The partnership of Howell and James was founded in 1819 by James Howell and Isaac James. Originally silk merchants and retail jewellers, they were based at 5, 7 and 9 Regent Street, London. Isaac James left the partnership in 1838, with James Howell, Henry Gillett, Thomas Stroud and William Sedgwick continuing the business under the name of Howell, James & Co. By 1855, three of the four partners had retired, leaving Henry Gillett in sole partnership.
Howell, James & Co exhibited at the Great Exhibition of 1851 and the International Exhibition of 1862 to great fanfare. Enjoying heightened success, they opened further display rooms at their premises on Regent Street in 1860. By 1865, the staff numbers were reported to be over one hundred, with many of the female employees actually living above the shop – most of them in separate bedrooms! In 1884, the remaining partners, Thomas Buxton Morrish, John Gow and Josiah Willey dissolved the business; it became a limited company and their name changed to Howell & James Ltd. The company was finally closed in 1911.