Interview with Arthur G. Rider
Broome County Oral History Project
Interview with: Arthur G. Rider
Interveiwed by: Wanda Wood
Date of Interview: 30 May 1978
Wanda: This is Wanda Wood, interviewing Mr. Arthur G. Rider in the Press Building. Binghamton, New York. The date is 30 May, 1978. [muffled: 78]. Mr. Rider, you've been a citizen around this area for many years, and we'd like to get some of your experiences down on tape. And, ah, especially about your, your jewelry. Wholesale jewelry business. And, ah, could you begin by telling us where you were born?
Arthur: Oh, I was born up on, ah, River Road [Chenango Bridge], ah, about, ah, almost at the corner of the airport road. And, ah…my people lived there three…I think they were there three years before I was born. And then…and, ah, and I still own the, I still own the house. [clears throat] Well, they, ah…
Wanda: And they - were they farmers, or…?
Arthur: They were farmers, ayunh-yuh. Ayunh…farmers. Yeah, we had probably 20 cows, and 50 chickens, and, askah, three horses.
Wanda: [laughing] That was a big farm, probably.
Arthur: Well not, very big...I drove a horse to school when I was a kid, to Chenango Forks.
Wanda: Chenango Forks School.
Wanda: Where was that, then? Where was the school? Arthur: Well, the school was on the right hand side of, um…on the right hand side of, ah, Main St. in Chenango Forks. It's around, in where the new fire station is now.
Wanda: Oh. The building is gone, is it?
Arthur: Yes. The building’s gone. Oh, yes - it's been gone for quite a while.
Wanda: Did you have to go up that dug-road along the river? Arthur: Yeah, I went up the dug-road.
Arthur: Drove the dug-road.
Wanda: That must have been pretty treacherous sometimes in the winter.
Arthur: Well, yes. Ayuh, it was. Yeah. Horse jumped out of the one track into the other where we were in it. I remember we all went down the, down the bank in the [laughs] - horse and all.
Wanda: [laughs] Overturned?
Arthur: But, I made it. Didn't do any damage, as I remember.
Wanda: [laughs] Oh, dear.
Wanda: So you went to school up there until, when?
Arthur: Went to school, and that's where I got an idea that I wanted to learn the jewelry business. Used to go in to see the watchmaker theres every day. Got it in my head I wanted to learn watchmakin’, so then…I…
Arthur:...Went to…took a correspondence course in it first, and then I went to Lancaster, to Bowman's in Lancaster and studied - took up the watchmaking. Then I came back and got a job, mmm…Russell O'Brien, 54 Court St. I was there about a year…a year, I guess. And then I went...a year, a year…
Wanda: Was that a sort of an apprenticeship?
Arthur: No, no. I got a job, you know. It was, ah…I think for that age... You see, that was in 19…no, 1918 or 1919. Right? At the end of the war. And, ah, ah, considering, I don't thinkin’ I got such a bad job to start with. I got $20.00 a week.
Arthur: Then I raised me to 25, and then I went to thirty. I went down to 20 Court St., and I got, ah, finally got 35 after, after the five years. And, ah, I told you that I, about-a, the…I told you about living in the Hotchkiss? [Hotchkiss Boarding House, corner of Henry and Carroll Sts.]
Wanda: Yes, I'd like to hear about that.
Arthur: Yeah, on the same...ah, that, that was the time that boarded up there, and I ate there.
Wanda: It was the Hotchkiss?
Arthur: Ah, three meals a day in this boarding house. Linen tablecloths and, and, ah, colored waiters, and three meals a day for a dollar. So you see-
Wanda: Yes, it is-
Arthur: I wasn't doing so bad at, ah, on tw-25/$30.00 a week. And only paying out, eh, six and a couple’a, couple of dollars for a room.
Arthur: In proportion, I was doin'...
Wanda: -far better than you would these days, that's for sure.
