Independents

Why a Jeweler Honored a Gift Certificate from 1969

IndependentsNov 14, 2019

Why a Jeweler Honored a Gift Certificate from 1969

It cost Bensons Jewelers owner Ken Stein $150 but turned out to be worth thousands in free publicity.

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The original gift certificate for silverware issued by Benson Jewelers to Catherine (Cathy) Swindell, now Jones, in 1969, when she got married. The store redeemed it this week even though it quit selling silver decades ago. (Photo courtesy of Ken Stein/George Jones)
Washington—A couple weeks ago, Bensons Jewelers owner Ken Stein got an email from a man asking if his store carried silverware.

“No,” the jeweler replied, adding, “Gosh, who does anymore?”

It was an odd and seemingly dated question, but one that turned out to have a terrific backstory that has generated an untold amount of free, positive publicity for the Washington, D.C.-based retailer.

The man who sent the email was 77-year-old Pasadena, Maryland resident George Jones.

Jones and his wife Cathy had been thumbing through their wedding album on the occasion of their 50th anniversary when they found an unclaimed gift certificate from Bensons.

Dated Nov. 8, 1969, the certificate was for “one teaspoon, one place knife and one place fork” in the “Rose” pattern by Stieff and was signed “B. Singer.”

Stein said he believes the signatory was Betsy Singer, who “did a little bit of everything” during her time at the store and, likely, was its silver specialist (the store, he noted, used to have a specialist for everything.)

Singer no longer works at Bensons, and Stein, who started at the store in 1979 and bought his father Paul out of the business in the ‘90s, said they haven’t carried Stieff, or any silver, for decades.

But he saw both charity and—he’s clear and unapologetic on this point—opportunity in honoring the couple’s gift certificate, even though he had to go out and spend $150 to buy the silverware from Replacements, Ltd.
 
“I just thought it was the right thing to do,” he said, “and my extreme business savvy just said, ‘This is a good story.” 

He was correct, on both counts.

George and Cathy Jones had their new silverware from Bensons Jewelers put in a shadowbox frame along with a copy of the original gift certificate from 1969, Ken Stein’s business card, a picture from their wedding 50 years ago and a letter telling the story of the certificate’s late redemption. (Photo courtesy of Ken Stein/George Jones)
George and Cathy Jones had their new silverware from Bensons Jewelers put in a shadowbox frame along with a copy of the original gift certificate from 1969, Ken Stein’s business card, a picture from their wedding 50 years ago and a letter telling the story of the certificate’s late redemption. (Photo courtesy of Ken Stein/George Jones)

The Joneses were, by Stein’s account, “very excited” to receive another wedding present.

The couple was so excited, in fact, they had the three-piece silverware set framed, along with the original gift certificate and Stein’s business card. 

The savvy Stein shared the story with local media and, as so many stories do these days, it spread like a spill, with the jeweler fielding calls from all over the country.

“When the story broke, I had calls from California, Connecticut and New York, from total strangers, and they’ve said, ‘You’ve restored my faith in humanity.’” 


NBC News 4 Washington covered the story, and so did Washington Post columnist John Kelly, whose headline alone should land him in the running for a Pulitzer Prize.

Stein got emails via his website pledging future allegiance to the store, a few of which he shared with National Jeweler on Wednesday. 

“Dear Bensons,” one man wrote, “I saw the ‘feel good’ story today on NBC News 4 of you honoring a 50-year-old gift certificate. Great job on your part, I will certainly use Bensons for my future jewelry needs. Thanks for [an] act of kindness seldomly seen.” 

On Tuesday, a man came into the store to shake Stein’s hand. He left two rings, one for a re-engraving and one for an appraisal, and said he would be back to pick out a piece of jewelry. 

Stein said he’s also received a few hundred comments on Facebook, where he shared the news stories on his personal page, and the tale even spurred a five-star Google review. 

“Do they turn into money in the till? Time will tell but [in the meantime] I’ve restored some faith in humanity,” he said. 

“A lot of people are miserable. A lot of people are angry and mad and divided.” 

This story is none of those things and, because of that, people were happy to share it.

Michelle Graffis the editor-in-chief at National Jeweler, directing the publication’s coverage both online and in print.

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