Saturday, March 9, 2019

Galt & Bro. Jeweler's - A Glittering Legacy

By Tiffany Amber Stockton

Last month, I shared about the Delaware's State Fair and the history of fairs throughout the "First State." If you missed that post, you can read it here:

Just last night, I was chatting with a friend about shared commonalities from living around the Chesapeake Bay for a time. We reminisced about places we visited, and in a part of that conversation, I shared about my family's ties to Washington, D.C., as well as some of the elite, including several presidents. Here's a little glimpse of my personal family history as seen through the eyes of one of the oldest and continuously operated jewelry stores in the nation.

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A Glittering Legacy

stamp on brown paper showing opening date
also etched on all packages delivered from the shop
George Washington didn't sleep here, but Abraham Lincoln shopped here.

So did Jefferson Davis and Alexander Graham Bell, J. Edgar Hoover and John F. Kennedy, and practically every well-heeled luminary who has passed through Washington, D.C., over the past 200 years.

In 1802, James Galt (a cousin of mine many times removed) opened his "clock and watch" business on the promise that he would "keep a few good watches and material for sale at reasonable prices." Sadly, in 2001, the store was forced to close its doors, but 200 years in continuous operation is quite impressive!

1107 Pennsylvania Ave. storefront
Throughout its many years in business, leather-bound store ledgers documented the visits and recorded the accounts of people like "Hon. Abraham Lincoln," as well as the "Hon. Jefferson Davis," who in 1860 purchased charms, buttons, shawl pins, and a gold thimble, and "Gen. Ulysses S. Grant," who six years later purchased two butter knives and a sugar tong. These hand-written ledgers and yellowed customer cards became much more of a treasure than the Gorham silver or diamond-and-pearl adornments rumored to be quite favored by Mary Todd Lincoln...a woman whose much-criticized obsession with spending was documented in faded script in the ledgers.

Among some of these hand-written items are customer cards of "Mrs. F.D. Roosevelt," and "Mrs. Wm. H. Taft," and a copy of Washington's first phone directory -- a single page from 1878 with "Galt" as the only name listed under "Jeweler." How amazing is that? To be the only jeweler in the city and to boast a clientele that can only be described as city's elite!

interior of Galt & Bros. Jewelry
The shop reflected its posh patronage too. Chandeliers sparkled overhead, oriental carpets muffled footsteps, and heavy, ice-blue damask curtains blocked the sun, while a massive grandfather clock stood sentry. This place was much more than a jewelry store. Other inventory items included silver keychains, leather watchbands, linen napkins and tablecloths, a grand silver tea service, and a commemorative Bicentennial plate, added in 1976 (the year I was born).

Although I never stepped inside the shop when it was open, I do know the last Galt to operate the business was Norman Galt, whose wife, Edith Bolling Galt, inherited it upon his death and went on to become the wife of President Woodrow Wilson. I wrote a post a couple years ago about this, as she was my grandfather's first cousin on my mother's side.

Galt & Bros. storefront at 1107 Pennsylvania Ave.
(photo copyright Alamy)
Considering the notable list of names who frequented this shop, it's no surprise to also learn the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Washington Historical Society are all itching to inherit the Galt archives.

After 200 years in Washington, that's a pretty amazing legacy. One of these years, I intend to write a series focusing on this jewelry store and the people who were patrons and customers. It will be exciting to research not only the story but my own family's history too. Washington, D.C. elite in the 1800s and 1900s. Sounds like fun to me!!

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* Do you have any notable names or stories like this in YOUR family history?

* What item or type of item would entice you to shop at Galt & Bros. if you were in Washington, D.C. during its years of operation?

* What was your favorite part about today's post?


Tiffany Amber Stockton has been crafting and embellishing stories since childhood, when she was accused of having a very active imagination and cited with talking entirely too much. Today, she has honed those childhood skills to become an award-winning and best-selling author and speaker who is also an advocate for literacy as an educational consultant with Usborne Books. On the side, she dabbles in the health & wellness and personal development industry, helping others become their best from the inside out.

She lives with her husband and fellow author, Stuart Vaughn Stockton, along with their two children and two dogs in Colorado. She has sold twenty (21) books so far and is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of the Steve Laube Agency. You can find her on FacebookTwitterGoodReads, and LinkedIn


  1. I love that you have such a direct connection to this place! And to put the business in a novel with all those famous customers??? How fun! I have a cousin who collects all the family stories and genealogy and I need to sit down with her and listen to some of the stories. And I might never buy anything at a jewelry store but it is always fun to look at the beautiful items. Thanks for posting!

    1. Connie, it has been a lot of fun doing the research and reading what little my family has written down over the years. My mother has a few things from her side of the family, but I believe it's a cousin of hers who has the most. When I get to writing these stories, I'll have to get copies of everything she has so I can be as accurate as possible. :) Definitely sit down with YOUR cousin and glean.

  2. What a wonderful post. It brought back memories of when I lived in the Northern Virginia area and would visit WDC. I only went past Galt's a couple of times, peeking in the window, but I didn't realize they closed.(We moved out of the area in early 2002) They had beautiful items, any of which I'd have been happy to purchase! We don't have any "notables" in our family. Blessings! Linda Matchett

    1. Linda, I think I was only inside the store once when I was a young girl. Definitely not as an adult, although I wish I had visited in those young adult years before they closed. At least I still have the photos, records, and family history to help preserve the legacy!

  3. I found your post while searching for information on the whereabouts of Galt sales records. My husband bought my engagement ring from Galt in1995 and Galt designed and made a matching wedding band. They were located at 607 15th Street. I was surprised to here the store was closing--it was rather sudden. Charles Schwartz offered to buy Galt but according to Schwartz Galt did not want others to use the Galt name. I have not had my rings cleaned since Galt closed. Needless to say the stone in my engagement ring has become a wee bit loose over the years so I stopped wearing my rings. I now wear a Tiffany wedding band my husband gave me for Christmas in 2014. By the way I still have the handwritten receipts for my wedding rings and my husband's wedding band--they are quite faded as we were given "carbon" copy of the originals. I always carried the burgundy double suede leather pouch when we traveled and have the original leather ring boxes and cardboard boxes we received with our rings. Thanks for sharing your family connection.

    1. I'm saddened the store wasn't able to continue, and I'm sorry your original wedding band hasn't been able to be cleaned and repaired. I wish Galt hadn't been so patriarchal about the name. The legacy might still be going strong today. How awesome that you still have the handwritten receipts though, as well as the leather pouch and ring boxes. Those are treasures in and of themselves. :) Thanks for "stumbling" upon this blog post and sharing your own story here in the comments.

  4. I still have my Galt's watch given to me when I graduated from high school in 1978. It is a beautiful piece that combines a delicate gold bracelet with a watch by Girard Perregaux. My wedding band is also from Galt's and bought in 1992.

    1. That's fantastic! You have a piece of legacy jewelry from a store that was in business for over 200 years. :) I wish I had a piece from Galt's. Several in my family do, but I'm 2 generations away from the family name, so not much chance anything will be handed down to me. Shucks!

  5. I was looking for information about someone I worked with and saw this site. I was the engraver for Galt and Brothers in the 1970's. I have many good memories of that place. I don't know if you have access to any employee records but would appreciate it, if you do, maybe helping me with some research. I don't need a lot and at this point it is more of satisfying my old brain than anything else.