The life and jewelry of Gustav Manz

Courtney Bowers

Courtney Bowers Art

  • Fig. 1. Collage of drawings from a scrapbook of jewelry designs by Gustav Manz, c. 1910–1920. The scrapbook remains in Manz’s family. Collection of the Mathews family.

  • Fig. 2. Gustav Manz (1865-1946) in his studio in a photograph of c. 1935. Collection of Robert Gustav Eastman.

     

  • Fig. 3. Bracelet attributed to Manz, c. 1925. Yellow gold with colored sapphires and semiprecious stones. A letter accompanying this and two other bracelets and typed by their original owner states that they were “made by Gustav Manz for Tiffany & Co.” Private collection; photograph by the author.

  • Fig. 4. Hair comb made by Manz for F. Walter Lawrence, New York, 1903. Marked “f. w. lawrence” twice, on the back and on the left side of the gold mount. Gold, Cyprian glass, diamonds, and demantoid garnets; height 5 5/8 inches. Cleveland Museum of Art, gift of the Trideca Society.

  • Fig. 5. Dragonfly pin attributed to Manz, c. 1910. Gold, diamonds, and ruby; diameter approximately 1 inch. Collection of Elly Heyder; author’s photograph.

     

  • Fig. 6. Frog and pond lily silver bowl attributed to Manz, as illus­trated in an undated catalogue titled Unusual Jewelry Silverware and Bronzes, F. Walter Lawrence Incorporated. A virtually identical bowl marked by Manz remains in family hands. Collection of Janet Zapata.

  • Fig. 7. Design by Manz for a pendant or brooch in the art nouveau style from the scrapbook owned by his descendants. Mathews family collection.

     

  • Fig. 8. Advertisement of C. P. Goldsmith and Company for mermaid design rings, from the Jewelers’ Circular and Horological Review, vol. 42, no. 1 (April 10, 1901), p. 19.

    Fig. 9. Advertising photograph of Manz jewelry, c. 1901-1903, the years he was at the address, 41-43 Maiden Lane, printed on the card. A mermaid hand­bag mounting matching the one shown is in the collection of Janet Zapata. East­man collection.

  • Fig. 10. Panther stick pin attributed to Manz, c. 1910. Gold. Heyder collection; author’s photograph.

  • Fig. 11. Advertising plate for Manz animal jewelry from a self-published catalogue of c. 1913. Collection of Dick Boera.

  • Fig. 12. Bison-shaped fob attributed to Manz, c. 1915-1920. Inscribed “to marcel knecht from paul gillot” on the base. Gold and carne­lian. Photograph courtesy of Nelson Rarities, Portland, Maine.

  • Fig. 13. Page from Arts and Decoration magazine, January 1926, show­ing some of Manz’s jewelry for Black, Starr and Frost of New York, in­cluding platinum brooches or hat ornaments pavé-set with diamonds.

  • Fig. 14. Design for “Plat. + dia. pave elephant brooch” in one of Manz’s journals of c. 1915-1925. Winterthur Library, Delaware, Joseph Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera.

     

  • Fig. 16. Advertising photograph of “Original Designs by Gustav Manz,” c. 1910-1915. According to the business records at Winterthur, rings in the panther and elephant design at the upper right were sold to Tiffany and Company. The panther and snake ring at the upper left was produced over and over for different clients, and exhibited at the 1924 American Industrial Art exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Mathews family collection.

  • Fig. 17. Scrapbook of Manz’s jewel­ry designs owned by his descen­dants, c. 1910-1920. Photograph by Sarah Butler.

  • Fig. 19. Snake brooch attributed to Manz, c. 1903. Gold and Cyprian glass, width 1 1/4 inches. The brooch was acquired from Mimi Schmitt, a granddaughter of F. Walter Law­rence (1864-1929). Zapata collec­tion; Butler photograph.

     

     

  • Fig. 20. Maple leaf brooch attribut­ed to Manz. Gold, width 2 3/4 inch­es. Mathews family collection; But­ler photograph.

