Monday, August 25, 2014

Wearable Beauty

QUESTION: My mother has a beautiful silver bracelet that my dad gave to her on their tenth wedding anniversary. The letters GJ are inscribed on the inside. I’ve always admired this bracelet and hope that one day it will be mine. Can you tell me who made this bracelet and perhaps something about it.

ANSWER: Your mother’s bracelet comes from Georg Jensen Studios in Copenhagen, Denmark, although I’m sure your dad purchased it at one of the company’s retail stores here in the U.S. Jensen is one of the premier jewelry companies in the world and continues to be known for its unique jewelry designs.

Born in 1866, Jensen was the son of a knife grinder in the town of Raadvad north of Copenhagen. He started training to be a goldsmith when he was 14 as an apprentice with Guldsmed Andersen. But in 1884, he decided to study sculpture at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. Jensen had dreamed of being a sculptor ever since childhood. In 1887, a plaster bust of his father gained him admission into the Royal Danish Academy of Art. He exhibited his first sculpture at the 1891 Charlottenborg Spring Exhibit in Copenhagen and graduated the following year.

Although his clay sculpture was well received, making a living as a fine artist proved difficult, so he turned his hand to the applied arts. First as a modeler at the Bing & Grøndahl Porcelain Factory and, beginning in 1898, and then with a small pottery workshop he founded in partnership with Christian Petersen to make ornamental ceramics. Their ceramic jug, The Maid on the Jar, was selected for the arts and crafts exhibit in the Danish Pavilion at the 1900 World Exhibition in Paris. The public and critics loved their work, but sales weren’t strong enough to support Jensen, who his point a widower, and his two small sons.

Through his ceramic work, Jensen received a travel grant award which allowed him to tour Europe at a time when the Art Nouveau movement was in full force. The work of these artists in beautiful, yet useful, objects inspired him. Upon is return Denmark, he became increasingly involved in designing and making jewelry. In 1901, he took a job as the foreman for goldsmith Mogens Bailin. Finally, in1904, he opened his own small shop in Copenhagen, employing an apprentice and a helper.

Jensen's early designs were primarily in the tradition of Arts & Crafts, with an emphasis on hand-beaten surfaces' and semi-precious stones. This was a time when the cost of materials was high, and wages for skilled labor was low. The stones Jensen selected---amber, moonstones, lapis lazuli, green agate, garnet, ebony, hematite and small bits of coral—were relatively inexpensive.

Georg Jensen never followed fashion, he created it. He opened his first retail store in Berlin in 1909. In 1912 he expanded his workshop and opened a large retail shop in Copenhagen. It's also important to note that from the beginning, he laid the groundwork for Georg Jensen as a brand, versus that of one artist, hiring talented artisans, craftsmen and designers. When other studios gave no credit to their designers, Jensen always did.

Jensen's training in metalsmithing along with his education in the fine arts allowed him to combine the two disciplines and revive the tradition of the artist craftsman. Soon, the beauty and quality of his Art Nouveau creations caught the eye of the public, assuring his success. Before the end of the 1920s, Jensen had opened retail outlets in New York, London, Paris, and Stockholm.

In 1905, he held his first exhibition outside Denmark at the Folkwang Museum in Hagen, Germany, and the museum purchased a number of his designs. In 1910, he received a gold medal at an exhibition in Brussels.

What really catapulted him to international fame, however, was his first U.S. exhibition at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exhibition in San Francisco. In addition to being awarded more gold medals, an entire showcase of jewelry was purchased bythe newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst.

At the time of his death in 1935, the New York Herald Tribune proclaimed him as "The greatest silversmith of the last 300 years.” His vision lived on through the employees he had trained and his small workshop developed into a worldwide company. Designers like Henning Koppel, Vivianna Torun Bulow-Hube, Manna Ditzel, and Arno Malinowski brought the company to the forefront of international design.

