Reprinted with permission from 
Vintage Fashion & Costume Jewelry
P.O Box 265
Glen Oaks, NY 11004
VCFJ@aol.com
and the authors

THE MAGIC OF MANDLE 

Authored by Lucille Tempesta and Marcia Brown

 

The best way to get to know Robert Mandle is to first meet his father, Urie. The Mandle family had originally immigrated from Pfilligin, Germany, in the 1840s: part of the family settled on the west coast, and others made their home in New York.

Urie Mandleís father died when he was only thirteen. His mother needed help, and young Urie had to grow up quickly.  He was now "the man of the family," after all, with his mother and two younger siblings to support. He got his first job for the magnificent sum of $3.00 for a weekís work.

Not off to a good start  Urie reported to work at a furrier company bright and early one Monday morning. His first errand was to take a white broadtail jacket to be cleaned, and a brown fox scarf to be dyed black. Off he went, furs delivered.

Wednesday came around, and young Urie picked up the order, and brought it back to his boss on the fifth floor. There was a very clean brown fox scarf and a very black broadtail jacket!

The boss informed Urie to proceed to the third floor and ask the bookkeeper for a half a weekís salary-he was fired! The young man stated that he was hired by the week and should therefore get $3.00. The boss lost no time in escorting the lad down to the first floor and booting him out the door, without a penny.

Working for Mr. Cohn

It was lucky for future generations that Urie lost his first job, for he next went to work at E. Cohn & Company on Broom Street, in downtown New York City. The Mandle family and Emmanuel and Rose Cohn lived on the same floor of a brownstone. His first assignment was as stock room clerk, earning $3, and his bossís old clothes. In those days, jewelry salesman traveled extensively with their merchandise. 

The western United States was Mr. Cohnís territory, and Urie was his "packer" for the spring and fall 14 week trips.

When Mr. Cohn died, Urie took over the western territory. He discovered he had a gift for selling, and his territory soon grew, to include Arizona and the Goldwater department stores, among others. Urie became one of the first half-million-mile travellers on United Airlines-at a time when the average person never traveled by air!

(Urieís son, Robert Mandle, still has his motherís sample jewelry pieces that his father brought home from Coro and fondly recalls his father and mother and the years that Urie was their top salesman.)

The company by this time was called Cohn and Rosenberger-later, of course, it became Coro.

Lisner

When Mr. Roesenberger died, his son, Gerald took his place in the company. With this change, there was less opportunity for Urie, so he joined Sidney Lisner and Saul Ganz as a full partner. This was in the 1930s. At this time, the Lisner line included clocks, crystal, giftware, jet beads, come-apart cuff links, hat pins, pearls, and they even promoted the Prince Machabelli perfume line.

Urieís contribution to Lisner was to build the jewelry line, working with manufacturers in Providence, Rhode Island. Before this most of Lisnerís jewelry had been imported from Europe. Whiting and Davis was one of the companies which made beautiful bracelets for Lisner. 

First company

After leaving Lisner, in 1938, Urie joined with Nat Levy and founded the Urie Mandle Corporation located at 411 Fifth Avenue. The business was devoted exclusively to costume jewelry.

Within four years, Nat Levy/Urie Mandle became the fastest growing costume jewelry business-and most recognized name-after Coro. They were major suppliers for the well-known department store trade.

Urie went to Providence to buy his jewelry lines. Fashion conscious New York wholesalers dictated styles-and Providence produced.

Enter son, Robert, who joined the firm in 1938, although his first love had been the theater. 

After a successful summer in Cleveland as a stage manager, collecting the princely salary of $150 a week, he went to work for his father in the stockroom for $12 a week!!! But Bob really wanted to do design work.

When World War II began materials became scarce, and the company was dissolved. Urie Mandle retired-for the first time!

War service

Robert joined the armed forces in 1942 and spent five years with General Patton in North Africa, Sicily and Normandy. When he was wounded, he convalesced in England, and trained troops for the Normandy invasion. Later he was an assistant to the Intelligence section in Paris, stationed near the Arch de Triumph.

