The only cash register in use at Randolph Jewelry on Main Street in Placerville is so old, it does not use electricity.
“It’s about 120 years old, and it’s been here for over 100 years,” said owner Charlie Stephens. The counter won’t go past $99.99 and the key that denotes the sale was for “jewelry” has been used so many times the word has rubbed off.
The cash register is joined by a glass case and a large safe embedded in the wall behind the counter, all still in use after a century. All will be on display for the 160th anniversary of the store on Saturday.
“The founders are going to be featured,” Stephens said, showing a picture of F.F. Barss, who founded the store in 1852 as a tent on Main Street. Barss, who was born in London, traveled to New York City, crossed the Isthmus of Panama to San Francisco and went straight to Placerville, Stephens said.
After having the store burn down three times, in 1854, 1856 and 1891, Barss, who had been joined in the business by his son in the 1880s, moved across the street to the store’s current location, of what was a hat shop. In 1916, Barss, who was then the last “pioneer member” of the local Masonic Lodge, passed away, said Stephens. The business fell to his son. “The son sold it to a fellow by the name of N.H. Burger,” Stephens said.
Burger changed the name of the business. His check writer, which dates back to 1903, still sits in the “museum” case in the shop, along with a receipt bearing the new name of the store. Burger and his son owned the shop until 1946. “In 1946, Bill Randolph bought it. That ‘s where the name comes from,” Stephens said.
Randolph sold the store to Stephens on Aug. 1, 1981, a year after Stephens had proposed the sale.
Now, 31 years later, Stephens is getting ready to celebrate the 160th anniversary of F.F. Barss’ opening of his jewelry store. He’s been busy collecting photos and mementos from the shop over the years, pulling out a pair of rings a woman recently brought in that she had bought at the shop 64 or 65 years ago, which she donated to the museum case, Stephens said.
He also brought out a demagnetizer, which was handmade about 100 years ago. “It’s meant to demagnetize tools and watches,” he said. Due to the materials used to make old watches, he said, they sometimes needed demagnetizing to continue working properly. It was just one of the services that the store has offered, once also inspecting railroad watches, giving eye exams and providing eyeglasses, “turning” billiard balls — which were once made of wood — to keep them balanced and usable and acting as an assay office.
The anniversary event, which will take place starting 2 p.m. on July 21, will feature “an assortment of memorabilia, tools and the like,” Stephens said. “We’ll have pictures, a slide show on the TV, articles. We have an 1854 article from the Mountain Democrat.”
That article will join others on a poster board for perusal. There will also be a raffle and a contest to guess how many years of experience the six employees of the shop collectively have, with the only hint of 70 years between them just at Randolph Jewelry, with 31 coming from Stephens alone. The prize is a $160 gift certificate to the shop.
Stephens held up a picture of Barss, comparing himself to the original shop owner. “I’ve gone through a great recession, but he had the Great Depression.”