American Silversmiths

Asa Cowles
Sibyl Merrill
Ralph Cowles
Delia Benton
Royal Cowles
(Abt 1820-1897)


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Royal Cowles
  • Born: Abt 1820, Claridon OH
  • Died: 2 Jun 1897, New York City NY

  General notes:


  Events in his life were:

  • He was a partner in 1849-1853 with Joseph R. Albertson in Cleveland OH as COWLE & COMPANY and later COWLES & ALBERTSON, with a shop at 49 Superior Avenue. Albertson was formerly a member of FELLOW, WADSWORTH & Co. of New York. 3

  • Alternate Mark for COWLES & ANDERSON
  • He appeared on the 1850 census taken at Cleveland OH, listed as a jeweler.

  • He worked in 1854-1857 as a silversmith and jeweler in Cleveland OH


  • Box label, c 1868
    Private Collection
  • He appeared on the 1870 census taken at Cleveland OH, listed as a retired merchant.
  • Cleveland Leader, 31 Dec 1879.

    It is just one year ago to-morrow—New Year's Day—that Mr. Royal Cowles, jeweler, of this city, suddenly disappeared, and every indication pointed to suicide as the solution of the mystery, but recently it became known that he still lived, and on Monday last he returned to Cleveland, and is once more among his friends. His case is a remarkable one in many respects. He left a business card, on the reverse of which were a few lines addressed to Mr. George F. Ransom, who had worked for him for years in the jewelry business, and was therefore intimately acquainted with the missing gentleman. The note stated that Mr. Cowles was about to go away; that it would do no good for his friends to look for him, and he desired Mr. Ransom to close up his business. The disappearance naturally aroused considerable excitement in all circles, for Mr. Cowles and his father before him were well-known business men. Nothing, however, could be gleaned as to the whereabouts of the lost, and his friends had fully made up their minds that he had committed suicide, and the finding of his dead body was thought only to be a matter of time.
    One day in August last a mysterious letter came to the residence of Mr. Cowles's mother, penned in the familiar style of the missing man, and was addressed to his little daughter, who at the time was absent from the City with her mother. The letter stated, in substance, that the writer was sorry that he had nothing to send his little girl on her eleventh birthday except the living love of her father. No date was given, nor anything that would indicate whence the letter came but the postmark, quite faintly printed on the envelope, and with this as a clue the search for the missing friend was renewed. It was learned that a man answering his description arrived at. Bellaire, Belmont County, about the time of Mr. Cowles's disappearance, and going; to a hotel he told the proprietor a curious story of how he had lost his identity, and his history prior to that date was to him a blank. He was apparently sane, though knowing nothing of himself, whence he came, what his name was, or where he was going. He remained at the hotel for a few days, and one evening: attended a temperance lecture. What he heard took such hold upon his mind as to make him temporarily insane, and he started on a tour of the saloons of the place, in his zeal for the temperance cause demolishing everything connected with the dram shops. He was set upon by a lot of roughs and severely handled, his arm being broken in the fracas. He was taken to the County Infirmary at East Richland. where he was kept until fully recovered, and then, he not having any other place to go or any aim, apparently, in life, he was retained In the institution and employed as an assistant, keeping books and dispensing medicine to the patients.
    His case awakened a wide interest among medical men, and the facts were published in every part of the land. The mention of his mysterious arrival had the effect of bringing a number of letters of inquiry from persons who had missed friends, but none of the descriptions given answered, and it was only when a letter was received from Cleveland that any hope of identify in a the stranger was felt by the officers of the institution, He gave his name as Ralph, his father's name, and knew no other. At no time was he changed in behavior, his work being done without mistakes, and no traces of insanity could be noticed. He was the same free-hearted man of bygone days, only he had no recollection of anything occurring prior to the 2d of last January.
    When his friends were fully satisfied that it was really Mr. Cowles, steps were taken, though cautiously, to affect his return to Cleveland. It was feared that he would refuse to come back, and his friends were not desirous of imposing upon him. On Saturday last Mr. Ransom went to East Richland, and called at the infirmary and saw his old friend. The same features were there, the same voice greeted his salutation, but the long-lost jeweler could not recall anything of his visitor, and the narration of familiar incidents and every other device to restore his memory failed to produce any effect upon his mind. He had confidence in what was told him by Mr. Ransom and those around him, and readily consented to return to Cleveland. On Monday, he arrived in the city, and in the absence of his mother went with Mr. Ransom to the residence of the latter, in East Cleveland. He could not recognize the wife or any members of Mr. Ransom's family, though formerly knowing them well, and nothing in the scenes about the city awakened any sense in him of his past life. He has forgotten also about writing to his child. Pictures of all his friends were shown him with no effect, and even a very fine jeweler's lathe, which he had spent years in constructing, failed to arouse his dormant memory; with every part of a watch, however, he was perfectly familiar. He converses on all the subjects of literature and politics with as much intelligence as any one, quoting from the writings of noted authors and narrating many important events in the history of public men.
    His family are at present away from the city, though, they are expected soon to return.
  • Flynt & Fales:, . 3 Cowles continued in business until 1889 when he moved to New York City. About 1869 George Cowell and his son, Herbert, started a jewelry business, H. COWELL & Co., and took over the business of Royal Cowles. In this way, one of Cleveland's largest and most exclusive jewelry stores had its beginning in the business of one of the city's early silversmiths.

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