There has been no designer with the sustained appeal of Georg Jensen. His work continues to attract top collectors and museums throughout the world feature his pieces. For five generations his legacy has grown, unrivaled by any other 20th century creator. He is, quite simply, unique.

Monday, August 18, 2014

As Delicate as Lace

QUESTION: My aunt collected Dresden lace figurines for years. She died recently and left her collection to me. Unfortunately, I know next to nothing about these porcelain figurines, except that they came from Dresden, Germany. What can you tell me about them? Also, I’d like to maintain the collection and have no idea how to care for them. They seem so delicate.

ANSWER: Dresden lace figurines have captured the imagination of collectors for years because of their fragile beauty and grace. These delicate figures have been produced by many different German companies from the late 19th century to the present and shouldn’t be confused with the famous porcelain Meissen figurines.

Confusion about Meissen and Dresden porcelain has reigned for over 200 years. The Royal Saxon Porcelain Factory (now known as Meissen) first opened in 1710 in Dresden, Germany. A year later, it’s owners moved it to Meissen, Germany, where it remains today. During the 18th and 19th centuries Meissen porcelain became known as Dresden China in England, Canada and the United States. These lace Dresden figurines are completely different.

Between 1850 and 1914, as many as 200 decorating studios in and around Dresden created a "Dresden" style, a mixture of Meissen and Vienna. While some studios produced high quality pieces that outdid Meissen, others made inferior copies.

Most Dresden-style figurines aren’t as solid as those produced at Meissen. The makers of authentic Meissen figurines pressed porcelain clay into molds, making solid finished pieces. The makers of the  Dresden-style figures, on the other hand, made their pieces by pouring liquid porcelain or "slip" into plaster molds. Because the plaster absorbed the liquid near the sides, a thin wall of partially hard porcelain built up against the outline of the mold Then they poured the remaining slip out of the mold. The resulting impression was thin, hollow, and light in weight. Thus Dresden figures are less costly to produce than those of Meissen.

Meissen first introduced porcelain lace, the most distinctive feature of Dresden figurines, in 1770 as a fancy addition to the dress of some figures. Makers used small amounts to decorate collars and sleeves. In the late 19th century, various Dresden studios developed figurines in elaborately flounced lace skirts and dresses.

The lace was easy to produce. Workers dipped real lace into liquid porcelain, then cut and applied it to the figure in the desired position. During the firing process, the real lace threads burned away, leaving a replica of the mesh in the porcelain.

Dresden figurines also possess an abundance of delicate, applied flowers adorning the gowns, hair and base of the figures. Artists created these tiny leaves and flowers petal by petal, then individually applied them. Some pieces also had a hand-whipped, grouty bisque applied to the base to simulate grass or moss. The best examples appear on figures produced by the Carl Thieme Factory of Potschappel. In 1972 the company became the VEB Saxonian Porcelain Manufactory Dresden. Today, they’re the only official producer of Dresden china in Germany.

The most beautiful and sought-after Dresden pieces are the large figure groups made in the style of 18th-century Meissen. These so-called "crinoline" groups often portrayed court life and the diversions of noble people, such as playing musical instruments or doing the minuet. Avid collectors of Dresden figurines also seek groups that include animals such as Russian wolf hounds, as well as love scenes.

Many collectors love the Dresden ballerinas, each featuring tightly fitting lace tutus, as well as Spanish Flamingo dancers with their skirts of ruffled lace.

As with any antique or collectible, condition is probably the most important factor to consider. Examine the piece carefully for chips or small flakes, as damaged pieces lose 50 percent or more of their value. Because the lace is so fragile, you should expect a small amount of loss. However, be wary of pieces with large holes or breaks in the lace because it's virtually impossible to repair porcelain lace. If the piece contains many applied flowers, a small chip or two on a petal or leaf is acceptable.

The next thing to consider is quality. Do you like the face? Are the fingers slender and separated from one another? Is there much hand-painted decoration on the costume? Are the colors pleasing? How lifelike does the figure or group of figures appear?

