Wednesday, July 3, 2019

ART & INDUSTRY: Gustav Manz, George Bell, and The Met

This past week we spent a couple of hours immersed in "Jewelry for America," a new exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that will run through April 5, 2020. Organized by American Wing curator Beth Wees, the show draws from the Met's permanent collection (including items newly acquired or rarely on display) to peer into the jewel boxes of well-heeled Americans across three centuries. 

"A large faceted citrine surrounded by floral sprays, twisting grape vines of chased gold, and grape clusters of seed pearls. The piece is stamped "14KT" and has an applied plaque marked "BELL," representing the Denver gem dealer George Bell. The design of the brooch, however, has been attributed to Gustav Manz." 
—The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Naturally, we were excited to see a circa 1905 brooch that the Met's curators attribute to Gustav Manz (as designer and maker), which is marked for Manz's longtime client, New York gem dealer and jewelry manufacturer George Bell (1852-1944).  According to Manz's costbooks (archived at Winterthur Museum), Bell purchased hundreds of mountings for resale or, possibly, recasting. 

Circa 1905 trade brochure designed for The George Bell Co. (Lapidaries and Jewelry Mfrs.)
Collection of George Bell descendant

Bell—shortened from Uibel—entered the trade in 1877, and first exhibited wares such as sea-bean fobs and other gentlemen's accessories set with alligator teeth at the Paris Exposition of 1889, under the label Uibel & Barber with then-partner Robert Berry Barber. A widower with two young children (after his first wife and a young son succumbed to pneumonia), Bell had married Barber's niece, Mary Porter, with whom he had seven more children. 

Pharaoh ring with moonstone marked "Bell" 
N. Green & Sons 

In the 1890s, at the height of the turquoise and silver mining boom, the family moved out to Colorado where Bell opened a factory that cut stone from local mines. He commissioned pamphlets advertising rings and brooches set with matrix turquoise, peridot, and other "native stones" which he brought to the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904 (where Manz's Greco-Roman and Egyptian revival mountings for F. Walter Lawrence were also on display) and the Louis & Clark Exposition in Portland, Oregon, the following year. 

Page from Bell's circa 1910 "Scarabaeus" brochure 
illustrating Egyptian revival rings very similar to those designed by Gustav Manz for other retailers
Collection of George Bell descendant 

Returning to Manhattan in the early 1900s, Bell briefly paired up with other partners before opening the George Bell Jewelry Manufacturing Company at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, opposite the recently built Main Branch of the New York Public Library. There he was joined by his two eldest sons, Thomas and James, both graduates of Columbia University's School of Mining (a third son, Robert, entered the company after serving in WWI). 

Gustav Manz cost ledger archived at Winterthur records sales of his 14K gold panther & snake ring set with cabochon sapphire to George Bell and to the Philadelphia firm Combes & Van Roden, circa 1920

Always attuned to market trends, Bell was cognizant of Manz's fine work for such firms as Tiffany & Co, Marcus, Dreicer, E.M. Gattle, and Black Starr & Frost and promoted his own line of turquoise and Egyptian novelties in artful brochures ("Scarabaeus") and magazines such as Scribner's and The Theatre, earning the tongue-in-cheek sobriquet "The Tiffany of 42nd Street" in local press.

In 1921, Bell and his wife moved out of the city into a large house in bucolic Hastings-on-Hudson. He remained active in the trade well into his 90s: the headline for his obit in the local paper styled him as "Hasting's Oldest Commuter." 

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Thursday, March 14, 2019


In January 1924, the 8th Industrial Art Exhibition opened at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The show was assembled by Richard F. Bach, the museum's first decorative arts curator specifically charged with facilitating professional artisans access to the Met's collections "for the betterment of American design and craftsmanship." 

A review of the exhibit in Jewelers' Circular featured a photo of one of Gustav Manz's Tutankhamun-inspired necklaces—at least one of which was purchased by Raymond C. Yard. Also shown was a Manz ring depicting a panther or tiger confronting a snake in the style of French sculptor Antoine Barye, that was carried by (seemingly) every jewelry house in the city including Tiffany & Company. 

Panther & Snake Ring sold to Tiffany & Co,1913
 Gustav Manz costbook, Winterthur Museum

Several of Manz's longtime wholesale clients were also exhibitors, notably Tiffany & Co ("beautiful display of silver and gold ware"), Cartier New York ("silver and utility pieces as well as ornaments"), and the Gorham Manufacturing Company ("a beautiful silver urn...and similar articles of hollowware"). 

Besides drawing from his Egyptian and animal repertoire, Manz's case contained ornaments that, in the reviewer's words, "follow very distinctly the Oriental type" and were likely quite similar to the jade and sapphire Buddha brooch in the illustration, one of numerous Asian-inspired pieces Tiffany & Co. purchased from Manz's studio. 

During this period, Manz's 19-year-old daughter Doris worked as his commission agent and undoubtedly advised him about styles and motifs most appealing to the post-war era's New Woman. In the photo above, she's wearing her father's jade "earvices" which dangle just below her flapper bob...

