear what architect Moore employed, but he was a sophisticated client – and perhaps designed the building himself.
A later plan shows wide bays of iron and glass on the rear, apparently floor to ceiling, to light the workshops; the use of iron and glass was au courant in Paris at the time, and it is tempting to speculate on a relation between the two. The easterly extension at 49-51 Prince Street was built in matching style in 1879, by Tiffany & Co. itself. The building application for this project lists only the contractor in the space normally reserved for the architect, implying that the design of the extension was done in-house at Tiffany.
An early photograph of both buildings shows a round, dial-like object in the center of their joint facade. It looks like it might be a clock – Tiffany’s has usually mounted a clock on the front of its buildings. The present clock on the store at 57th and Fifth was at one time mounted on their store on the west side of Union Square, built in the 1850s and in operation during the period the firm used the Prince Street Works.
Tiffany apparently adjusted Moore’s workshops after the 1868 acquisition; the jeweler placed an advertisement in The New York Times of May 8, 1871: “Having enlarged their works at Nos. 53 and 55 Prince St. ... Tiffany & Co. now offer a full stock of table-ware at manufacturers’ prices.” A plan filed to alter the building in 1904 shows the general ground plan as a T-shape, with the top of the T facing the street and the trunk running toward the rear of the lot, well set back from other buildings and with wide banks of iron-framed windows to provide good light to the workrooms.
The original layout is not clear, but an 1897 account of Tiffany’s move from Prince Street to new quarters in Newark gives an idea of how Tiffany arranged its silver operation. The new quarters had a vault for steel dies, designing and modeling rooms, “a library of reference work on art objects and collections of natural history objects” to use as models for animals, grasses, fruits and other elements. The new factory also had “an isolated room for modeling from the nude,” a gold and silver vault and rooms for spoonmaking, stamping, rolling, chasing, gilding, turning and similar functions.
While on Prince Street, Tiffany & Co. evolved into the leading edge of silversmith innovation in America, wresting silver design from the copying of European styles. For instance, they sought a uniquely American aesthetic in their “Mackay service” produced in the 1870s. The mine owner John W. Mackay shipped silver from his mine in Nevada’s Comstock Lode directly to New York – most certainly the Prince Street Works. Tiffany & Co. produced a dinner service of 1250 pieces in American wild flowers and oriental plants. It appears the service has been broken up – a sauce boat sold at auction for $19,000 in 1996.
The 1897 account of Tiffany’s new factory in Newark also referenced the closing of the old location on Prince Street. After the equipment was removed, the floors were taken up, burned and refined, recovering about 1300 ounces of silver and 600 pennyweights of gold. In 1904 the portion at 53-55 Prince Street was extensively altered to accommodate a new owner, Hawley & Hoops, a candy maker. They were well known for “French Mixed Cremes,” chocolate Teddy bears and chocolate cigarettes and cigars. Later ownership records indicate that 53-55 Prince Street was owned by the candy company into the 1940s, and after that time it was occupied by a miscellany of small businesses. In 1982 53-55 Prince Street was converted to A-I-R use, in an alteration designed by the architect Alexander Neratoff. The 1879 annex, 49-51 Prince Street, was demolished in 1904 and replaced with a six story tenement, and leaving 53-55 Prince Street, the original building of the Prince Street Works, the oldest structure of the legendary Tiffany empire still standing in Manhattan.
–Christopher Gray, Office of Metropolitan History