Images of the Past: Jacob R. Sheaffer, jeweler

Jacob Royer Sheaffer, whose family name is legendary in American business, was born in 1838 in Stark County, Ohio. As a teen, he headed west to the Colorado goldfields and returned in 1854. Two years later, he moved to Ottumwa, where he apprenticed with jeweler W.H. Nunamaker. In June 1861, Sheaffer moved to Bloomfield, where he opened his own jewelry store in a small 7- by 18-foot shop on the east side of the town square, indicated above in the 1869 birdseye drawing (present day Iowa Theatre Location).

By the beginning of the 1870s, Sheaffer had become a very successful jeweler and had a local insurance company, too. In 1873, an item appeared in the local newspapers announcing the store would be moving to Hill & Taylor’s new brick block of buildings (the present day location of the  Edward Jones offices at 110 S. Madison St.). But almost immediately, because his affiliation with the Great Western Insurance Co., Sheaffer’s business was affected by the Chicago fire in 1871. The panic of 1873 wiped out Sheaffer, and he had to sell his store and assets. He finally rebounded, going into partnership with his brother-in-law, and opened a new store on the northwest corner of the square at 102 W. Jefferson St. (J.L. Stogdill’s former office location).

In 1884, Sheaffer relocated again, directly across the street to 101 E. Jefferson St. when jeweler Parke Findley moved from the community. Findley, it should be noted, had moved into Sheaffer’s former store on South Madison Street when Sheaffer had financial troubles. By 1888, Sheaffer’s business was once again struggling. This time, Sheaffer’s son Walter joined in the business (Images of the Past, Feb. 17, 2021). The father/son business was a success and continued for the next 18 years, when Walter moved to Fort Madison after buying a jewelry store there and later founded Sheaffer Pen Co.  J.R. took on E.O. Spilman as a junior partner. Jacob R. Sheaffer died Jan. 25, 1917 on the eve of 56 years in business.            

—Rudy Evans  |  revans1953@gmail.com