How We Created 20,000 Brass Money Clips for Birchbox

It was a summer like any other in the Owen and Fred offices here in Brooklyn, that is until we received an order the size of which we’d never seen before. Birchbox wanted to include us in their monthly mail-out boxes of men’s goods, so they placed an order for 20,000 of our engraved brass money clips. It was August at the time and they wanted them all in by October - we had no choice but to hit the ground running. We immediately called up our fantastic manufacturers; they were taken aback, but excited and ready to get the ball rolling. That phone call then put into motion the many-step process involved in producing our signature engraved money clips.

It all starts at a mill in Chicago where 85% copper and 15% zinc are compounded to create the copper alloy that is brass. We use 22 gauge brass, that means brass that is 0.79 mm thick. The brass is melted down and turned into a one-inch wide brass coil which is then stamped into the shape of a money clip using a 16-ton hydraulic press. These flat pieces of brass are then pierced to create the prong, folded in two to form the shape of the clip, then flattened shut. Each clip is one solid piece of metal, precisely manipulated and sculpted into its final form.

The process doesn’t end there, though. When the clips come off the machine, the metal is still quite sharp to the touch and must be sanded down by hand. The clips are then packaged and shipped to the finisher for cleaning and polishing. Our manufacturers and finishers are luckily within the same state, so they only have to make a short trip. While at the finishers, the clips are first immersed in a cleaning solution to remove any grease left over from the manufacturers, then carefully hand polished to ensure every last imperfection has been removed.

Finally, they make their way to us.

We were receiving shipments of 800-1000 brass money clips every week, sometimes even twice a week, and they went immediately onto our engraving machine. Now, to this day, we at Owen & Fred produce all of our engraved metal items one at a time. As orders roll in from our online store, we take our time engraving personalized messages, names, or initials onto each item. And so we began working through this massive order in the same way, slow and steady, one at a time.

Things around the office really changed with the advent of this order. The normal calm and quiet of our workspace was replaced with the never-ending whirring and screeching of the engraver. I’m not sure if you’ve ever heard a specialty diamond engraver drag its way through 20,000 pieces of brass, but let me assure you, it’s not pleasant. Day in and day out for 2 months straight one person on one engraving machine individually engraved money clip after money clip, churning out about 500 a day. As the due date grew ever nearer, it began to sink in that our process was too slow. Mike got on the internet and in a few clicks he found and bought a second, faster, engraving machine. These machines cost quite a pretty penny, even buying used on eBay, but luckily they retain their value and we were able to resell it once our project was complete. Now we have a second machine screeching and whirring in our ears, we’re pumping out engraved money clips twice as fast, the employee working the engraving machines is slowly losing her mind, but we’re really starting to get somewhere. At a certain point in the process, chaos struck and we completely lost count of how many clips we had received. We spent hours counting and recounting to make absolutely sure that we had received and engraved the right amount.

When the fateful day came, after the 19, 999th clip had been engraved and the whirring finally stopped, we all breathed a collective sigh of relief - but the work was far from over. What remained was the tedious process of packaging and shipping. We had to sticker 20,000 envelopes, place 20,000 money clips into those envelopes, seal and carefully place each one into shipping boxes, count and recount and count again, then finally seal the boxes. In the end, we needed all hands on deck and everybody in the office really came together. We were ordering pizza and working late, even calling in our friends and family to help out. When we finally had everything packed and ready to go we were amazed that we had produced enough of these tiny money clips to fill a whole pallet. We hadn’t really considered what 20,000 money clips would look like all together, but when they were all finished we got to stand back and take it all in. Months of non-stop work on a project all came together to look like... a big pile of boxes. Make that a glorious pile of boxes. Miraculously, one or two at a time, we completed the order and our engraved brass money clips were sent out in the December 2016 men’s Birchbox.