You’ll need to take extra special care with your Dresden pieces. Because the lace and applied flowers are so fragile, use care in handling them. Keep them in a glass case or china closet to prevent them from getting dusty. If you must clean them, use a feather duster or carefully submerge them in a mild detergent and warm water. Gently pat dry the figure and blow dry the lace.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Puff, Puff, Puffing Along

QUESTION: I’m an engineer who has recently retired. Not long ago, I saw some steam-powered toys on display at a local antique show. The dealer couldn’t tell me much about them except that they were produced in the latter part of the 19th century.  I’m fascinated with these toys and would like to start a collection. What can you tell me about them?

ANSWER: Live steam-driven toys have always fascinated young boys and men. It’s probably because of the power they produce and that they’re often so close to the original devices that use steam power to operate.

The use of steam as a power source dates from the early 1840s. By the mid-19th century, steam-powered toys began to appear. Craftsmen hand built toy steam engines for the first 50 years or so and definitely for those who could afford their high price tag. Cheaper models began to appear in the 1870s. By that time, makers constructed stationary engines with the boiler in either a vertical or horizontal position, although the functions of each were essentially the same. The vertical model fit into a smaller space while the horizontal model allowed greater size and power. Though toy engines were often faithful duplicates of the real thing, they rarely had the detail of true scale models.

Such famous toy makers as Bing, Doll and Marklin produced steam-powered toys in Germany. The British manufactured some beautiful examples under the label of Bassett-Lowke. In America, Eugene Beggs of Paterson, New Jersey turned out these mechanical wonders from the 1870s to about 1900 in competition with the famous Ives company of Bridgeport, Connecticut. The best known of all the American firms was the
Weeden Manufacturing Company which manufactured steam-powered toys from  1883 to 1930 in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Other manufacturers included Mamod, Wilesco, Cheddar, Krick, Tucher & Walther, Hermann Bohm, and Blechspielzeug.

The boiler of a steam toy had to be carefully filled with mineral-free water, often from a rainwater barrel. Most of the burners or lamps used alcohol as fuel although manufacturers advertised a few that burned kerosene.

Both substances were highly flammable but not explosive in the open air. Once the user lit the burner and shoved it into place beneath the boiler, it was just a matter of waiting while steam formed in the boiler and pressure gradually increased. When steamed up, the throttle opened, wheels began to spin, and pulleys operated the accessories. And, of course, every steam engine came with a whistle.

Steam-powered trains were a bit more complicated. Many became known as "dribblers" because water often leaked from the boiler. Though the user set a throttle in advance,  there was tittle or no speed control once the locomotive got under way. Once steam had built up, the user set the train on the tracks and let it go until the fuel and water ran out. Often the engine would fly off the rails on a tight curve, spilling the water and burning alcohol. Makers advertised these trains as “safe” toys, since they rarely blew up unless an ingenious boy locked down the safety valve. However, the engines got very hot, enough to produce a nasty burn. Since boys often set up these trains on their mom’s carpet, a derailment and spill often resulted in a good scolding.

Steam-powered boats, on the other hand, were graceful toys, often beautifully constructed of brass. Manufacturers built them around a horizontal boiler with a burner beneath. Steam traveled through a pipe to a cylinder and piston which operated the propeller shaft. An adjustable ruder provided some control but there was always a risk of losing the boat once it got under way. Boys could purchase flimsy tinplate steam motorboats in dime and novelty stores. This toy had a burner and boiler but no cylinder. The steam traveled directly to the stern of the boat and exhausted underwater, propelling the boat until all the steam was used up. Boys called them "put-puts while they referred to more elaborate models as propellers.

By 1886, a boys could purchase a toy steam engine with a vertical boiler from Montgomery Ward for 40 cents plus a nickel for postage. Larger horizontal engines with a walking beam and a flywheel sold for $2. From the same catalog, boys could order a toy steamboat in the 9-inch size packed in a "neat wooden box" for $1.25 or a 13-inch model which ran about 20 minutes for $2.60. In 1888, Ladies' Home Journal provided a Weeden upright steam engine made from 41 pieces at no cost with a subscription. Or the lucky young person could buy an 11-inch steamboat directly from the magazine for $1.50 postpaid.