His job was to take new anti-personnel mines apart, and make designs with full instructions for deactivation by troops in the field. His workroom held a collection of 1/2 ton of explosives! When the field examiner discovered the warehoused material he moved them out to Versailles.

During this time Robert felt the pull of Christmas and home. He dreamily drew a sketch for a three-bell design, which he sent home to his father, who had meantime formed a wholesale business.

Organic jewelry!

It was during this time frame that dad, Urie, experimented with lower priced components for jewelry, using kidney beans and macaroni. The idea was wonderful-except that the beans sprouted and the rats ate the macaroni!

Returning from the war, Robert joined the staff of the Urie F. Mandel Company. Their logo was URO Creations-selling better sterling jewelry.

During a trip to Gablonz, in Austria, in 1946 Urie visited the basement homes of a group of Jewish factory owners. Their factories had made stone-set chains, until the Russians took over the factory. 

He was deluged with bags of their now no longer needed loose stones to take back to America.

Meanwhile, Robert went to meet with Alfeo Verrechia, twin to Gene Verri (Verrechia), who had opened a factory at 51 Empire Street in Providence, in a single room. The business grew, and as it did, Robert told us, Alfeo kept adding another room, and yet another to the original small space.

Clash with Gimbles

As a play on words, Alfeo designed a mandolin (Mandle). Robert thinks the idea was perhaps inspired by a selection of musical instruments in a shop located on the main floor of the building. Robert sold this pin to Bonwit Teller for $13.50. BSK then copied the pin. The copy, which was made of tin, a material not yet released by the government, was shown in an ad for Gimbelís. Robert approached the people at Gimbelís to remove the ad. Their response was to run the ad the following weekend. Robert never did business with Gimbelís again.

Urieís record

Urie Mandle was the founder and first president of the Jewelry and Leather Goods Salesman Association. He was the most successful salesman the jewelry industry ever had.

At that time in Providence all the toolmakers in the costume jewelry industry had been German, but they were leaving and went to Attleboro. Italian toolmakers were taking their places in Providence.

Ever resourceful and creative, Bob went to work for the Rainbow Shops as merchandiser for their nine stores. By the time he left six years later, the nine stores had increased to thirty-three, developing such ideas as introducing their own brand of hosiery under the name Fieldcraft. Bob learned much from Rainbow about servicing merchandise for chains such as Peck and Peck. This experience was invaluable when he started his own company.

Invention

While still at Rainbow, but on his own time Bob developed an idea to sell inexpensive jewelry in a little space. In the space of one square foot, his display held 244 packages of affordable jewelry. He named this line Pik Quick. The packaging done by the people who did Breck Shampoo. Bob sold the idea to three food chains in Cleveland.

Yen to design

In 1956 the R. Mandle company was founded, with his first line of six trays of mother of pearl jewelry, with Tesoro doing his brass work and Gem-Craft, also of Providence, doing the cast pieces.

Bob reached the teenagers by taking half page ads in Seventeen. One ad, for the Secret Heart ring, elicited the most responses ever at Seventeen! In 1966, Robert won the prestigious Swarovski Design Award, 

As R. Mandle he did much of his business overseas. The US Chamber of Commerce, wishing to increase exports to Europe, arranged a group of business including, Dorset-Rex, the "Scarab King," and R. Mandle to exhibit at the same time as the Frankfurt Fair. This was a time to make contacts and this Bob did, with firms such as Ciro of England. During this time R. Mandle was the only American company to be listed among the 1,400 at the biennial Bijoricha Fair. Up to 1982, R. Mandle was the only USA manufacturer. Sixty-five percent of his business was being done overseas.

Rare treasures

Associated Dry Goods (Lord and Taylor), Peck and Peck chain and Mayís were his American customers. Rings were great sellers for Mandle.

For two reasons: the wholesale manufacturing of Urie Mandle, and the overseas business of Robert Mandle, collectors will find severely limited quantities of their jewelry. When or if you do find pieces from either company, they will be rare treasures.

When Robert Mandle retired in the 1990s Gem-Craft acquired his master molds and the use of his designs.

 

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