BROWN, MICHAEL SEPTIMUS, silversmith and jeweller; b. 22 Dec. 1818 in Halifax, N.S., son of William Brown and Joanna Bessonett, née Stairs; d. unmarried on 29 Nov. 1886 in Halifax.
Michael Septimus Brown was a cousin of the noted chronometer-maker, Richard Upham Marsters*, and two of his elder brothers learned the watch, clock, and hardware trade from their half-brother, John Stayner Bessonett. Brown himself, however, was apprenticed in 1833 to the talented silversmith and goldsmith, Peter Nordbeck*. In 1840 Brown established an independent jewellery and silver business in Halifax; in addition to wares made with the skills learned from Nordbeck, he relied heavily upon imported British speciality items, such as watches, toys, and eyeglasses. Brown became increasingly ambitious as his skills attracted new clients, but the real success of his firm appears to date from the mid 1850s when he commenced regular buying trips to England to improve the quality of his imported stock.
Brown was able to attract many of Nordbeck’s customers following the latter’s death in 1861, and in new quarters the firm became the most prominent enterprise of its type in Halifax. Inferior stock was discontinued and the emphasis was placed on quality, reliability, and honesty. Brown was respected for his integrity and at one time his watches carried this guarantee: “Wind me up and use me well, and let me have fairplay / And I to you will try to give the precious time of day / But if by chance that I should stop, or fail to give the hour, / Take me back to M. S. Brown, and he will give me power.” Brown himself was noted for his superb silver flatware and jewellery, but the firm’s workshops produced several other talented artisans, including David Hudson Whiston and Brown’s nephew Thomas, who was apprenticed to the business in 1851 at age 14.
Brown and his nephew formed a partnership in 1871 and the following year, in failing health, Brown retired in favour of Thomas. The firm then became M. S. Brown and Company. The public saw little more of the generous, lively, and intelligent founder of the business, since Michael Brown spent his last years as an invalid. When he died of apoplexy without a will, his estate of some $60,000, accumulated through property and investment in Halifax banks, was divided among his family. His firm, continued by a succession of owners until it was purchased by Henry Birks and Sons in 1919, maintained its founder’s record for quality and integrity.
Halifax County Court of Probate (Halifax), no.3541, estate of M. S. Brown. PANS, MG 1, 160A. Acadian Recorder, 3 July 1882, 29 Nov. 1886. D. C. Mackay, Silversmiths and related craftsmen of the Atlantic provinces (Halifax, 1973). Harry Piers and D. C. Mackay, Master goldsmiths and silversmiths of Nova Scotia and their marks, ed. U. B. Thoms, on and A. M. Strachan (Halifax, 1948).