In 1889 it was possible to buy an upright steam engine from Ward’s catalog for 20 cents but more elaborate engines cost as much as $11. A popular steam toy that year was the Model Steam Fire Engine, with a vertical boiler, single oscillating cylinder, and a pump which spewed water quite a distance.This toy was very similar in appearance to the formidable horse-drawn prototypes which dashed through city streets on their way to a fire, spouting smoke, sparks and steam. The same year boys could also purchase a complete steam train, which ran on a circular track for about 20 minutes with each filling of water. It sold for $8 and came complete with a brass locomotive, two cars, and track.

The British firm of Bassett-Lowke also produced model steam locomotives. One gauge available was 1 1/2-inch, which was close to the present "0" gauge while others came in a  gauge twice as wide. The models ranged from stubby switchers to scale  versions of famous locomotives. In 1902 this firm also offered an elaborate model steam fire engine, as well as a tractor roller, several cranes, and two models of motor cars, all steam powered. 

The early 20th century brought little change in the design and appearance of steam-powered toys. One major innovation was the introduction of electricity as a heat source. As household electricity became more prevalent, the stationary steam engine gradually switched from alcohol burners to electric heating elements. A Weeder model in 1930 came with a 110-volt heating element. The company still made alcohol-burning versions and one hybrid was available with either a two-burner alcohol stove or an electric heater.

Today, some models, such as the 1909 Marklin steam-powered boat, sell at auction for thousands of dollars, putting many steam-powered toys out of reach of many collectors.

ted with these toys and would like to start a collection. What can you tell me about them?

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Age of Innocence - Part 2

QUESTION: My mother collected Hummel figurines for a long time. Now I have her collection. Frankly, I don’t know anything about these little figures of children, other than what little I’ve read or heard. Can you give me some background about my Hummels? I’d like to continue collecting them, but have no idea where to start.

ANSWER: After delving into the life of Sister Maria Innocentia (a.k.a. Berta Hummel), the creator of the original drawings of children made into Hummel figurines (see Part 1 from last week),  it’s only natural to take a look at the other side of the story—their manufacture and distribution.

The Goebel Company., located in the southern part of Germany near the town of Oeslau-Rödental, just outside Coburg,, was the sole producer of Hummel figurines. Franz Detleff Goebel originally built a factory to make writing slates, blackboards, and marbles in 1871 beneath Coburg Castile in Bavaria. In 1878, the Duke of Coburg Castle granted permission for the him to build the first kiln to produce porcelain dinnerware, kitchen items, and beer steins, as well as bisque doll heads. He invited his son, William, to join him in running the company and changed the name to the F. & W. Goebel Company. The firm set out to produce luxury porcelain, including small sculptures in the Meissen Rococo style.

By 1909, Franz and William began seeing an opportunity to export their product. In 1911, F. W. Goebel Co. introduced its first line of figurines and began an international marketing campaign. As the company continued to grow, so did the lines of products the company produced. The international success of Goebel’s figurines caused the Goebel family to introduce the concept that figurines could be associated with emotion and not just be decorative objects. The firm became the first to market their artists as aggressively as they did their products. After several years of porcelain production, Franz's son William expanded the Goebel product line and changed the company name to W. Goebel Porzellanfabrik.

William believed that there were untapped opportunities in the United States, so in 1911, he sent his 16-year-old son, Max-Louis, to America, where he went to school and developed a passion for art like his father. When he returned to Germany, his father put him in charge of the business and the younger Goebel set about taking the company into the 20th century..

Max-Louis wanted to capture a larger market share, so, in turn, he sent his young son, Franz, to the United States in the early 1920s to study the American ceramic after market. It was a time of prosperity for Americans but a dismal time back home in Germany with political anarchy and runaway inflation. Franz knew that it was essential that his father expand the export markets of the W. Goebel Company in order to remain in business.

