photo of Leonore Doskow

Six decades of smithery

Silver jewelry made by Leonore Doskow ’32 appears often on e-bay, an auction site on the World Wide Web. Her pins, necklaces and bracelets are collector’s items, and they go quickly.

This amuses Doskow, who can’t fathom wanting to collect anything: "At this age I’m trying to get rid of things!"

The popularity of Doskow’s work betrays her humble beginnings as a silversmith. She learned the trade at a summer camp in the 1920s and continued it when her parents gave her jewelry tools. "I just found I evidently had a knack for it," Doskow says. "I never intended to make it my life work."

But that is precisely what silversmithing became. She and her husband owned and operated Leonore Doskow, Inc., a jewelry company selling to upscale stores around the country, from 1935 until the 1980s, when her son and his wife took over. It is headquartered in Montrose NY and still produces Doskow’s original designs.

Doskow first sold her wares out of her home and then as a Bryn Mawr student; the deans allowed her to make jewelry in the chemistry laboratories during the stock market crash in 1929. Back then, she says, she would lunch in the village of Bryn Mawr: "Fifteen cents would buy you a ham sandwich and a Coke."

In 1932, she won a scholarship to study art history at the Sorbonne for a summer. When she returned, she opened a shop on 17th Street in Center City, Philadelphia, when silver cost $.29 an ounce. (Today it is more than $5 an ounce.) One of her first customers was Philadelphia Orchestra conductor Leopold Stokovski ("Philadelphians were just absolutely crazy about him"), who came to her 7-foot-wide by 14-foot-long studio in response to an advertisement she had mailed to area residents. He ordered a sterling bracelet for $3 and over the next few months commissioned several novelties from her: a gold mirror for Greta Garbo, a copper wastebasket ("it was awful; it tore my stockings"), a ring engraved with the initials M.C., "for whoever he was going with at that time," muses Doskow.

In a few years, she and her husband, David, would find themselves unemployed in New York City, in the midst of the Depression with a baby on the way. She started making things in bulk—a dozen tie clips for example—and David would sell them to gift shops. women did not have careers in those days, we worked as equal partners," says Doskow. "There would have been no business without him. It was touch and go a lot of the time. Sometimes we would say to each other, do you think we should quit and each go get a job? But we kept on." They ran a series of advertisements on December 8, 1941. "Not one single reply," says Doskow. "And in those days, everybody went to war. We had no business." They moved to Westchester County at the suggestion of a friend, where the business eventually flourished. At its peak it employed 75 people, including high school students on co-ops.

Novelties became Doskow’s favorite projects. Monograms were her "big thing," and she also enjoyed creating custom pillboxes, napkin rings, money clips and cigarette cases. In 1940 the Metropolitan Museum of Art displayed her sugar bowl and creamer set in an exhibit, Contemporary American Art. In later years her influences came from trade shows and museums; earlier, she "made things as my children were growing up. When they were babies I made baby spoons and baby pins. As they got older Imade more sophisticated things. The ideas just came." Her most recent creation, given to friends when they help change her light bulbs, is a small sterling key chain with a miniature silver light bulb attached.

Doskow is mostly retired from silversmithing. She travels, e-mails children and grandchildren, paints and and volunteers at SCORE, counseling young entrepreneurs who want to start their own businesses.

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