The life and jewelry of Gustav Manz

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.

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[Compiled by Bill Stern, Executive Director at the Museum of California Design, Los Angeles. Originally published in "Curator's Eye" in Modern Magazi

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