THIMBLES by JIM LANGER from THE BLACK HILLS OF SOUTH DAKOTA, U.S.A. Information compiled by: Rowena Olbricht – Wyoming Jenny Scharff Bockel – South Africa Kit Froebel – Texas Jean Taylor – United Kingdom Mary E. Craft – Texas Susan McCool – Oklahoma
In July 2006 there was discussion on the Cyberthimble internet forum with questions regarding certain sterling thimbles in a thimble collection belonging to American collector Rowena Olbricht. She had 5 cast silver thimbles, each dated for a different year beginning with 1978. (1981 was missing.) Each thimble was slightly different in style and the year letter was either stamped on the front or, as raised numerals, formed part of the design. The thimbles were stamped inside the rim with the words “BLACK HILLS” and some of the thimbles were also stamped “STERLING”. She posted photographs to the album section of the forum, asking for information.
Upon reading the exchange, Jenny Bockel of South Africa realized that she had a Langer Black Hills thimble in her own collection. Hers was the year 1981 , the missing year in Rowena’s display. Jenny had purchased her Black Hills Silver thimble at the 1990 TCI Convention in Kentucky. She shared photos of her thimble and jestingly referred to the thimble as the “South African Missing Link”.
Also in response to Rowena’s request for information, Kit Froebel of Texas replied that she had previously purchased one with the year 1982 , which had a grape pattern, for her sub-collection of thimbles with grape designs. Kit added that she believed that Jim Langer, a silversmith and jeweler from Spearfish, South Dakota, had once owned a company called the “Black Hills Silver Co.” and she gave Rowena a telephone number. Rowena contacted the Langers, and spoke several times by phone with Mrs. Langer. She was able to ascertain quite a bit of information about Mr. Langer and his business. Mrs. Langer stated that Jim was retired and had sold the jewelry manufacturing business in 2002. He was indeed making thimbles at the time of the dates on the thimbles shown in the photographs 1978–1983. Rowena was told that the first thimble Jim had made had not been dated.
The question was asked whether Mr. Langer had ever used an identifiable mark and he (in the background) said that he did sometimes use a mark with a “leaf & acorn”. The information gained from these telephone calls, coupled with some Internet research by Mary Craft, gives us the following summary: ~~ Jim Langer’s business started out in 1974 as “Black Hills Artcraft” and as it grew larger they incorporated to become “Black Hills Silver, Inc.” The Black Hills Silver company was located in Spearfish, South Dakota and was in existence from 1975-2002 when they sold the designs, molds, etc. to Gregorian Incorporated, a wholesale and manufacturing company in Lemmon, South Dakota. Today, this company refers to Langer items as “Langer Jewelry”.
Gregorian’s web page advertizes Langer Jewelry as being “The Original Black Hills Silver Jewelry” as well as the following: “ Gregorian Inc. is proud to continue our tradition of quality with Langer’s, hand crafted, sterling silver jewelry. The Langer jewelry line has over 50 years of history in the Black Hills region of South Dakota. Each piece of Langer’s jewelry is created from solid sterling silver. Langer’s jewelry is hand crafted by artisans, making each piece a unique work of art. All findings and chains are solid sterling silver.” An Internet auction site called ProxiBid auctioned a silver ring on February 3, 2007 in a box marked “ LANGERS - The Original Black Hills Silver” . The size 10 ring, though not marked, was in a Langer’s box and sold for $25.
As stated previously, we know that Mr. Langer sometimes, though not always, used a mark of a leaf and acorn. As of 2006, Mr. Langer was 80 years old and Mrs. Langer 77. Both were experiencing major health problems. They were still living in Spearfish, South Dakota. Since Mr. Langer’s main occupation was making jewelry, one might assume that the number of thimbles made by him was small. Of course, that is only supposition. There may be many more out there just waiting for their true identity to be discovered. Only time will tell if other thimbles will surface. ~ o0o ~ If you locate a thimble which you believe to be made by Jim Langer, please contact one of the principals of this program so that we may compile as much information as possible for the records.
A BIT OF HISTORY REGARDING The Black Hills Mt. Rushmore Spearfish Canyon and Black Hills Gold (and Silver) Jewelry
“ The Black Hills - Mt. Rushmore - and Black Hills Gold (and Silver) Jewelry” Spearfish Canyon is in the Black Hills and Badlands of South Dakota. It is an oasis of pine-clad mountains on the great plains of America. It is near Mt. Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorials, and the city of Spearfish, home of Jim Langer, lies at the mouth of the canyon. It’s a place where bison and wild horses still roam free.
The PahaSapa limestone, found at the top layer of Spearfish Canyon gets it name from the Sioux Indian Nation. “Paha” meaning Hills and “Sapa” meaning black. This is because of the Ponderosa Pine trees that make up almost 80% of the tree coverage in the hills. The needles of this pine are flat and the topside of the needles are designed for absorbing light, thus the hills look dark from a distance.
Starting in 1927 and over a span of 14 years, 360 gold miners--turned craftsmen, working under the direction of sculptor Gutzon Borglum, carved a rough granite monument from Mt. Rushmore.
Today, in dozens of intricate steps, their descendants carry on this tradition of quality and excellence with every piece of “Mt. Rushmore Black Hills Gold” – South Dakota’s official state jewelry. The gold and silver which was used to make the first Black Hills Gold Jewelry had been mined at the Homestake Mine in Lead, South Dakota. At the time it was the largest gold mine in the Western Hemisphere. Henri LeBeau, a prospector from France, did not discover this gold; however, he did create the legendary jewelry with the leaves and grapes that he sold to other miners and prospectors. It is said that the design was a remembrance of the vineyards in his homeland.
What makes this gold jewelry so unique is the yellow gold grapes, with leaf designs in shades of pink and green gold. The colors are actually achieved by alloying gold and silver to produce green and alloying copper with gold to produce pink. The frosty appearance is achieved by wriggling, or engraving, the leaves.
In the 1980's a United States Federal Judge ruled that if a manufacturer was to call its jewelry “Black Hills Gold,” then it must be made in the Black Hills. One hundred twenty years have passed since that first piece was made and some people still say that wearing the jewelry brings them “good luck!” Could one not therefore also assume that ownership of one of the “Black Hills Silver” thimbles might bring equally good fortune? ~ o0o ~
Bibliography: Cyberthimble internet forum - 2006 message archives. Bockel, Jenny – 2006 Program for South African Thimble Collectors Club Craft, Mary – 2006-10 email correspondence Froebel, Kit – 2006-09 email correspondence Gregorian, Inc – website http://www.gregorianinc.com/langerproducts.htm McCool, Susan – 2010 email correspondence Olbricht, Rowena – 2006-09 email correspondence Taylor, Jean – 2009 email correspondence Acknowledgments: Thimble photos used by permission of Rowena Olbricht, Jenny Bockel, Jean Taylor, and Susan McCool. PowerPoint Presentation by Mary Craft – 2007 Revisions 2008-9-10