     

  • Fig. 21. Dress clip attributed to Manz, c. 1938. Gold, jade, ruby, and sapphire; height 1 ¼, length 1 ⅛ inches. Mathews family collec­tion; Butler photograph.

     

  • Fig. 18. Snake ring attributed to Manz, c. 1910. Yellow gold. Heyder collection; author’s photograph.

  • Fig. 22. Design for an ele­phant dress clip from Manz’s scrap­book of jewelry designs, c. 1910-1920.

     

  • Fig. 23. Egyptian revival pendant by Manz from Jewelers’ Circular, January 30, 1924, p. 53. Manz ex­hibited the pendant at the Metro­politan Museum’s 1924 American Industrial Art exhibition.

  • Fig. 24. Ostensorium by Manz, 1935-1937. Inscribed “thought w. j. a. s. broadcast rev. james r. cox trinkets of gold and jewels poured in old st pat­rick to make this vessel possi­ble 1936-1937. terheyden co.” on the base. Silver and bronze set with diamonds and gold-plated; height 21 ⅝ inches. Sanctuaires Notre Dame de Lourdes, France; photograph by Pierre Vincent.

In early 1926 Arts and Decoration magazine proclaimed Gustav Manz (see Fig. 2) a “Disciple of Cellini…[and] worthy successor of the famous goldsmiths of mediaeval days,”1 and his obituary in the Jewelers’ Circular-Keystone in 1946 remembered him as “one of the last of the master goldsmiths in New York.”2 Witherbee Black, president of Black, Starr and Frost-Gorham, wrote shortly after Manz’s death that “as an artisan [he] was unexcelled and today there is no one to take his place.”3

Why, then, has his name been all but completely forgot­ten by collectors and the vast majority of antiques dealers, curators, and scholars, indeed, virtually everyone aside from a handful of his surviving descendants? The answer is relatively simple: he was a manufacturing jeweler. While he created thousands of objects, they are not stamped with his name but with the marks of the prominent retailers to whom he supplied them, such as, to name just a few, Tiffany and Company; Shreve, Crump and Low; Black, Starr and Frost; Marcus and Company; Gorham; and Raymond C. Yard. While subcontracting has existed in the jewelry industry throughout most of history, it became endemic at the turn of the twentieth cen­tury, as traditional craftsmanship was integrated into an increasingly concentrated and mass-market busi­ness structure. Indeed, the practice of hallmarking for a brand rather than a craftsman was one of the necessary compromises in the transition to modern global culture. In order to survive in the marketplace, scores of master craftsmen were forced to forgo marking and selling their works independently, and either went to work for large companies or operated their own workshops as wholesalers.

Unlike most such manufacturing craftsmen, Manz has not been completely lost to history thanks to the survival of some of his business records and two scrapbooks. The Winter­thur Museum in Delaware possesses three meticulous handwritten journals dating from about 1915 to 1925 that contain descriptions, and often drawings, of approximately two thousand pieces of jewelry made by Manz, along with notes on their produc­tion and sale. From these one can compile an impressive list of his clientele, some Manhattan-based, some from across the United States and abroad, many still famous and many more forgotten. Also notable are several women in decorative design and applied arts who appear to have bought directly from him: Elinor E. Klapp (Chi­cago Art Institute graduate who exhibited her own jew­elry at the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle); Clara Ruge (German-born playwright, drama critic, and advocate for arts education); Isabelle M. Coles (Cooper Union gradu­ate who worked for Tiffany and Company for a few years before establishing her own boutique), Sally James Farnham (sculptor and wife of Paulding Farnham), Edith D. Deane (Vassar-educated interior designer and art dealer), and Marie Azeez El-Khoury (Lebanese-born, American-educated owner of the “Little Shop of T. Azeez”).4 Manz’s relationships with top gem dealers are also evident: George Frederick Kunz, Ferdinand Hotz (who brokered the famous Maximilian diamond), George Bell in Denver, and Benjamin Strauss in London.

