Friday, January 11, 2013



Design for double griffin mounting 
by Gustav Manz, circa 1890-1910 

In Grimms' tale "Der Vogel Greif" (1814), a King demands that a peasant lad seeking the hand of his daughter must first bring him a feather from the tail of a griffin. Find a griffin in the Black Forest?  No problem: "Hans set out at once, and walked straight forwards..." Outside fairy tales and the shields of the Grand Dukes of Baden, though, whence came the griffin? According to Stanford folklorist Adrienne Mayor, the scrambled body parts of a classical griffin—a lion's body with the beak and wings of an eagle—may have been based on nomads' observations of dinosaur skeletons in the deserts of Central Asia. 

"Der Vogel Greif"
Woodcut from 1890s edition of Grimms' fairy tales 
compiled by Phillip Grot Johann and R. Leinweber 
Image Michael Studt @ Flickr


Brooch signed "T.B. Starr" for retailer 
Theodore B. Starr
Maker: Unknown
Image: Nelson Rarities

Modern interpretation of "Schlieessen" (Striped Griffins) 
Otto Jakob, circa 1980s  

The mythological griffin has long charmed jewelers and goldsmiths: Griffins, after all, guard their precious hoard by gripping them in their beaks or talons or tucked into nests with their young. During the Beaux Art period (1880s-1920s), Gustav Manz fabricated griffin fobs, pendants, and rings for his wholesale clients. A pair of hand-drawn heraldic griffins—one holding a torch, the other a shield—flank mounting samples on a circa 1910 Manz sales brochure. His workshop manufactured a line of "Heraldic" gems, reflecting the era's appetite for neo-Tudor architecture and interiors. Manz's griffin designs were carried by Gorham Co., T. Kirkpatrick & Co, Mount & Woodhull, Chicago gem dealer Ferdinand Hotz, and others.   

                     Gold, diamond and ruby griffin ring 
                           by Gustav Manz, circa 1910 
                                   Private collection 

Manz ledger sketch for a platinum and gold seal ring carved with griffin passant; sold to Gorham Co., c. 1916

Art Deco Diamond Griffin Bracelet 
attributed to Gustav Manz 
retailed by T. Kirkpatrick & Co, circa 1925 

Manz's hand-carved mountings appealed to Detroit gem dealer W. A. (William Alfred) Sturgeon, who purchased one of the jeweler's signature griffin rings during a buying trip in November 1909. Sturgeon had learned his business at the old Detroit concern M. S. Smith & Co (later F.G. Smith, Sons & Co), starting in 1878 at age 15, and remained there until April, 1891, when he and another local diamond salesman, Charles Woodbury Warren, formed a partnership. 

Manz stockbook entry for carved griffin ring 
sold to W.A. Sturgeon, 1909 
Winterthur Museum Library

Warren (b. Portland, Maine, 1861) got his start at George W. Smith & Co. in Philadelphia, moved to Mermod & Jaccard in St. Louis, and then to the diamond department of Wright, Kay & Co. in Detroit. They were joined by Ralph Dewey, who'd worked his way up from messenger boy for M.S. Smith, and in later years would open Spaulding & Company's Paris store before returning to Detroit to start his own company, with branches in New York and Paris. 

Gilded Age diamond merchants 
Charles Warren and William Sturgeon
Source: Detroit in History and Commerce, 1891

The "Aladdin-like" parlors of Sturgeon & Warren, located at 17 State Street, were decorated to evoke Parisian salons de bijoux.  The partnership was relatively short-lived, as Warren soon left to start Charles W. Warren & Co., while Sturgeon continued with other partners, under the name Smith, Sturgeon & Co. and W.A. Sturgeon & Co at 237-241 Woodward Avenue (a few doors from Traub Bros., Detroit's oldest jewelry firm, est. in 1850 as Duncan and Traub).

Heraldic griffin adorning Manz sales brochure, undated

Bronze griffins guard an arcade near Madison Square 
Park in midtown Manhattan, a short distance from 
Gustav Manz's workshop at 37 East 28th

By 1911, Sturgeon, had shifted gears and gone horseless, joining Henry L. Walker, Jr., founder of one of Detroit's early electric automobile  companies. Walker's father owned the Detroit Free Press and was prominent in Michigan politics, having served as attorney general and postmaster of Detroit. The November 19, 1913 edition of The Horseless Age informed the trade that W.A. Sturgeon was managing the "exclusive garage and showroom" for the Woods electric car dealership at 703 Woodard Ave. When customers arrived to test-drive a roadster, the hand reaching out to shake on the deal may well have been wearing a custom-built 18K gold Gustav Manz griffin ring.

Griffins of Motor City: The hood of a 1930s Essex Terraplane, guarded by a chrome deco-style griffin; below, griffin relief carved by architectural sculptor Corrado Parducci in the 1930s stands sentry at the entrance to Luther Burbank School in Detroit 
(image via pinehurst19475 flickr)


Copyright © Laura Mathews, 2014 

All Rights Reserved 

Detroit in History and Commerce, Rogers & Thorpe, 1891
The Book of Detroiters, Albert Nelson Marquis, 1914
The Horseless Age: The Automobile Trade Magazine, Vol 32, No. 21, p. 864

updated 9/26/13

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