Saturday, November 23, 2013


Mermaids floating in a lily pond, showing their soon-to-be human knees in Gustav Manz's sterling handbag handle for F. Walter Lawrence, Inc. Photo at top taken in Manz's studio, circa 1903; detail of handle, above, showing clasp set with cushion cut chrysoprase.  

Gustav Manz was present, in spirit and in sterling silver, at the opening for "Gilded New York" at the Museum of the City of New York. We gulped champagne in the elevator on the way up to the Tiffany Foundation room, where Manz's repousse mermaid evening bag frame anchored one of the display cases. 

House rules forbade our toasting this milestone on horseback, a la C.K.G. Billings' equestrian supper at Sherry's, but the opportunity to ogle Worth gowns worn by the apparently lilliputian wives of those same industrialists, while standing nose to nose with a brace of Tiffany sirens holding up a tureen-sized 1889 Goelet racing cup, was ample compensation.


Pausing to admire the portrait of willowy, swan-necked Eleanor Iselin Kane (Mrs. Delancey Astor Kane), with decorative frame by Stanford White, we had a vision of Manz's sirens surfacing in a headline in William d'Alton Mann's Belle Epoque scandal sheet Town TopicsMAIDEN LANE MERMAIDS CRASH MUSEUM MILE!

The show, beautifully organized by curators Jeannine Falino, Donald Albrecht, and Phyllis Magidson will be up through November of next year. An added attraction for visitors is heirloom spotting on the perimeter of the museum, located at Fifth Avenue and 103rd Street. An actual Paulding Farnham iris brooch, not part of the exhibit but of the same era, flared its nostrils from the shoulder ahead of us at the coat-check. "I outbid Tiffany," its current owner said in reply to our compliment. We didn't doubt her. 

Images from top: Mermaid purse frame, Janet Zapata Collection. Mermaid photos Winterthur Library, Joseph Downs Collection and Magazine Antiques; Goelet cup, MCNY; portrait of Mrs. Delancey Astor Kane, Museum of the City of New YorkIris brooch by Paulding Farnham, Primavera Gallery


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