Along with the business journals, Winterthur also has a microfilm of a scrapbook about Manz compiled by his daughter Doris Eastman, which contains personal cor­respondence, early family photographs, genealogical notes, and a brief but informative biography of Manz written in the early 1940s by his granddaughter Ann “Dede” Rathjen when she was nine.5 Another remarkable and recently revealed source is another scrapbook containing a vast number of original jewelry renderings in the possession of Manz’s great-grandchildren, Cuyler and Laura Mathews (see Figs. 1, 17). These documents, along with other pe­riod articles and ephemera, and interviews with descendants provide unusual insight into the life and career of an early twentieth-century craftsman.

Manz was born on May 18, 1865, in Stuttgart, near Pforzheim, the major jewelry manufacturing center of Germany. According to the biography by his granddaugh­ter, he “wanted to be a detective but was unable to become one because of his small stature, so decided to become a jeweler and during his second year in high school he became an apprentice which at that time was part of school aca­demics.”6 According to the narrative, “hearing of an ex­position in Paris and wanting to see the designs, [Manz] left Germany. There [in Paris] he studied for many years, then…left for England to investigate new designs. He got a notion and left for South Africa. There he hunted wild animals for specimens, worked in diamond mines, and was caught in one of the worst hurricanes along the cape. After almost dying from typhoid fever he went back to Paris and then came over to the U.S. The first thing Gustav did was go and see Niagara Falls. Arriving back in N.Y. he got a job with a jewelry firm [before] branching out for himself.”7

Judging from Manz’s date of birth in 1865 and his date of immigration in 1893,8 one can deduce that the exposition he reportedly went to see in Paris was likely the Exposition Universelle of 1889. There, the twenty-four-year-old could have seen jewelry designed by René Lalique in the displays of the French firms Boucheron and Vever, as well as Paulding Farnham’s celebrated work for Tiffany and Company.9 If so, he would have been in Paris during the rise of art nouveau, the style that informed much of his work.

The 1900 United States census records that thirty-five-year-old “Gustave Manz, jeweler,” had by then established residence with his eighteen-year-old wife, Martha Bachem, at 531 West 152nd Street in New York.10 Martha was the daughter of Carl and Sophie Bachem, who were also from Pforzheim and likewise involved in the jewelry trade. According to family lore, the marriage was “a business arrangement.” The city directories show that Manz was indeed in partnership with Sophie Bachem, a findings dealer, for many years,11 and he and the Bachems also had business dealings with the well-known gem and jewelry merchant Walter McTeigue.

In the first decade of the 1900s Gustav and Martha Manz moved across the Hudson River to the budding artists’ community of Leonia, New Jersey. As Manz estab­lished his life as a family man (the couple had three daugh­ters, Doris, Helen, and Ger­trude-who died in infancy), his career as a jeweler also began to blossom. One of the companies he seems to have been associated with before “branching out for himself” was that of Charles P. Gold­smith, which advertised strikingly Manz-like wares in the Jewelers’ Circular and Horological Review in 1901 (see Fig. 8). That same year Manz is listed as a jeweler on his own for the first time in the New York directory. Until 1903 his business was registered at 41 Maiden Lane in Lower Manhattan, then the center of the city’s jewelry trade.

Chronologically speaking, the next clues to Manz’s career are some entry forms for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, held in Saint Louis in 1904, which reveal that he crafted twenty-five of the twenty-seven pieces displayed by F. Walter Lawrence.12 Of these only one is known today, an art nouveau hair comb made of “Cyprian glass,” tortoise­shell, “hand-wrought” gold, diamonds, and demantoid garnets (Fig. 4). On the entry forms, Lawrence is listed as the “designer” and Manz as the “maker” of the pieces, so it is reasonable to conclude that Manz was simply hired to make the jewelry to Lawrence’s specifications. However, this type of split attribution is probably not as clear-cut as the document suggests. For one thing, the same dragonflies and reeds appear repeatedly in Manz’s known repertoire and are re­corded in his journals as sold to other companies (see Fig. 5). It seems most unlikely that he would have provided Lawrence’s designs to other firms. Reinforc­ing the argument that he designed objects himself is a silver dish actually marked “manz” that is closely related to one advertised by the Lawrence firm, osten­sibly as its own design (see Fig. 6). Similarly, a surviv­ing mermaid handbag mounting marked by Lawrence matches one pictured in a Manz advertising photograph (Fig. 9).

