Have you ever hosted or been invited to a “home party” where the focus was all about buying a particular line of products (and having a free glass of wine) such as jewelry, clothing, skincare, or kitchenware? I have been to so many over the years that I’ve lost track. Some of the ones I do remember attending were Silpada, Cabi, Rodan + Fields, Mary Kay Cosmetics, Pampered Chef, Stella and Dot, Noonday Collection, and Arbonne, just to name a few.
The home party business has been around for decades. One particular line that is recognized as the oldest direct selling jewelry company in the world and whose incredible success came from their home parties is Sarah Coventry.
In the Beginning
It all started in 1852 when a man named Charles W. Stuart arrived in the village of Newark, New York, a little town between Rochester and Syracuse. After purchasing a small farm there, he began selling young fruit trees door-to-door which turned into a business called C.W. Stuart Nursery.
Stuart established other nursery firms as well including Emmons Nursery, William C. Moore, and Quaker Hill. He passed away in 1923 but years earlier, his son Charles H. had taken over the business. He was a trained chemist. After experimenting with extracts, he marketed them using a new term called “direct selling.”
Being the entrepreneur that he was, he established several other product lines to sell including cosmetics, household goods, silverware, and china. Charles’ focus was on selling the products door-to-door.
Charles H. had a son named Lyman K. Stuart who was also involved in the family business. In 1949, they decided to add costume jewelry to the list of products that they sold. The first costume jewelry company they named was Emmons Jewelers, Inc. in honor of his mother, Caroline Emmons Stuart.
Here is a pair of Emmons Moonglow Lucite clip earrings from the 1950s:
Eight months later, they started another, less expensive line. It was named Sarah Coventry after Lyman’s new baby granddaughter, Sarah Coventry Beale.
The Party Plan
Their china and silverware had sold so well using the “party plan,” a home party where goods were sold as the main focus, that they thought they would try selling their costume jewelry in the same way.
They never hired in-house designers for their jewelry. Instead, designs were purchased from freelancers or they would hire established jewelry companies to design and manufacture for them.
Most of the production took place in the state of Rhode Island. Sarah Coventry was always very involved in determining which designs would appeal to their customers who simply wanted affordable, good quality jewelry.
Neither Sarah Coventry nor Emmons could ever be purchased at department stores. It was sold exclusively at home parties hosted by “Fashion Directors” who could move all the way up the ranks to become a National Sales Manager.
After World War II ended, the men came back home and needed jobs. Unless it was a lower paying job such as secretarial or waitressing, women had to give up their jobs to the men so they could support their families. Many women went back to being homemakers again.
However, there were still women who wanted to make money while working around their families’ schedules. This opened up a whole new industry. Tupperware, Avon, and Mary Kay Cosmetics allowed women to work part-time, selling to other women at home parties.
Sarah Coventry joined in during the 1950s and ’60s and was quite successful, advertising that by hosting a home party, you could pick up tips, trends, fashion ideas, and new looks. They marketed their jewelry “for the woman who dares to be different.”
Word of mouth from the home party marketing strategy elevated Sarah Coventry to become one of the most popular brands of jewelry during that time. It even came with a lifetime guarantee!
Even though Sarah Coventry did not have their own in-house designer, many of their signature pieces shared similar characteristics. The base metals used were usually gold-tone or silver-tone with faux gemstones and rhinestones. Many of the pieces had intricate detail and were considered quality costume jewelry.
Sarah Coventry gave names to all of their jewelry designs which included necklaces, bracelets, pins, rings, brooches, and earrings. It was often sold as a set of several pieces with the same design.
Some of the interesting names they used included Wisteria, Azure Skies, Acapulco, Maharani, Remembrance, Bittersweet, Touch of Elegance, Fashion Splendor, Fashion Flower, Blue Lagoon, Strawberry Ice, and Golden Avocado.
This is a matching brooch and earrings set from the Azure Skies collection (1972) with a faux turquoise cabochon and tiny seed pearls:
There was a variety of signature marks used by Sarah Coventry stamped on the back of the jewelry or on metal hangtags. They often changed their marks in an attempt to keep other companies from duplicating their designs.
Some of the marks included: COVENTRY, SARAH COVENTRY, SC, SARAH, SAC, and SARAH COV. A copyright symbol sometimes accompanied the mark as well:
Emmons Jewelers, Inc. signature marks were EmJ, EMMONS (with or without a copyright symbol), or EMMOLITE:
The Party’s Over
By the beginning of the 1980s, sales began to drop and the women they were dependent upon to sell the jewelry at home parties were now going back to the workforce. Emmons Jewelers, Inc. declared bankruptcy in 1981.
In 1984, Sarah Coventry also filed for bankruptcy and the brand was sold. It briefly resurged from 2003 until 2008. With a new look now, their jewelry once again became available to purchase through home parties.
Unfortunately, they could not stay in business and by 2008, the company completely ceased production. On February 10, 2011, the Sarah Coventry Trademark was removed from the Trademark Register.
The Sarah Coventry vintage pieces from the 1960s and ’70s are especially sought after by collectors. Emmons jewelry is highly collectible and can be difficult to find.
If you always seem to come away from those home parties spending a lot more money than you planned, just use my excuse and blame it on the free glass of wine.
Kimberly Moore is a vintage costume jewelry expert, blogger, speaker, and author of Beauty in a Life Repurposed. To learn more, visit her website at kingdomsparkle.com.
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