Danish Silver

by Lise Funder

(This article is a summary based on the English text found within this book.)

Possessing a long history and strong aesthetics, Danish silver didn't truly come into its own until the mid to late 18th century, as the industrialization that was sweeping the western world came to Denmark as well. As manufacturing made products both easier to produce and more readily available, cities such as Copenhagen rapidly grew and prospered. The workforce started to change, and although a new middle class was created, tradesmen were less in demand, which in turn weakened the existing guild systems in place. This helped the Trade Act of 1862 to pass, which eased up the regulations around setting up ones own business. Now silversmiths and goldsmiths, after completing their apprenticeship and passing a final test, could set up their own shops with little difficulty.

This suited the growing affluence among the middle class well. Ready to adopt the trappings of the upper class they could not afford before, there was great interest among the people to be able to own silver teapots, cups, toast racks, and other hollowware items: in short, the trappings of the upper class they aspired to.

In the summer of 1888, when the Nordic Exhibition of Industry, Agriculture, and Art, a joint venture of 29 organizations featuring the the best of art and industry from five countries and with 1.3 million visitors occurred, the silver industry was revolutionized. Although the largest event ever arranged in Copenhagen, and featuring primarily the works of Danish silversmiths, (Anton Michelsen had gone as far as to set up a full workshop on the premises for all to see), The Danish designs shown seemed dated and stale by comparison to the displays of Siegfried Bing. A French art dealer, Siegfried had brought a number of pieces of Japanese art, with its supple curves and an emphasis on restraint and nature inspired themes, quite unlike the designs that flooded Europe at the time. This of course led to the reinvention of Danish design, incorporating these aspects into the style of the early 20th century.

During the times up to this change and at its forefront, three major companies led the way: Peter Hertz, Anton Michelsen, and A. N. Dragsted.

Peter Hertz opened this workshop in 1834 and for a period of time had a location in Ostergrade but eventually settled on the corner of Kobmagergrade and Kronpirnsengrade in Copenhagen where it exists today. Having won exhibitions in Malmo in 1881, Liverpool 1886, Paris 1889, and Chicago 1895, with his jewelry and hollowware pieces that showcased scenes from Danish history. In 1906, one of his most notable pieces, a centerpiece with two twelve armed candelabra featuring a scene from the Nordic Edda, of Gefion plowing out Zealand was created. That very year he was also appointed as Court Jeweler. In 1876, his sons, Jacob and Sally continued the silver tradition and opened the first silver factory to use electricity in Denmark, which continued under Johan and Knud Hertz until it was shut down in 1960. Although the select few pieces made under the P. Hertz name are now executed y Erik Sjodahl, the shop itself still remains. Many of the pieces created by P. Hertz at the turn of the century were designed by such notable names as Johan Rhode, Thorvald Bindesboll, and Harald Slott-Moller.

Anton Michelsen opened his workshop in Gothersgade in Copenhagen in 1841 and by 1848 had become jeweler for the Danish College of Arms. After rapidly expanding and moving to a new location, he was the only Danish silversmith to show in the 1855 World Exhibition in Paris. In 1877, following his death, his son, Carl Michelsen took over the firm and also took the position of court jeweler in 1880. In 1892 for the wedding of Christian IX and Queen Louise a five piece centerpiece including two 8 arm candelabras was crafted, showing the myth of King Skjold brought to the land of the Danes as an infant. Arnold Krog, artistic director of Den Koneglige Porcelainsfabrik, it was inspired by the current Art Nouveau style of the time, incorporating artistic movements outside of Denmark. Specializing and refining the art of enamelwork, his shop is most well known for the annual Christmas spoons started in 1910. Also designing for Anton Michelsen Silversmithy at the turn of the century were Thorvald Bindesboll, Harald Slott-Moller, Georg Thylstrup, Johan Rhode, and Svend Hammershoj.

After working for A. Michelsen, Arendt Dragsted opened his own shop in Copenhagen in 1854. Highly influenced by Danish history, his workshop continued to produce more classic, historical pieces longer than the other companies.

As the century tuned, however, England led the changes in ideas and styles for Denmark, and as manufactured products were still poorly made, as industrialization was still in its infancy, the Arts and Crafts movement came to Denmark as well. At the same time, Art Nouveau was blossoming in Denmark, and its influence was instrumental to a Danish style called Skonvirke. With the new Museum of Decorative Arts in Copenhagen, and with a large collection of Art Nouveau pieces, mostly acquired from the World Exhibition in Paris of 1900, as well as pieces designed y Charles Robert Ashbee, the craftsmen of Denmark had a new source of inspiration. Whereas Art Nouveau placed higher emphasis on the long sinuous curves and decoration, the Danes always placed function before design. What started out as a term to differentiate between this new movement and what "decorative arts" stood for at the time, (both hand crafted and industrial made items) turned into the name of the style that lasted during this time up till World War I.