This complex set of circumstances makes an attribution challenging. If, however, one has the patience and inclina­tion to scour Manz’s journals and study his extant works, it is possible to get a very good sense, and often detailed descriptions, of the thousands of objects he produced. They typically incorporated the organic stylizations and romanticized iconography that dominated the decorative arts throughout the Belle Epoch, including animal, floral, exotic, patriotic, and classical motifs.

Perhaps the examples most readily iden­tifiable as his are those that incorporate ani­mal forms. As A. M. Veghte of F. Walter Lawrence, stated in 1952, “Gustav Manz… was the finest carver of animal jewelry during his years in the jewelry business.”13 His journals and extant works document innu­merable examples adorned with, among other creatures, panthers, elephants, bulls, bears, snakes, dogs, eagles, and peacocks. His little wearable animal sculptures are natural­istically rendered, detailed, and almost (if not completely) fully modeled in space. He frequently employed them atop stick pins, their surfaces either finely chased or com­pletely pavé-set with tiny diamonds. These pins were sold in sets of six to all his regular clients, including Raymond C. Yard and Black, Starr and Frost. He also used animals in an array of other formats, including free­standing sculpture, bookends, and on silver wares. His skill apparently derived from his study of live animals, for his grandson Arthur Rathjen vividly recalls his grandfather bringing home a baby wildcat “from the Bronx Zoo” to study and sketch.14  And in an amusing passage in his granddaughter’s biography Manz is

described as “the little man with the pink-white moustache and walking stick,” who would “long be remembered by his friends… the care takers at the zoo.” Perhaps more than any other form, the panther was Manz’s defining motif. Panther stick pins were among his most popular items (see Fig. 10), and his “Fighting Panther” rings were sold to a num­ber of firms, including Bailey, Banks and Biddle of Phila­delphia. A 1917 catalogue for A. A. Vantine’s Oriental Store in New York (one of Manz’s most active clients at the time) features a wide array of novelties, including a jewelry section with panther rings clearly by Manz, al­beit ostensibly advertised as Asian imports. Manz made a bronze sculpture entitled Fighting Panthers that was exhibited at the National Arts Club in 1912, but it was not a critical success.15

Although they comprised a huge part of his legacy, Manz’s animals were only part of his repertoire. His jewelry also incorporated di­minutive naturalistic depictions of plant life, such as leaves, branches, cattail reeds, lily pads, lotuses, grape­vines, or other floral motifs, the surfaces minutely finished to evoke the texture of bark, stem, leaf, or petal. Indeed, his journals show that he sold such works to Tiffany and Company at a time when Louis Comfort Tiffany was putting out the same type of designs.

His repeated devices also included symbols of exotic and ancient cultures. Some of the designs in his journals are labeled “Japanese,” “Persian,” and even “Aztec.” He created many (at least hundreds of) pieces of Egyptian-themed jewelry, most of which, judging by the account books, were sold through Tif­fany and Company. Manz’s records indi­cate that his Egyptian designs were espe­cially popular in the early 1920s, when highly publicized excavations, among them the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922, piqued the public’s interest in all things Egyptian. His creations include an array of inventive pastiches of sphinxes, eyes of Horus, hieroglyphics, pyramids, winged scarabs, pharaohs, ankhs, asps, and lotuses. Manz freely combined these symbols without regard to their ancient significance but, rather, to achieve a pleasing aesthetic effect and general sense of “Egypt-ness.”16 A review in the Jewelers’ Circular of the American Indus­trial Art exhibition at the Metropolitan Mu­seum of Art in 1924 includes a photograph of an elaborate Egyptian revival pendant complete with enthroned pharaohs and a dangling pyra­mid by Gustav Manz (see Fig. 23).17

