Have you ever picked up a piece of Hall Pottery and noticed not only their Hall stamp but one which reads “Tested and Approved by Mary Dunbar Jewel Homemakers Institute”? Who is Mary Dunbar and what is the Jewel Homemakers Institute?
In 1899, Frank V. Skiff and Frank P. Ross founded the Jewel Tea Company in Chicago, IL. The company specialized in home delivering tea but quickly expanded to coffee and eventually a full stock of groceries. As the brand’s popularity grew, Jewel expanded outside of Chicago and by 1916 had established a nationwide following. In lieu of advertising, Jewel used their advertising budget to purchase premiums for customers. Each item purchased from Jewel gave the customer points which could be used to obtain a premium. A Jewel premium had to have functionality with a splash of design, something a homemaker could both use and be proud to display. The most popular of these premiums was kitchenware by the Hall China Company.
In 1923 Mary Reed Hartson joined Jewel’s quality control staff, the following year she helped to form The Jewel Homemaker’s Institute. Coining herself “The Jewel Lady,” she shared recipes, household tips and even advice in the bi-weekly Jewel News, a copy of which was given to all Jewel customers. In 1926 executives wanted “The Jewel Lady” to have a more personal touch, so she became known as “Mary Dunbar” (Mary Reed Hartson’s maiden name). Hartson would leave Jewel the same year but the “Mary Dunbar” concept was to stay, with various women filling in for the role.
Homemakers across the United States came to trust Mary Dunbar and her endorsements. She and a staff of homemakers tested each of Jewel’s products before they went to market, ensuring quality. The Mary Dunbar role also came with the responsibility of helping to choose premiums, testing them to ensure durability and usefulness. Like all Jewel Tea products, each and every premium was stamped on the bottom “Tested and Approved by Mary Dunbar Jewel Homemakers Institute.”
Mystery solved! Jewel and Hall remain in business today but their partnership ended in 1980. Many Hall collectors seek out the Mary Dunbar pieces, enjoying the added touch of history.