Thorvald Bindesboll was one of the greatest designers leading up to the 20th century and his distinct style was present in his silver works as well as ceramics, furniture, book bindings, embroidery and metal work. Typified by organic shapes, balls of seaweed or leaves, clouds and waves dominated his work, and became known as bolle-ornaments among his friends. For the World Exhibition of Paris in 1900, he exhibited some silver and ceramic pieces from the A. Michelsen workshop, as well as large portals marking the Danish entrance to the exhibit.

Bindesboll's designs were a presage for the upcoming designs of the time, and after working with Michelsen, Hertz, and Dragsted, he went on to work for Holger Kyster, a goldsmith whose last showing was also with the World Exhibition of Paris in 1900. Holger Kyster and Bindesboll had both benefited greatly from this partnership, with Bindesboll prolifically designing many of the silver pieces produced. His designs were so well received, that many other companies would try to copy his work. Bindesboll eventually took to photographing his works as the result of such activities. After Bindesboll died, Kyster had continued to produce silver pieces based on his designs.

Bindesboll also introduced Holger Kyster to Svend Hammershoj, whom like Bindesboll, had his own unique style which he applied to all mediums. Whether glass work, metal, or ceramics, he developed a style that covered his pieces with all varieties of leaves and classical shapes and vivid motifs. Hammershoj's designs were often done in clay which Kyster would then render in silver.

Both Hammershoj and Bindesoll, as well as N. G Henriksen, head of the workshop and main designer for A. Michelsen, marked a change in silver design, whereas sculptors and artists now worked within the medium and architects no longer dominated. Although A. Michelsen still turned out traditional pieces , Henriksen's own work was influenced by nature and Japanese art, featuring florals and insects in his works. Working in both ceramics and silver, many of his pieces were exhibited and sold at the World Exhibition of Paris in 1900.

Harald Slott-Moller was another artist whom made his mark upon the world of silver designs with his hollowware and other decorative arts. His teapot from 1900 was surely inspired by Hokusai's famous woodblock prints of Mt. Fuji with its volcanic shaped warmer and cloud or wavelike motif. Slott-Moller also frequently used gemstones to accentuate and ring life to his pieces, as well as using techniques like oxidizing and gilding the silver.

By the year 1900 many schools around the different ideas in design had started to rise up in England and other parts of Europe, including Germany where in Dramstadt the artist colony, Mathildenhohe. During this period of time, Henry van de Velde and Herman Multhesius, in order to promote their ideas of a decorative art for the common man, and eschewing the overly ornamented designs of the previous era, founded the Deutscher Werkbund. Although its purpose at first was to help partner designers with manufacturers in order to help Germany compete with other countries, it incorporated many elements of the Arts and Crafts movement in England and became a predecessor for the Bauhaus School, which became the greatest source of inspiration towards design in the decorative arts between World War I and World War II. Despite lacking a school for the decorative arts for themselves, silversmiths from Denmark would travel about Germany during this time and report back the various ideas surrounding decorative design where it would be published in various trade journals.

During the turn of the 20th century many silversmithies opened that would once again influence Danish design for the coming years.

Mogens Ballin was one of the first to embrace the idea of designing for the common man, and accomplished this by using silver and less expensive metals. With his assistants, Gudmund Hentze and Siegfried Wagner, they provided many designs for companies such as Bing and Grondahl, Den kongelige Porcelainsfabrik and Cohr. In 1907, with the death of Ballin's wife, he handed the business over to Hans Peter Hertz, who continued manufacturing of Ballin's designs for a number of years afterward.

Georg Jensen also started his workshop during this time period in 1904, making small jewelry pieces, combs, buckles, pins and the like from silver and semiprecious stones. Due to his success the following year when he exhibited at the Danish Museum of Decorative Arts, he branched out into hollowware, and his fame started to spread. During this time he befriended and began to work with Johan Rhode, a designer whose restrained design contrasted with Jensen's. In 1910, Jensen had won the gold medal at the World Exhibition in Brussels, and by 1912, the company had moved to a larger location and a new workshop was set up. World War I, however brought about financial difficulties and the company became partially owned by Niels Wendel, an art dealer. Post war, economic success came and went again, and by the 1920's, shareholders had taken control of the company's finances from Georg Jensen. By 1972, the company Georg Jensen was taken over by Royal Copenhagen. Georg Jensen's designs were naturally inspired, often of leaves, flowers,and grapes as well as birds and insects. His hollowware often showed distinct hammer marks, and his pieces were given a patina to create a play of shadow and light.