Arthur: In proportion, I was doing much better.
Arthur: Uh-huh. But anyway, the watchmaking... there was a demand for them, must be, because I don't think - my wife's my same age and I don't think she got, as the secretary for a lawyer, I think she only got $6.00 a week when she started.
Wanda: Mm-hm. Well, why - when you were - this job, the second job you had, were you watchmaking, or, or were you…?
Arthur: Repairing watches. Repairing watches.
Wanda: Repairing. And then how did you get from there into jewelry?
Arthur: Well, [sardonic chuckle] well I got mad that - ‘s’well, I got mad that-s, I wanted to travel on the road, so I applied for a job up to the Pond's in Syracuse, the ones that sell Keepsake now?
Arthur: And-a went up there and that's how I got a job. They gave me a job. Traveled on the road…on commission. Straight commission.
Wanda: Huh. Did you cover one certain area, or…?
Arthur: Well, I covered New York State, mostly. Wanda: Is that a fact?
Arthur: Yeah, traveled around New York State.
Wanda: What was that, by train or car, or what?
Arthur: Part of the time by train. In the wintertime, I traveled by train, wintertime [summertime] I used the car, but, ah, I never traveled on the train too much.
Arthur: Have some, but not too much.
Wanda: And you took your sample cases and…
Arthur: Ayuh, I took samples.
Wanda: And went to jewelry stores?
Arthur: Jewelry stores, yeah.
Wanda: I imagine the styles of jewelry has changed a lot since then, hasn't it?
Arthur: Well, yes, I guess. Not too, I don't think…not too much, as I know of.
Wanda: Wasn't jewelry quite, oh, ornate…in those days?
Arthur: I don't remember. We sold - oh, used to sell cufflinks, lots of cufflinks, ah, and lots of cuff buttons, and lots of, ah, Waldemar chains [watch chains]'n…and, ah…oh, little pins. Small, little pins for the ladies, a-and, ah…oh, I don't know. Then we sold watches. See, a wholesaler those days sold watches.
Arthur: Now, they don't.
Wanda: Oh, they don't? It's gone too big now?
Arthur: Well, it's gone... see, during the war in 1940, they all switched over from, ah…from wholesalers, direct from the manufacturer to the retailer…’bout 1940.
Arthur: So that, that, ah, that ended a lot of the big wholesalers.
Wanda: Cut out the middleman, didn't it?
Arthur: Yep. Few of them, few of them survived. And some didn't.
Wanda: What, ah…how did you…? You must know a lot about diamonds. How did you get into that branch of the jewelry?
Arthur: Well, I go - I guess…when I worked for the Pond's, ah, I was interested. They seemed to be interested in, ah, I sold the - you see, they had the trade na- mark name, “Keepsake.”
Arthur: And, ah…I sold the first assortment of them I sold down in Honesdale, Pennsylvania. And, ah, Robert Pond sold the first one in, ah, the first ring in, in, ah, Mike Lisson's in Syracuse on Salina Street.
Arthur: Then I got it in my hea- I worked for them 10 years, then, then I got it in my head I wanted to try it myself, so…
Arthur: Then I went to, then I went to work at that. Then, then I went to work for an outfit in Lancaster where I sold the same kind of, uh, well, jewelry. Hamilton watches; Elgin watches; every kind of silverware and whatnot. And so then I, then I got it in my head I wanted to go to Europe. I thought, if they could go to Europe I could go to Europe, so I [laughs] the Pond's - I figured, if they go to Europe and buy diamonds, I could, too.
Arthur: So in 19 - lessee…1938. I went, I went to Europe and bought some stones over there.
Wanda: Well, where did you go for that?
Arthur: Well, I went to, I went to, um…went to Antwerp first. Then I went, ‘n’, then I went from there to Amsterdam. Went to…they had offices in both places. And I stayed there four/five days and, ah, bought a few stones. ‘N’ I always, ah, I kept the contact for years and years...there.
