Ostby & Barton Co., a jewelry manufacturing company, was founded in 1879 when Engelhart Cornelius Ostby and Nathan B. Barton formed their business partnership. Previous to their partnership, Ostby trained to be a jeweler at the Royal School of Art in Norway. He furthered his education and expertise with six years of apprenticeship working in his hometown of Oslo.
A History Of The Ostby & Barton Jewelry Co. And Its Ties To The Titanic
In 1869, Ostby joined his parents and brother in emigrating to the United States. It was here that he worked for two different jewelry companies, first Hunt and Owen, then Arnold and Webster, where he specialized in jewelry design and engraving.
When Ostby & Barton formed their new jewelry company, they reportedly barely had $3,000 dollars in capital. Despite this, their company would soon become known as "the largest ring manufacturers in the world." The business thrived, and people in the industry would easily recognize the well-known "OB" stamp on rings.
Ostby and his daughter Helene traveled to Europe frequently, to study European jewelry design and production. After 1906, all of Ostby's trips to Europe included his daughter. Little did they know, their last father - daughter trip together would be to France in 1912. This final trip ended in tragedy.
When the duo were prepared to head back home to Providence, R.I., Ostby heard from friends about a ship traveling to New York. The name of the ship was the Titanic. Ostby paid 62 pounds for first class tickets for him and Helene. Ostby was assigned cabin B-30 while Helene was assigned to cabin B-36. It has been documented that Ostby carried a black leather doctor's bag, which contained gems and other souvenirs from Paris.
At 11:40 p.m., on April 14, 1912, the Titanic hit an iceberg.
Helene recalled: "I sat up straight in bed, trying to make out what had happened. It seemed completely silent for a minute or two. The engines were cut off. The corridors were quiet until one began to hear doors open and voices speaking. The first voice I heard was a woman asking the steward what had happened. He replied calmly, Everything will be all right."
After the collision, Ostby and his daughter, along with their friends, the Warrens, climbed the grand staircase and went out to the boat deck. It was frigid outside, so Ostby decided to quickly return to his room to gather some warmer attire. While he was inside the ship, people insisted Helene board a lifeboat. She desperately wanted her father to join, but she listened to the men and got on the boat. Helene would never see her father again.
Ostby was 64 years, 3 months and 28 days old when he perished on the Titanic with 1,500 others. His body was found by the MacKay-Bennett ship.
After Helene had time to process tragedy, she returned to the family business. Back in Providence, R.I., with her brother Harold and his daughter, the three became joint owners of the business their father had begun in 1879.
Despite the 1912 catastrophe, Ostby & Barton Co. continued to produce jewelry into the 1950s. Their advertisements boasted their large jewelry lines, and stated that they specialized in "emblem rings, stone rings, mountings, bar pins, misses' rings, cameo rings, cuff links, pendants, ladies' rings, festoons, men's rings, signet rings, tie clasps, baby pins, baby rings, band rings, brooches, ear rings, and scarf pins." (The Jeweler's Circular, 1921.)
On May 15, 1978, Helene passed away at the age of 88. As requested, she was buried by her beloved father.
Still to this day, Ostby & Barton jewelry is highly desired by collectors of fine antique jewelry for its beautiful workmanship and historical ties to the Titanic. The quality of these pieces speaks for themselves, as many of the pieces jewelry enthusiasts come across are over 100 years old and remain in exceptional condition.
Next time you are browsing for vintage jewelry, remember to check for the Ostby & Barton (OB) mark, which indicates the piece is of high quality along with having an interesting history with historical connections.
- The Jewelers' Circular, Volume 85, Issue 2, 1922 - 1923
- The Saturday Evening Post, Volume 190, Issues 14-19
- The Cosmopolitan, Volume 58, Issues 1-8
- Providence Magazine, Volume 30, April 1918.