Johan Rhode, by contrast, started by designing items for his own home, and his designs were remarkable restrained, eschewing most ornamentation of the Art Nouveau movement in favor of more basic shapes and relied on both materials and function to dictate his designs. Because of this, his designs were often far ahead of their times, and in some cases, production was put off till years later. His designs have accomplished a particular timeless look however, and of the three flatware patterns he is responsible for AcornAcanthus, and Scroll, Acorn still is one of the most popular flatware patterns of the Georg Jensen company.

Also important to the history of Georg Jensen was Harald Nielsen, whom started off his apprenticeship as a chaser in 1909, and once completed, he was placed in charge of making Georg Jensen's illustrations and design sketches "readable and ready" for production. During this time he also designed pieces for the company himself, some of which were indistinguishable from Jensen's own. However, his own style eventually came to light and his more modernist sense shown through as he focused on form with a minimal amount of decoration, creating incredibly simple yet subtle and refined designs. His Pyramid flatware pattern is a fantastic example of his timeless design style.

Similar to Georg Jensen, yet distinctive in his own right, Evald Nielsen also set up his shop in Copenhagen in 1905, and produced pieces in a style similar to Georg Jensen. Successful primarily in Denmark and Germany, he also sold elsewhere and was succeeded by his sons, Bjarne, whom took over the shop, and Aage, whose own unique works incorporated raw silver into the decorations.

Erik Magnussen was also a very talented silversmith and jeweler at the time, and in 1909, traveled from Denmark to the US where he designed for Gorham, one of the largest silverware factories in the country. His designs quickly changed during his stay from his Danish roots into a far more American inspired style. He eventually returned to Denmark in 1939, yet found little success back home.

It wasn't just privately own and maintained workshops that impacted the history of Danish silver. Silver factories started to open up in the mid to late 1800's, of which Vilhelm Christesen, Carl M. Cohr, and Grann og Laglye were the largest. Unlike the workshops, the pieces were manufactured primarily by machines and less expensive, meaning the newer middle class could afford them. Although hollowware was also produced, cutlery accounted for the majority of business for these companies.

Vilhelm Christesen first opened his factory in 1846 after hiring a former employee from the Wilkens & Sohne factory in Germany. In ten years time, things had progressed well enough that the company moved the factory to Copenhagen. Although his pieces were classic in design and old fashioned, the silver factory itself was a step towards progress, as well as his ideas regarding marketing. During the world Exhibition of Chicago in 1893, he produced his own catalog rather than being included in a shared exhibition catalog as was common of the time.

The Carl M. Cohr Silver company was founded by Ditlev Cohr in 1860 and continued to make silver products up until it closed in 1987. It was Ditlev's son, Carl, that made made his mark upon the company. Despite traditional designs selling better, Cohr kept with a more updated look, hiring designers Knud V. Engelbert, Siegfried Wagner, and Kastor Hansen for the 1909 national exhibition in Aarhus, and later on creating pieces designed by Hans Peter Jacobsen and Hans Bunde. Jacobsen designed many pieces for Cohr during his 40+ years with the company, and added much to its functionalist look with simple designs and devoid of decoration. He also did much silver plate for Cohr, and made it into something truly competitive. Hans Bunde designed for Cohr after World War II and after his training at Cohr, continued on to learn under Wiwen Nilsson, the leading Swedish silversmith. Afterward he went back to Cohr from 1951 to 1976 and became head of the one-off products. His designs were elegant and representative of Danish functionalism, unlike any other silver factory could produce.

Grann og Laglye was founded by two silversmiths, Jalhannes Lauritz Grann and Johannes Laglye and manufactured silver up until it was sold to Toxsvaerd in 1955. Grann and Lagyle were very skilled craftsmen but the most unique designs were created outside the company by designers such as Harald Folmer Gross. Gross had also designed for A Michelsen, P. Hertz, and Hans Hansen. His designs were very Art Deco inspired, yet little is known of him.

After World War I, much of Europe was left in the chaos of social and economic upheaval, however Denmark escaped relatively unscathed. The silver industry had changed though, discarding the ornamentation of the past and the visible hammer strokes and moved towards cleaner, sleeker surfaces and the more geometric look of Art Deco.