Wanda: So you've dealt with that same-
Arthur: Yeah, I did for years and years.
Arthur: Yeah. So then I come back, and I didn't go to Europe again, ah, for another…see…not ‘till about 1960…probably not…what? ‘Bout 19sh…guess about 1970, I guess we went the second time. Of course, the war come on, you see.
Arthur: And blocked ya from the, the second war, there. That blocked you from, from going over there.
Wanda: Did you, was there trouble with supplying, uh, diamonds from, ah, Holland during the war?
Arthur: Hmmm, well, I…
Wanda: Do you remember?
Arthur: Well, during the war, you couldn't get 'em from over there. They were all bottled up. I mean, ah, eh…the Nazis took a lot of them and, eh, ah…you couldn't get - no. The man I knew, he was, happened to be in America when, when, um…when Hitler marched into Holland, He was in America.
Arthur: And, ah, he stayed here several years.
Arthur: Until the thing got quieted down...yes. No, you couldn't, there was no, no diamonds come outta there during the war.
Arthur: None, none at all...then. So I, uh…I dunno. I…
Wanda: How did you, how'd you supply your customers, then?
Arthur: Oh, it was very difficult. Of course, there's an awful - people have awful big stocks of them in America. And, ah, I dunno where they come from. The price was very high then. And, [sardonic chuckle] but it just - I couldn't supply them very good. Wanda: Mm-hm.
Arthur: Then of course, the government - you couldn't travel because you couldn't get stamps to travel.
Wanda: That's right.
Arthur: Yeah. You had to bootleg-
Wanda: Strange how we forget, isn't it?
Arthur: You had to buy bootleg gasoline.
Arthur:God, you don't remember any of that stuff!
Wanda: Oh, well…a little...
Arthur: A little...
Wanda: Some of the fringes about stamping, stamps and so forth.
Arthur: That was a disgrace. That's the reason I, I didn't go for this, ah, about this gasoline business this time. I didn't believe there was any shortage. There wasn't any shortage then. They claimed there wasn't any shortage then.
Arthur: All they were out to…try to stop you from travelin' or something. I guess they…
Arthur: There wasn't any shortage of gasoline; they had gasoline those days.
Wanda: And it doesn't seem as though there's any real shortage now.
Arthur: No, I don't believe there isn’t any, probably isn't any real shortage now. They just…they'd like to have you believe that there was, and...
Arthur: But there isn't - when you see the cars on the road, you know there isn't.
Wanda: [chuckles] That’s certainly-
Arthur: They didn't raise the price of it much.
Arthur: No. Now, that’s been-
Wanda: So now you, now you, ah, you've been in this one particular spot here for, what? 35 years?
Arthur: About…I guess about 35 years I've been here. I'm not dead sure, but I think about 35 years.
Wanda: When you first started on your own, where did you set up business?
Arthur: Over in the old Savings Bank building, back of the Marine-Midland Bank. You know-
Arthur: The one between City Hall and, and, ah...I, I rented a room over there for, ah…for, ah, $20.00 a month.
Arthur: And I…
Wanda: To start with?
Arthur: And I finally got in two rooms, then three rooms. And, ah, they bought, and, ah…that's when the old, that's when the old Binghamton Savings Bank was there.
Arthur: Then they bought, then, uh, then they took over the, ah…which bank was it there? Um…another savings bank pretty near went flooey? Um, or over in the location where they are now. I can't name the bank. I oughta be able to.
Wanda: It wouldn't be the Citizen's…?
Arthur -the Citizen's was up along here. [Chenango St.]
Wanda: The People's Bank?
Arthur: No, the, um...
Wanda: People's Bank?
Arthur: There was a savings bank - another one, over there.
Wanda: Huh. I'll have to look into that.
Arthur: No, I can't name ‘em. But, they were going to go flooey, and, ah, the Binghamton Savings Bank…ah, took them over.
