If you’ve driven around town recently, you’ve surely passed the billboards marking 100 years of the Posin family’s legacy as ‘jewelers with integrity’ in Wheeling. I sat down with Samuel Posin and his partner Joan Berlow-Smith at The Jeweled Bird, their place of business for the past decade, to discuss the centennial of the Posin family business.
It turns out the Posins are not just jewelers with integrity, but jewelers with one heck of a story. And it kicks off with a bang – with a dead man’s passport!
Without this, Samuel Posin’s grandfather, Samuel T. Posin, could not have escaped Russia and the frontline carnage that WWI had in store for him. But the stars aligned, albeit in a morbid way: his neighbor passed away, and the man’s family gave his passport to Samuel, a literal ‘get out of jail free’ card.
In 1917, when this story begins, the US would not let anyone into the country without a sponsor or a job waiting. Luckily, our protagonist had both in Carnegie, PA, which is where he headed after arriving in Seattle, WA.
In 1920 he made his way to Wheeling, working as a porter and for a pawnbroker. In 1923, Samuel got his own storefront which operated primarily as a pawnshop. Samuel spent more than a decade learning the language and the trade, and when he changed locations in 1935, the pawnshop changed as well. Into a jewelry store.
In 1935, Posin’s Jewelry operated out of 1306 Market St., eventually expanding into the neighboring building, needing the extra space because business was booming. This is because Samuel T. Posin began doing something that would be carried on for generations: he cared about his customers.
Posin's once had a location in the Charleston Town Center. (photo courtesy of Samuel Posin)
Downtown Wheeling in the 1940s (photo courtesy of Samuel Posin).
Posins Jewelry store in Worthington, Ohio( photo courtesy of Samuel Posin)
Posin's Ohio Valley Mall location. (photo courtesy of Samuel Posin)
“During that time, in the 1930s and ’40s, there were two types of jewelry stores: “carriage trade jewelers and those who serviced the working class,” Samuel informs me. “Now this is during the Depression, most people didn’t have money for jewelry. So my grandfather started selling it on credit. He was the first jewelry store around here to do that, and there were probably 10 jewelers in downtown Wheeling alone.”
This level of understanding is something Samuel keeps alive and well today in his business practices at the Jeweled Bird: “We have layaway. We’re laid back, we want to work with you and make you happy.”
The Market Street location was in operation until 2001, and since then there have been several moves, as well as a couple name changes – from Posin’s Jewelry to Posin’s Jewelers, to Posin’s Fine Jewelers and eventually the Jeweled Bird. The constant variable is that Posin’s have remained the go-to family of jewelers for three generations.
The Rise of the Wheeling Jewelry Detective
Samuel Posin has been in the business of beautiful things since he was thirteen years old, working during his summer and Christmas breaks. His duties did not start out as glamorous as they are now.
“Starting out, I wasn’t allowed to be on the jewelry side. I was the janitor’s assistant and head gopher,” Samuel tells me. “We sold a lot of grandfather clocks at the time, and for some reason everyone wanted them the day before Christmas, so I would go with the maintenance guy to deliver them and set them up.”
Eventually, he proved his mettle and began learning the trade in earnest from his father and uncle. At the age of 17, he began taking courses through the Gemological Institute of America while working on a degree in Finance, with a minor in Business Law, at the University of Cincinnati. He graduated from both institutions, with a degree from one and a GIA report and certificate from the other.
“So you got a degree in finance with a minor in business law and wound up in the jewelry business?” I ask. “…how? Why?”
“Well, my last year in college I was going to be a tax attorney. But the reality was that I really wanted to come back to Wheeling, and I didn’t feel like there was a lot of need for another tax attorney there,” Samuel says. “Jewelry is in my blood, it’s what I’m good at, it’s what I love. I had a conversation with my dad and decided to come back here and work in the business. It was the place for me.”
Almost forty years later, Samuel has honed his talents into an art. Today, his pieces are shipped across the nation.
“We have a client who moved down to Florida,” Samuel tells me. “She called in and said ‘People down here wear Prada, I wear Sam Posin.”
This kicked off in the early 1980s, when the shop was expanded to include customized jewelry, combining Samuel’s inherent skills as a designer with his deep knowledge of gemology.
“He’s a jewelry detective,” says Joan Berlow-Smith, Posin’s partner at the Jeweled Bird. “If you bring in a piece of jewelry, he’ll look at it and tell you all about it.”
(I can verify that this is true. I brought in a locket my grandmother gave me and he told me some incredibly interesting facts about it that enriched the history and meaning even more.)
“If you know so much about the industry, design, manufacturing – the whole process – why do you outsource?” I ask.
“You don’t pressure a podiatrist to do brain surgery just because he’s a doctor,” Samuel quips good-naturedly. “I know jewelry, and I also know my limitations. We take care of little repairs, and we use our knowledge, expertise, and resources for everything else. We have experts for every step of the process.”
It’s not just manufacturing, Samuel uses his resourcefulness and incredible breadth of knowledge to his advantage, securing the best result at the best price.
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“We had someone come in about a year ago who wanted a 14-carat gold charm holder,” Samuel recounts. “Another company she went to quoted her $2,800, so she was recommended to come here. I was able to pull it together for her for $1,200.”