Manz also drew motifs from classical Greece and Rome, including columns, Ionic scrolls, acanthus leaves, and bellflower swags. He created forms with mermaids and bacchanalian themes; employed motifs inspired by Gothic architecture, such as quatrefoils and pointed arches; and regularly produced jewelry with such Far Eastern motifs as dragons, the seated Buddha, and pago­das. In the World War I era he also produced pieces with more contemporary patriotic themes, typically featuring eagles, sometimes with engraved flags, and/or set with red, white, and blue gemstones. A few designs incorporate the letters “USA.”

Manz also executed several important commissions for sacred plate. For example, in 1932 the Jewelers’ Circular described a solid gold ostensorium set with a hundred diamonds made for the Church of Saint Francis of Assisi in New York and commissioned through the retailer Feeley Brothers. It was “a masterpiece of the goldsmith’s craft…a labor of love on the part of Mr. Manz and is considered his crowning triumph as well as a brilliant fulfillment of his highest ambitions.”18

Three years later he made an ostensorium for the lux­ury retailer Terheyden Company of Pittsburgh (Fig. 24), which was presented by the Reverend J. R. Cox of Pitts­burgh to the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes in France. Manz is shown with the vessel in a period photograph owned by family members, but he is not mentioned in an article about it clipped from an unidentified Pittsburgh publication in the family scrapbook. Another religious piece he evidently created was “a gold bust of a nun for Cartier, Inc., about 1941,” as Jules Glaenzer acknowledged in a letter typewritten on Cartier letterhead to Doris East­man in 1948, a brief note that went on to state, “unfor­tunately we are not in a position [to locate it].”19

Manz and his wife (who was a suffragette and became editor of Leonia Life magazine) divorced in 1913, and he later married a woman known only as Bertha or Betty. His daughter Doris (a beauty whose portrait was on the cover of McCall’s Magazine in November 1924) was his New York-based traveling salesperson for a few years in the 1920s and 1930s, a remarkable occupation for a woman at the time. After several address changes reflect­ing the gradual uptown progression of the New York jewelry and shopping districts, his workshop finally ended up in Manhattan’s jewelry district today-the west forties. Between 1922 and 1934 he was listed succes­sively at 1 and 2 West Forty-seventh Street, before settling in 1936 at 42 West Forty-eighth (across from Rockefeller Center), where he remained until 1944.

Manz always seemed to at least cover his costs until the Great Depression struck and he became ill with cancer. In a letter dated March 13, 1939, a representative of F. Walter Lawrence wrote to Doris, who then lived in Ohio and had appar­ently requested work on her father’s behalf: “Conditions in our business have been demoralized for the last three or four years, and it is a very difficult time to make contact with anybody. I think if Mr. Manz felt so in­clined he could probably get a job with one of the big manufacturers, but it would be a difficult change for him, as he has always been his own boss.”20 Manz’s health seems to have stabilized around 1940, but costs continued to rise beyond his reduced income. One day in 1944 he went into his shop and turned on the Bun­sen burner in an attempt to commit suicide. While he eventually recovered, he spent most of the brief remain­der of his life at the Frances Schervier Home and Hos­pital in Riverdale, New York,21 and died on February 16, 1946. His death notice in the New York Times does not mention that he was a jeweler, but merely states his dates of birth and death and names his surviving fam­ily members.”22 He was buried in Ferncliff Cemetery in Westchester County.

