Jewelry Hallmarks: the rings of Ostby & Barton

Jewelry hallmarks can be an antique seller’s best friend. With a little bit of research, these tiny stamps can reveal a lot of information: a piece’s age, country of origin, the jeweler that originally made it, etc. The other day we noticed that two of our antique men’s signet rings had the same maker’s mark, and we were bitten by the research bug. Who made these rings and where did they come from?

The mark has two initials “O” and “B” with the gold fineness stamped in between. Just a few searches later, we learned that these rings were made by Ostby & Barton, a prominent jeweler based in Providence, Rhode Island. Multiple sources say that this company was the largest producer of gold rings in the United States at the end of the 19th century; these two rings are part of that history.

Engelhart C. Ostby, the company’s founder and president, was born in Norway. He trained as a jeweler in Oslo before immigrating to the United States. He worked for jewelers in Providence before partnering with Nathan B. Barton in 1879 to form Ostby & Barton.

Late Victorian 14k gold signet ring with monogram "RCN," at Gray & Davis.

Late Victorian 14k gold signet ring with monogram "RCN," at Gray & Davis.

10k gold early 20th century made signet ring, at Gray & Davis. 

10k gold early 20th century made signet ring, at Gray & Davis. 

Ostby regularly traveled to Europe to survey jewelry and design trends; his daughter Helen began joining him on these trips in 1906. Alas, one of the reasons we know so much about Ostby’s life is because it ended tragically. In 1912, Engelhart and Helen booked return passage from France on the RMS Titanic. Helen made it to safety, but unfortunately Ostby perished. The company continued to make jewelry until the 1950s.