House & Garden, October 1903
Among the fashionable and artistic women Gustav Manz created jewelry for in the early 1900s was a society matron who might have stepped out of (or into) an Edith Wharton novel. Born to a prominent Philadelphia Quaker family, Elinor Evans Klapp (1845-1915) was the second wife of William Henry Klapp, a manufacturers' agent and dry-goods merchant. Her boldness—choosing a suitor not only divorced but (horrors!) Presbyterian—compelled the Society of Friends to put her "out of meeting." The marriage ceremony took place at her parents' home on the first Tuesday in June 1866, in the presence of Philadelphia's mayor. Sticking to at least one aspect of Quaker tradition, the bride did not receive a wedding ring (though she later bought herself one in Paris). "She wished 'plain' language on us," a great-granddaughter later recalled, and to the end of her life used thee and thou when addressing family.
Like many another, sorrow and invalidism opened the way for this 'most blessed work,' as Mrs. Klapp herself would say. She had no technical instruction, but wide travel and intense love of the good, a keen eye to understand what was true and beautiful, a very independent taste, and strong individuality—these combined, have been her inspiration.
Four months later, on the first day of August, Elinor Evans Klapp died at her home in Clinton, New Jersey. She was 69. Though a few pieces are closely held by descendants, Klapp's output is mostly preserved in arts and crafts journals and in the profiles and reviews her son Eugene published. A privately bound book of jewelry designs remains in the family. "I should not mind being the great-granddaughter of some one who today buys a bit of Mrs. Klapp's work," cooed House Beautiful's Madeline Wynne in the December 1899 holiday gift round-up (Wynne herself was the daughter of the inventor of the Yale lock, and venerated as one of the first women metal artists in America).
With all the interest in grande dames of the Edwardian era in books and film, Mrs. Klapp seems ripe for rediscovery—or at least a cameo on Downton Abbey.
Thanks to Mrs. Klapp's family for opening their scrapbooks, and to Courtney Bowers-Marhev, Kay O. Freeman, and the archivists at Winterthur Museum, Newark Museum, and Art Institute of Chicago for research assistance
Copyright © Laura Mathews, 2014
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