“That’s the advantage of coming here,” Joan tells me. “We have an expert. The person who is standing in front of you is the person who is standing behind the product. And if something isn’t right, or you want it changed, we’re here. And we’ll make it right.”
The dedication to client service, and fair pricing, is something that is a long-standing Posin tradition and is enthusiastically enforced today by both Samuel and Joan. Their knowledge, creativity, and genuine desire to make people happy is the driving force behind what makes their joint venture so incredibly special.
The Jeweled Bird
A business as special as The Jewled Bird calls for an equally special place to house its products. Nestled in the heart of Woodsdale, at 136 Edgewood Street lays a building that started as a church, then was a house, and now is one of the most enchanting places in the city. Fourteen pointed, 10-foot stained glass windows adorn the exterior of this brick Gothic Revival. Inside you’ll find a glimmering, impeccable tin ceiling, complemented by extravagant chandeliers. The striking effect is made dreamy with flowers and vines draping from above.
Welcome to the Jeweled Bird, a harmonious balance between luxury and comfort. The name is an amalgamation of Samuel’s love of all things that sparkle and Joan’s love of birds, the space is a study in balance and juxtaposition: vintage meets modern and order meets mishmash.
Samuel Posin andJoan Bertlow-Smith, co-owners of The Jeweled Bird.
A peek inside The Jeweled Bird.
A peek inside The Jeweled Bird.
A peek inside The Jeweled Bird.
Imported and home-grown home decor, luxury bath and body products, and jewelry are on full display, upon entrance. Inventory runs the gamut from heirloom to contemporary, quirky to classic to customized, and is meticulously curated and organized by Joan. The sheer volume of inventory is a bit overwhelming, but they are grouped into specific cloisters. Each of these has a unique personality type, the result being that you are inevitably drawn to the one that speaks most to you. It is an orchestra of elegant abundance, and Joan is the conductor.
“People come in looking for one thing, and then they wind up with something completely different!” Joan tells me. “I choose a theme for each area, with different types of items that fit the theme. We’ll have imported soaps and giftware from England, Hungary, Germany. We have a few local artists we sell. We don’t have the same type of things you’ll be able to find anywhere else.”
Separated from the main retail space by a pony wall, in the heart of the Jeweled Bird lies “The Bird Cage,” where the most valuable and unique pieces are displayed. Designs range from custom to classic to contemporary. There is a wide selection of heirloom and estate pieces available for sale ranging from a classic pocket watch to a quirky Victorian-era ring, containing a white silhouette on a burgundy background, surrounded by pink gemstones. I am enthralled – the newer inventory is beautiful, but the estate pieces snatch my soul. I tell Samuel as much.
“You know, we started the first estate vintage jewelry department in the Valley in 1982,” he tells me. “Back in 1979, everyone started selling their jewelry and their gold because the market went crazy. But no one wanted ‘used’ jewelry. My staff at the Ohio Valley Mall didn’t want it at all, but I got them to agree to displaying a half-case. We called it ‘Estate and Pre-Loved’ jewelry instead of ‘used.’ Within a month they were sold out. That’s when we put in a whole case.”
Since then, estate and heirloom pieces have been a pillar of the Posin jewelry legacy, along with exceptional service and exceptional inventory.
“I try to stay ahead of the trends nationally. Sometimes they won’t catch on for a year or two, and that can cost you a lot of money,” Samuel chuckles. “But I always try to stay ahead of the trends. Most times in general, things skip a generation. You’re basically doing the same things as your grandparents. For the last 5 years, rose gold has become very popular, the last time it was this popular was the 1940s.”
Although what’s inside the Jeweled Bird is captivating, it’s the people who make it magical. Joan, Samuel, and Franni, the other designer on staff, know that jewelry marks an occasion. And they are committed to making it as special, and easy, as possible.
“We have men who come in here nervous, saying ‘what if she doesn’t like it’,” Joan tells me. “I say to them: just send her in and we will do whatever we can to make her happy.”
Franni looks up from behind the counter, where she is diligently working on a piece of jewelry, “We don’t make a sale, we make a client, we make a friend. We form relationships, and we do what we can to make them happy.”
Add Some Sparkle In Your Life
If you’re ready to check out this 100-year legacy for yourself, The Jeweled Bird is open Monday 11 a.m. – 5 p.m., and Wednesday- Saturday 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. (allow for seasonal adjustments). They are updating their stock as we speak, with a focus on expanding the men’s selection throughout the store. You can find them online at thejeweledbird.comor check out their Facebook page for more information.
Even better, I suggest stopping by, getting swept up in the beauty of the place, and meeting some genuinely lovely people. Be sure to wish Samuel a Happy Centennial when you do.
• Haley Steed has lived in Wheeling for the past 9 years. Before moving to Wheeling, she lived in Columbus, OH where she graduated with a BA in Comparative Cultural Studies from Ohio State University. Haley also earned an MS in Marketing and Communications from Franklin University. She has held multiple marketing positions for 10+ years, with experience in PR/media relations, internal communications, marketing campaign strategy + execution, SEO, branding, content creation, digital analytics, and graphic design. Haley currently serves as an AmeriCorp member at Wheeling Heritage. Haley has one human named Vida, two cats named Hank and Squigs McAllister, and is currently manifesting that her one-day husband’s name will be Jeffrey Goldblum.