Sunday, November 18, 2018


CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT: Paul Gillot, jeweler, possibly aboard the S.S. Normandie (undated photo from the Bain picture agency, Library of Congress); Lot 59: Gillot & Company fancy yellow diamond ring consigned for auction at Christie's New York; production notes on a platinum and gold ring mounting sold to Paul Gillot in 1920, from Gustav Manz's costbook archived at Winterthur Museum

Paul Gillot began his career as a draughtsman in Paris (recognized by Henri Vever, no less) before he was hired to design jewelry for Marcus & Co in NYC in 1902. Gustav Manz—an independent maker who produced special orders for Marcus, F. Walter Lawrence, Tiffany & Co. and other firms—was likely one of his first calls.

After joining his brother Adrien (a commercial artist) to fight for France in 1915, Gillot returned to NYC where he found partners and financing to go out on his own as a merchant of fancy goods with a storefront on Union Square. He resumed his association with Manz, with whom he shared a connection to Sarah Bernhardt. Manz had also worked in Paris and made a bracelet for the actress. 

A golden oak branch presented to Marshal Joffre by a delegation of American Citizens organized by jeweler Paul Gillot in 1917. Gillot designed the tribute and dedication "Au Heros de la Marne" but likely delegated the execution to a master carver such as Gustav Manz. 

Among the commissions Manz executed for Gillot was a gold bison fob presented to journalist and French diplomat Marcel Knecht. Gillot himself served as unofficial ambassador for the French expat community in America, organizing laurels for dignitaries while selling jewelry from his boutique near La Maison Francaise at Rockefeller Center and perhaps arranging fresh mountings for stones spirited out of Europe between the wars. Gillot built a collection of colored diamonds in100-plus different shades. He died in 1949, at age 78, after falling down the stairs of his home in Hastings, leaving his Dutch-born wife and a niece in France.

A fancy yellow diamond ring, circa 1925, marked Gillot & Co will be sold at Christie's New York sale, on December 5, 2018. The reserve is 900,000 - 1,200,000. We'll definitely try to see the fancy oval-cut yellow before the auction. And toast M. Gillot with a glass of pastis after... 

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Monday, November 20, 2017


We don't know precisely when Gustav Manz made his first ring depicting a young elephant emerging from tall grass, but the year he spent working in South Africa's diamond fields as a young man in the late 1880s clearly was formative. A version of this ring appears in an early photograph of his own jewelry designs for customers such as Tiffany & Co, Cartier, and Black, Starr & Frost, many incorporating lions, tigers, bears and other wildlife.  

After moving to New York in the early 1890s, Manz used his leisure time to sketch animals at the city's park zoos (where over time he earned enough trust from the keepers that he was permitted to borrow a mountain lion cub to study and sketch at his leisure). His miniature, highly realistic, representations of iconic species in precious metal became a hallmark and are highly coveted by collectors today. 

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Wednesday, November 15, 2017


Lid ornament for a hand-made copper humidor
Gustav Manz, circa 1910
Private collection

In July 2016, President Barack Obama signed a bipartisan law naming the American Bison the official National Mammal, giving our National Bird some company. Today a couple thousand bison run wild in Yellowstone National Park thanks to conservationist (and big-game hunter) Theodore Roosevelt's organized effort to stave off extinction. Sacred to the Plains tribes, buffaloes were appropriated by Gilded Age animalier sculptors including James Earle Fraser, creator of the 1913 Buffalo Nickel shown below. 

Obverse and reverse of James Earle Fraser's 1913 nickel design. Image: CoinHelp

Fraser, who taught sculpture at The Art Students League, found his model bison at the Central Park Zoo. Another artist inspired by iconic inhabitants of the American frontier was Canadian-born sculptor Alexander Phimister Proctor, whose stone heads and friezes adorn entrances at the Bronx Zoo. Shaggy bovines and other large mammals also featured in the gentlemen's jewelry and metalwork created by Gustav Manz, who rented studio space at 13 E 30th, in the same Manhattan building as A. Proctor's atelier. 

Sterling and gilt plaque of a Native American chief
Gustav Manz, circa 1910-15
Private collection

As a member and occasional exhibitor at the National Arts Club, Gustav Manz was surely in the loop when the U.S. Treasury announced a competition to replace the liberty Head nickel. But Fraser, a former assistant to Augustus St. Gaudens, effectively beat all potential rivals to the punch by quickly submitting a preliminary concept and model coin that wowed officials. Fraser had early exposure to the American frontier—his father was a trainman sent to Little Big Horn to help retrieve remains of Custer's slain calvary—and had worked on a ranch in South Dakota before heading east. The Indian face on his 1913 coin was actually a composite of three chiefs, at least one of whom had met and parlayed with Theodore Roosevelt.

To announce the opening of his studio on East 28th Street, Manz produced a trade brochure advertising his product lines. Each spoke to wealthy Americans' taste for exoticism and icons of the past. A 4-color illustration plate showing designs for "The Animal" line is attached inside the folded stock 
Private collection

While there is no evidence Manz competed for the nickel, a silver Indian head he sculpted and later gave to his daughter clearly evokes the face on Fraser's coin. Like other industrial artists of his era, Manz was well compensated by Tiffany and other firms for his skills as a copycat of artifacts and emblems redolent of ancient and exotic cultures. His noble brave was likely part of his "Indian + Aztec" product line, one of a dozen he advertised in a circa 1912 brochure produced for the trade. Coincidentally in July 1912, a month after TR launched his Bull Moose party (ultimately losing a four-way race for the presidency to Woodrow Wilson), Manz registered copyright on a "sculptured group of buffaloes trying to gore a bear." And we think modern politics is a rough and tumble affair! 

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