Today, in certain circles, Georg Jensen is a better known silversmith than Paul Revere. Ironically, for him, it was a consolation-prize career.
Growing up, Jensen wanted to be a sculptor. Born outside Copenhagen in 1866 to a knife-grinder father and housemaid mother, he studied to be one. But his career at it was short-lived. The need to support two sons as a widower prompted him to turn to the applied arts, first modeling porcelain and then pottery. And in 1901, he began dabbling in silverware, taking the unusual step of targeting the upscale, but not luxury, customer. Emboldened by early success, in 1904, Jensen took the plunge and invested all of his money in a silver business.
The Danish craftsman’s premise was that objects of daily use–tea pots, silverware, trays–could be both functional and beautiful. Old hat now, it was an idea somewhat radical in its day. By 1921 he had an international rep and premiered his wares at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. His modern take on the traditional arts-and-crafts movement designs was met with such success that, at a certain point in history, many New York families had Jensen flatware on their tables.
His success came against a background of upheaval, though. Jensen’s life was pockmarked by the First World War, an outbreak of Spanish influenza, volatile economic conditions and the death of three wives. But he remained true to his craft, bringing fame to his companies, “Georg Jensen’s Silver Smithy” and “Georg Jensen & Wendel.” More than a century later, the Georg Jensen company is still in business.
This 1908 “Blossom Pattern” sterling-silver Coffee Service is being auctioned at Doyle New York on Sept. 28. The Art Nouveau pattern is a classic Jensen design from the early 20th century, but the item is the handiwork of an anonymous craftsman at the company. It includes a coffee pot, a creamer, a covered sugar bowl and a tray. Estimated to sell for $6,000 to $9,000, it should be well received, predicted the auction house. “There’s a steady market for secondhand vintage items [by Jensen], as well as at auction,” said David A. Gallager, a senior vice president of Doyle New York, citing the popularity of his “streamlined naturalism.”