When Max-Louis Goebel died in 1929, it was up to Franz, his mother Freida Goebel, and his uncle Dr.Eugene Stocke to carry on the business. Having spent so much time in America, Franz instinctively knew that it was the greatest market in the world. He decided to develop a series of affordable ceramic figurines and selected children as the subject. He believed they would appeal to a broad audience. As the 1930s dawned, Franz  thought that in a world of political turmoil, customers would respond to a product that depicted the gentle innocence of childhood.

In 1933 he started his search for the art and artist whose work could be transformed into three-dimensional figures of children. While in Munich to see how his products were doing during the Christmas season, he stopped at a small religious art shop. On the counter stood a display of art cards by Sister Maria Innocentia. He was immediately drawn to these wonderful sketches of innocent children and enthusiastically took a few cards back with him to Coburg. He discussed the possibility of transforming the artwork of Sister Maria into ceramic figures with his two top modelers, Arthur Moller and Reinhold Unger. They thought it possible, but also thought it would be one of the most challenging and expensive projects ever undertaken by the company. Franz hired artists to “interpret” Sister Maria’s drawings by making them into three dimensional figurines.

He acquired rights to turn her drawings into figurines, producing the first line in 1935. W. Goebel was one of many mid-size porcelain firms competing in the U.S. market and Franz´s knack for novelty marketing caused the figurines to become popular among German immigrants on the East Coast.

Franz contacted Sister Maria at the Convent of Siessen and showed her clay models based on her drawings. She and the Convent of Siessen granted sole rights to the his company to create ceramic figures based on her original artwork. Sister Maria personally approved the sculpting and painting of each porcelain piece. The Convent would receive all royalties derived from the sales. Geobel determined that earthenware, pioneered by the firm in the 1920s, was the best medium for the new collectibles product line.

The first marketing challenge for the newly manufactured Hummel figurines came at the Leipzig Trade Fair held in March 1935. With the enormous risk the company had undertaken in the development and first production of the Hummel figurines, success at Leipzig was very important. Fortunately, the American buyers liked the figures and placed a number of orders. By the end of 1935, the W. Goebel Company had released several more figurines, expanding the line to 46. Sales of the figures on the international market during the 1935 Christmas season were brisk.

After World War II, the United States Government gave W. Goebel Company permission to resume production and export of Hummel figures. Production began slowly as many of the master molds and models had been lost or destroyed during the war. During the re-modeling process, Goebel artists made modifications that resulted in slight changes in the design of the figurines. 

The popularity of Hummel figurines grew as American soldiers stationed in West Germany began sending the figurines home as gifts. Nostalgia associated with the figurines and the U.S. soldiers buying them led to Hummel figurines becoming a popular collector's item. Popularity increased even more when the U.S. Army PX system began selling the Hummels. After Sister Maria’s untimely death at 37 in 1946, Franz Goebel carried on her artistic legacy by developing new Hummel pieces. A vibrant speculator market in Hummel figurines had developed by the 1970s when Hummel figurines skyrocketed in price.

Unfortunately, as with so many popular collectibles, there are lots of copies and fakes. To determine if a figurine is a genuine Hummel piece, you should look for the definitive mark of Sister M. I. Hummel incised on the bottom of every authentic piece. Sister Maria requested that her personal stamp of approval would appear on every piece and under the direction of the members of the convent. All Hummels have a mold number incised on the bottom of each figurine at the time of manufacture. Another definitive identifying mark is the official Goebel trademark on the underside of each figurine.

In January, 2009 Jörg Köster, managing partner of the Höchster Porzellan Fabrik Company, together with private investors took over the manufacture of Hummel figurines. Under the company Manufaktur Rödental, Hummel figurines are now being produced in Franz Detleff Goebel’s original building in Oelslau-Rödental near Coburg.