Arthur: Then they eventually moved over there. Eventually moved over there.
Wanda: And that's now the Marine-Midland building, right? Arthur: No, no, no.
Wanda: Oh, you’re telling-
Arthur: Over - where the Savings Bank is now.
Wanda: Oh, I see.
Arthur: There was, there was, there was, ah…another savings bank over there. Somebody could tell you that.
Arthur: But I, I can't.
Wanda: We'll have to look that up.
Arthur: ‘Cause Citizen's Bank was right along in here some where. They went flooey, too.
Wanda: They really folded, didn't they?
Arthur: Ayuh, but the savings, the other one [Chenango Valley Savings Bank- 66 Exchange St.], was gonna fold, I guess. But they went.. the Binghamton Savings Bank took ‘em over…
Arthur: So that saved them.
Wanda: How did, how did the Depression affect your business? Were people willing to spend [unintelligible]?
Arthur: They didn't have any money and you couldn't, ah…no. There wasn't any business, hardly.
Wanda: Bad times, huh?
Arthur: Yeah. Yes. Very, very...bad. 'Course, you could travel around the-then. I could travel around for, say, $35.00 a week. I could travel around and go, and be gone five days probably, for 35, $40.00.
Arthur: And, ah, now…now you go out 'n in one day you spend $50.00. Ridiculous!
Wanda:...Motels and that sort of thing.
Arthur: I stayed down in Corning the other night. And, ah, their rate, um…normally, maybe I'd get in there for 24 or $25.00. But, I ended up paying 30. And, ah, they said that's all they had.
Wanda: I hope that was a good night's sleep.
Arthur: Well…[chuckles] I slept pretty fair. I told them they could give me a room on the back 'n they gave me one on the front, but it was all right; I slept.
Arthur: It's a very beautiful hotel - or motel.
Arthur: That Hilton in, ah, Corning.
Arthur: It's very nice. It's a nice…
Wanda: Do you do much traveling now?
Arthur: Oh, I travel. Oh, three or four days, three or four days one week. And then maybe not much the next.
Arthur: And, ah..no, I keep, I go around... keep goin'.
Wanda: You to- you've had a very successful career, I should think.
Arthur: No, I wouldn't say so.
Wanda: Well, I know you're a well-respected businessman in Binghamton.
Arthur: [laughs] I don't know about that.
Wanda: …Who do you think influenced you the most... during your life?
Arthur: Hm…I…well, I think it was, ah, probably those people I worked for in Syracuse. I think, ah…they probably did, ayuh, in a way. Because they were quite, quite sucs, quite successful, and they were…kept themselves up in very good order, and, ah, and, ah…very, they were very successful. 'Course they, they built that business. When I worked for ‘em, they were doin', ah…oh, when I started, probably doing a half a million. And now they're doing 18 million.
Wanda: That's Keepsake Diamonds?
Wanda: There's one right there. [laughs]
Arthur: Ayuh. Yeah.
Wanda: Well, it did-
Arthur: Well, and so that probably influenced me. And the man in Europe taught me more about stones than anybody else. He’s…
Wanda: What is there to learn? I'm absolutely...I don't know anything about them. What is there to learn about diamonds, cutting and all that sort of thing?
Arthur: Oh, there's so much to know that it's, it's, ah, pitiful. I mean…
Wanda: [laughs] Not enough time today, eh?
Arthur: Oh, no. You couldn't, ah…but it's color, and, and, ah…color and make and imperfection and, and everything goes into the, puttin' the value on ‘em. Everything. Very complicated, very complicated thing.
Wanda: I notice you have some pretty complicated looking machinery here, too. [chuckles]
Arthur: Well, I - yeah. Yeah, a microscope. Yeah. On some of ‘em. And scales, and, and, ah…there's some of ‘em, ah…have more then I have. Now you're coming along to a period where they're bringing in these diamonds that are not diamonds, but, um…this, ah, uh, cubic zirconia. Ah, is a new material. And the hardness is way up there, and, ah, refractive index is, was, was way up, too. and that's, ah, that's really a fooler. More, a bigger fooler than they've ever had.