For the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Moderne in Paris in 1925 Kay Fisker designed the Danish Pavilion which still held to more classic design elements, however it was well received, and all the most influential designers were represented. It wasn't until the Stockholm Exhibition in 1930 that Functionalism was formerly introduced. Gregory Paulssen was a major component behind the event and his love of Bauhaus was prominent. The objective at this event was to create architecture and other design that was very affordable and available to ordinary people to which Functionalism, (and soon after, Scandinavian Design) serves very well. The Danish took extremely well to Functionalism, as they had already started during previous movements to eschew ornamentation and focus on usability.

It was after this exhibition that Georg Jensen would gain Sigvaard Bernadotte, the second eldest son to the Swedish Crown prince, as a designer in 1930. Highly functional with smooth straight surfaces, his designs embraced the movement and had the most minimal decoration in the form of grooves, studs or perhaps a few lines. Of course Bernadotte wasn't the only one championing the new functionalism. Kay Bojesen, also of Georg Jensen started speaking out against decoration in favor for smooth surfaces during this time and promoted the belief that silver, though use, only grows in its beauty as the microscopic nicks and scratches contribute to the silver's patina, much like older pieces. Also silversmith Inger Moller also drew from the past and infused it with the new functionalism with her line of hollowware, drawing upon more common and ordinary kitchen items for inspiration.

Outside of Copenhagen Hans Hansen and Franz Hingelberg were making their names. Hans Hansen started out in 1906 in Kolding and primarily did cutlery, of which "The Family Silver Patterns" are perhaps best known. It wasn't until his son, Karl Gustav Hansen took to the family business and even whilst still apprenticing , created beautiful Functionalist pieces. Karl Gustav's workshop was unique in that he did not use machinery, and all pieces were done by hand. His hollowware designs were very geometric, but held a naturalist approach to them. Hans Hansen had remained a prominent Danish company till its absorption into Royal Copenhagen in 1991.

Franz Hingelberg opened his shop originally to sell silver from larger companies. It wasn't until after his death, and his son Vilhelm took over and hired Svend Weihrauch, a prominent designer, that the business had established itself. Using Bauhaus principles of form, material, and process, he created beautiful geometric hollowware pieces based on cones, spheres, and cylinders. Although the workshop had relied heavily on machinery, Weihrauch had no intentions of mass producing his designs. When the desire for silver started to wane in the 50's, Weihrauch and Hingelberg had a falling out over the need to trim lines, and though the company continued to exist, it lacked the popularity it once had. The company eventually sold in 1986 and now runs as a jewelry shop under the same name.

World War II meant for the world a shortage of supplies for domestic use, and silver was no exception. Business continued on and old silver was melted down along with salvaging from left over fillings, photographic solutions, and x-rays. Cuts were also made by using other materials in addition to silver, including lacquer, iron, enamel, and even fish skin.

Also during this time, silver designs had returned back into the hands of architects, and the term "architect's silver" started to denote much of the silver of this time period. Edvard Kindt-Larsen, Erik Herlow, Soren Sass, and Ole Hagen were a few of the names behind these trends, and functionalism was a large influence on their designs. Jorgen Jensen, the eldest son of Georg Jensen, completely eschewed decoration in favor of working with pure form.

During this time there were also reactions against such strict Functionalism, created by sculptors and artist such as Arno Malinowski, Soren Georg Jensen, and Henning Koppel.

Arno Malinowski drew the most acclaim from his jewelry done for Georg Jensen, usually animal motifs with floral accents, cutouts and often contained within a border. His hollowware has a sculptural aspect to it yet remains user friendly.

Henning Koppel perhaps marked the changing tides against Functionalism when he said, "Things should not be too insistently practical, otherwise everything drowns in boredom." After training as a sculptor, he did a few larger commissions, before being asked to design pewter jewelry, from which he found enjoyment in metal work, and eventually did his work in silver for Georg Jensen. His works also had a very organic feel about them, with a sculptural aspect as well.

During the 1960's, the household makeup changed. Long gone have been servants and women no longer remained at home, rather taking up employment themselves. Status symbols changed to electronics and automobiles, no longer silver hollowware or cutlery. Silver Jewelry still existed, but silversmith workshops were shrinking in number and the largest manufacturers were taken over. Silver prices rose dramatically at the onset of the 80's and so did the pay rates for apprentices. All was not lost however as a group of 12 silversmiths formed the Danske Solvmede group, which helps to recognize that silvesmithing is still alive and practiced in Denmark, and that its fine craftsmanship and functionality are of the utmost quality. Silversmiths like Allan Scharff and Lasse Baerhrig have kept the art form alive and have continued to develop their own style.