Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Mulford Jewelers

Posted By on Wed, Jan 12, 2011 at 2:16 PM

MulfordJewelers2.jpg
How many of my half-dozen readers remember Mulford Jewelers — a Memphis institution for more than half a century?

Well, I certainly do, because that's where the Lauderdales purchased the gold, silver, and platinum baubles and beads that made the Mansion glitter like a comet flashing through the night. Of course, that sparkle lost most of its luster when the Lauderdale bankruptcy proceedings — which made front-page news in every newspaper in the northern hemisphere except South Dakota — took away just about everything but the tattered clothes on our backs.

But that wasn't the fault of John N. Mulford (the dapper gentleman shown here), who owned and operated one of this city's oldest and finest jewelry stores. Born in London, Mulford came to this country in the 1870s. He loved to hunt and fish and roamed America in search of a place where he could pursue those interests, eventually settling in Memphis. If he hadn't done that, you wouldn't be reading about him now. Not here, anyway.

In 1880, he opened Mulford Jewelers at 6 South Main Street in a building known as the Marble Block — possibly because it was made of marble, but maybe that was the owner's name; I just don't know. The store remained at that location until 1942, when it moved a few doors down, to 26 South Main. At least, I think it did. You have to remember that Memphis changed (and standardized) its street numbering system in the late 1800s, so it's possible this was the same building, with a different address. See how complicated my job can be?

Anyway ...

Mulford was a hard-working fellow, and in 1929 The Commercial Appeal ran a story that commented on his half-century in business (up to that point). "Lots of people think the company is run by a successor under another name," Mulford told the reporter. "People come by and say, 'I didn't know you were still living.' But I'm very much alive."

Mulford explained why, in his 70s, he remained hard at work behind the jewelry counter. "It's not like labor, because I enjoy working so," he said. "It's as much play to me as it is to frolic in the South Sea Islands, or Alaska, where I go frequently."

Why, that's exactly how I feel about my job! It's uncanny!

Mulford changed with the times, and I understand that he supposedly began the first mail-order jewelry business in the South. He and his wife were well-known in Memphis, and according to old newspaper clippings, "They were a familiar sight to residents, riding to and from work in their electric auto." This would have been in the early 1900s, I presume. And Mulford's enthusiasm for hunting was even indicated in the store, where he had a beautiful hunting scene painted on his largest safe.

Mulford's stayed in business on Main Street through the turbulent Sixties, when other firms downtown struggled and failed. All good things must come to an end, though, and the store finally closed in 1973.

Hmmm, I wonder where that fancy safe is today?

PHOTO COURTESY SPECIAL COLLECTIONS, UNIVERSITY OF MEMPHIS LIBRARIES

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