Wanda: Is that right?
Arthur: Yeah. Bigger fooler than they've ever had.
Wanda: You mean there’s been others? [unintelligible]
Arthur: Oh, there's other, been other things, sure. But this thing…this thing, it’s really got 'em a little worried, I think. [chuckles]
Wanda: Do they sparkle just as good as the other ones? Arthur: Well, ah, they can be a…it would be a job to, to separate ‘em.
Wanda: Is that a fact?
Arthur: Yep. I don't own one; I'm gonna buy one. I'm gonna buy one or two of ‘em. But, I haven't.
Wanda: They aren't anywhere as near as, as expensive as diamonds, right?
Arthur: Oh no, no, no, no. No. No.
Wanda: Diamonds are still good, solid investment, aren’t they?
Wanda: Always probably will be.
Arthur: Have been, I guess. I hope so.
Arthur: Price goes up and up and up.
Arthur: Yeah. So much that you can't believe it.
Wanda: Well, would you advise young people these days to get into the business that you're in?
Arthur: No. I wouldn't.
Wanda: You wouldn't?
Arthur: No. I think it's too, I think it's too difficult. Stores, you see, there’s, it's getting so there are very few stores.
Arthur: Yeah, very few stores. When I started out, you could go to…well, now the fellow from Greene does pretty good, but there was a store in Oxford that, they did just, just as well. Of course, the store in Norwich, that's all right. But, then there was Sherburne, there was Earlville, and there was Hamilton. Always had jewelry stores...and they don't now.
Wanda: That's true.
Arthur: No. When I was a kid, you used to go to - or when I started, I’d go to Newark Valley and stay half a day. And, ah, then I'd go to Nichols and stay half a day. And, ah, get an order.
Wanda: Is that right?
Arthur: But, you couldn't do that now.
Wanda: Huh. Well, that's kinda sad, isn't it?
Arthur: In a way, yes.
Arthur: Those towns have...gone down markedly.
Wanda: How ‘bout this…original man that you said inspired you to become, get interested in jewelry in, in, ah, Chenango Forks…what kind of a place did he have? A jewelry-?
Arthur: Oh, a little bit of a, of a, ah…watchmaking shop.
Wanda: Was it in the old hotel there or what?
Arthur: No, it was the next building beyond that hotel, and it's, eh, where the post office is built out - ah, the building is, ah, the front built out on it?
Wanda: Mm-hm, mm-hm.
Arthur: That's where - Al Elliot, his name was.
Arthur: And, ah…ya know, he was…he was a pretty good watchmaker. He was a general mechanic.
Arthur: Ayuh, he was…he was very, ah, good watchmaker, I think - but not a very good businessman, I don’t think.
Wanda: [laughs] That’s-
Arthur: Hey, he was long on guns. He could shoot…and, ah, he really could. He was a terrific marksman.
Wanda: So his store probably had a lot of other things besides watches in it, then.
Arthur: Largely. Largely, I'd say. 'Twasn't much of a store.
Arthur: As you think of it now, not much of a store. But, he made a living there.
Arthur: Had one of the first cars in Chenango Forks; an old, Maxwell car.
Wanda: I'd like to see that again.
Arthur: You wouldn't see that, no.
Wanda: Well, what, uh…anything more you wanna-
Arthur: No, I don't want to-
Wanda: -tell us about, to…?
Arthur: I don't want to tell you any more.
Wanda: I've taken up quite a bit of your time already, anyway.
Arthur: No. I don't care about that.
Wanda: Well, it's been very enjoyable and I want to thank you very much.
Arthur: But I didn’t tell you much.
Wanda: Oh, I think you did.
Arthur: You do think so?