Sensing his imminent lack of recognition, Doris East­man went on something of a campaign to document her father’s achievements. Thanks to her efforts all those years ago, some fortunate circumstances, and the documentation and memories of the family, many details of his life and work have been preserved. In addition, his artistic legacy survives in the vast number of pieces that were dispersed around the world by scores of high-end retailers. Rather than being a marketable moniker, Gustav Manz is a figure through whom the history of jewelry production can be better understood, significant not only for his creations, but also for his role as a highly skilled, yet completely anonymous artisan who supplied the stocks of well-known retailers and designers.

I would like to thank Janet Zapata, Ulysses Grant Dietz, and Jeanne Solensky at the Winterthur Archives, as well as countless other people for their help with this article, particularly all Manz’s won­derful, surviving descendants, who have been so generous with their memories.

During his peak years Manz supplied jewelers across the country and in London. For a table listing those who bought from him visit themagazineantiques.com.

1 “A Master Sculptor in Precious Metals: Gustav Manz, Disciple of Cellini, Whose Methods Are Those of the Florentine Craftsman of Mediaeval Days,” Arts and Decoration, January 1926, p. 68.

2 Jewelers’ Circular-Keystone, March 1946, p. 397. Manz is consistently listed in New York City business directories as a jeweler from 1901 to 1944.

3 Witherbee Black to Doris Eastman, February 20, 1946, Gustav Manz scrapbook, coll. 53, Gustav Manz (microfilm), Joseph Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera, Winterthur Library, Winterthur, Delaware.

4 Analysis of Manz’s client list courtesy of his great-grand­daughter (and tenacious researcher), Laura Mathews.

5 Gustav Manz scrapbook. Manz’s great-granddaughter-in-law Peg Eastman, who was a docent at Winter­thur in the early 1970s, donated the three business journals and arranged the mi­crofilming of the scrapbook.

6 Gustav Manz scrapbook.

7 Ibid.

8 1900 United States Census, examination district no. 67, sheet no. 9, June 6, 1900, gives Manz’s date of immigration as 1893.

9 Janet Zapata, “The rediscovery of Paulding Farn­ham, Tiffany’s designer ‘extraordinaire,'” The Magazine Antiques, vol. 139, no. 3 (March 1991), p. 558.

10 See n. 8.

11 According to the family, Carl Bachem traveled back and forth to Germany on jewelry related business.

12 “Informa­tion for Record /Applied Arts Division-Department of Art, St. Louis World’s Fair,” 1904, archives of the Saint Louis Art Museum. Janet Zapata kindly pro­vided me with a copy of this entry form.

13 A. M. Veghte, treasurer, F. Walter Lawrence, New York, to Louis Binder, Cowell and Hubbard, Cleveland, Sep­tember 5, 1952, in Gustav Manz scrapbook.

14 Arthur Rathjen (Manz’s grand­son), interview by author, December 11, 2007.

15 “Art at Home and Abroad,” New York Times, May 19, 1912. This sculpture was later donated by Doris East­man to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, where it remains today; ac­cording to the registrar Carole Camillo, it currently provides décor in a confer­ence room.

16 Yvonne Markowitz, Rita J. Kaplan and Susan B. Kaplan Curator of Jewelry and former curator of Egyptology, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in­terview by author, August 24, 2007.

17 Isabelle M. Archer, “The Present Trend in Decorative Designing, Traced through the Industrial Exhibition Now at the Metropolitan Museum,” Jewelers’ Circular, January 30, 1924, p. 53.

18 “A Gold­en Opportunity in Every Community,” ibid., December 1932, p. 37.

19 The letter is in the Gustav Manz scrapbook.

20 George Hepbron of F. Walter Lawrence to Doris Eastman, March 13, 1939, ibid.

21 Postcard from Manz to Doris East­man, in Gustav Manz scrapbook. The Schervier Nursing Care Center archives confirm Manz’s stay there. Diane Cohen, director of health information man­agement at the Schervier Center, interview by author, November 20, 2007.

22 New York Times, February 20, 1946.

COURTNEY BOWERS, an independent scholar, is writing a book about Gustav Manz.