Pennino Jewelry History: Three Neapolitan Princes and the Legacy of Pennino

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Written by Dotty Stringfield

©2006 to present


Courtesy Carole Tanenbaum, photo by Chris Curreri


Over 100 years ago, three brothers and their sister lived with their parents, Pasquale and Giuseppina, in Naples, Italy. Pasquale was a master jeweler like his father before him. As he worked, he dreamed of someday moving his family to the United States where he hoped his sons could follow the family tradition and become known for creating exceptional jewelry. The beginning of his dream became reality when he and his oldest son Oreste (Otto) arrived in the United States in 1904, where they lived on Hicks Street in Brooklyn Heights, New York.

Oresto and Pasquale Pennino


In 1908 his wife Giuseppina, their daughter Maria and two younger sons Francis Anselmo (Frank) and Gennaro (Jack) joined Pasquale and Otto at 211 Hamilton Avenue, Brooklyn, New York. A family letter (1908-1914) mentions Frank and Jack attending school in Brooklyn and Otto working with his father in the family’s jewelry store.


Sadly, Pasquale died on May 17, 1908. Information found in the Brooklyn city archives states: Pasquale Pennino, goldsmith, born in Boscoreale (Naples, Italy) September 18, 1852; arrived at New York (Ellis Island) November 14, 1904; died in Brooklyn, Kings County, May 17, 1908; buried in Evergreen Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York.”

Giuseppina and her daughter Maria returned to Italy sometime in 1914. However, Otto, Frank and Jack remained in New York where they continued to develop their skills and work in the jewelry industry.


Frank, Otto and Jack — 1910 to 1912

In Italy the brothers had been known as the “three Neapolitan Princes,” because they were descendants of Italian royalty. The nickname, along with a reputation for being well dressed and mannerly young men, followed them to the United States where they quickly became involved in the Italian community in New York.


William Francis Hartnett, son of Christine Pennino’s sister and named after Frank, lived with his Uncle Frank and Aunt Christine while attending law school in New York. He recalls spending Friday afternoons at the jewelry factory, and having late lunches with Frank at the Red Devil Restaurant on 49th Street. The Red Devil was one of the “in” places in the late 1940’s and attracted major Italian jewelry and fashion designers, opera and Broadway stars, and Wall Street financiers. Bill recalls how Mary Martin would show up and “make everyone’s afternoon.”

Frank, Otto and Jack — 1960

Otto, Frank and Jack were very close and lived together for many years, for a time in a large mansion in Astoria, New York. Otto and Frank moved to Connecticut in their later years. It was there that Frank, the last living brother, died in New Haven in 1972. His great-nephew Dr. Chris Hartnett (named after Frank’s wife Christine) recalls attending Frank’s funeral where Frank’s widow Christine cried and clung to the casket. Chris says the family believes she died of a broken heart several months later, not wanting to live without her “Neapolitan Prince and the precious gem of her life.” Frank was nearly blind at the time of his death, and left a large monetary gift to Yale Medical School because of help he received there for his eye problems.

Since none of the brothers had surviving children, at Frank’s death the Pennino estate passed on to his nephews John Hartnett and William Hartnett, sons of Christine Pennino’s sister.

This article was originally published in Vol. 16, No.1, 2006, of the Vintage Fashion & Costume Jewelry Magazine.


Learn more about Pennino jewelry:

Pennino Jewelry History: The Jewelry

Pennino Jewelry History: The Legacy

Pennino Jewelry Gallery

Researching Costume Jewelry — Home

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