George Jensen:
Lighting Devices Through the Past Century


By: Caryl Rose and Harold M. Unger, M.D. and Jamie Unger-Fink

 

 

Georg Jensen, the company, will celebrate its 100th Anniversary in April of 2004. Special exhibits in Denmark will mark the anniversary of the year in which Georg Jensen, the silversmith, opened his first store for the sale of his handmade jewelry, accessories, flatware, hollowware and many other items for the home and personal adornment.

Georg Jensen was born in Raadvad, Denmark, a charming small country town near Copenhagen on August 31, 1866. As a child, he would gather clay from his backyard and model small figures, such as animals and fruit. Thanks to his mother, who early on recognized his artistic ability, Jensen was encouraged to complete his education at a technical school (The Massman Sunday Schools) and to become an apprentice to a Copenhagen Goldsmith. This training taught him the intricacies of creating silver objects.

Georg Jensen set his eyes on a higher goal, to become a sculptor. In his early years, he was able enough to be admitted to the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of Denmark, where he was awarded honors for his sculpture. After graduation, he was unable to support his family from the sale of his sculpture. To provide income, he began producing ceramic works with a friend, Christian Joachim Petersen. Here again his failure to generate sufficient income pointed him towards a more profitable trade. This need to become financially more secure led him to open his first store and smithy at 36 Bredgade in Copenhagen. At the age of 38, it took a great deal of courage to take this step. His great artistic talent and innovative designs gradually brought acclaim.


This spirit lamp measures 5 1/2' from tip to handle 3 1/4' high and the top surface is 2 1/4' across.  The marks are George Jensen in an oval, GI830S in an oval and a crown with the letters GABF.

Georg Jensen soon became a well-known figure in the Danish Art World. He became a recognizable figure, with his flowing cape and tie, frequenting the cafes and haunts of the other artists of his time. Starting as a one-man operation, he soon hired his first apprentice, fourteen year old Henry Pilstrup,who remained with the firm until his retirement. Even with Pilstrup’s assistance, he had a limited output; and, as orders piled up, expansion became a necessity. Jensen’s knowledge of production details translated into an operation with a five-story factory and 250 workers. International distribution, first in Germany and Sweden, and then in many other countries, increased demand for his silver. Accolades from critics, the public and Museums all over the world assured his continued rise in recognition and popularity. In order to expand, he assumed increasing indebtedness and eventually his ownership was taken over by the P.A. Pedersen family. Since serving as Artistic Director was not to his liking, in 1925, he moved to Paris, where he set up a small workshop and retail store. This venture lasted until 1926, when he returned to Copenhagen. Here, he remained in an advisory capacity to the Smithy. During this period in his life, he continued to produce silver items in his own workshop, at his home in Hellerup, until his death in 1935.Within this span of sixty-nine years he was married four times and fathered eight children. While Jensen was married to his third wife, Johanna, many members of her family joined the firm, among who were Harald Nielsen and Gundorph Albertus, his brothers-in-law. In addition to this, Jensen’s sons, Soren and Jorgen entered the business after their father’s death.

Georg Jensen has one remaining son, a child of his fourth wife, Agnes. Ib Georg Jensen is a ceramist of note in Denmark. Georg Jensen’s grandchildren have maintained a strong interest and love for their grandfather’s work.  

Starting to design as the period of Art Nouveau was ending its influence on artists all over the world, Georg Jensen’s striking designs are still able to be used in today’s homes. Jensen was able to attract fine artists such as Johan Rohde, Arno Malinowski, and Magnus Stephensen. Their designs and Jensen’s own enabled the company to survive two World Wars, depressions, booms, and style changes from Art Deco to Modernism.

 Production mirrored the lifestyle of Jensen’s environment. The first electric companies had just started in the 1890’s and electricity was far from available in many homes. Candle use was prevalent. Jensen’s mantra was “to make all things for the home beautiful and affordable.” The company produced spirit lamps, candelabra, and candlesticks in many designs. This shows his use of a graceful shape and handle. His attention to details is displayed in its attachment of the cap used to snuff the wick. Lamps such as this were used to melt the wax used for sealing


These acorn candlesticks are 10 1/2' tall.  The base diameter is 3 5/8'. They are #481 and 481 C and are marked Dessin JR for Johan Rohde, the designer, and have the post 1945 Jensen mark of Georg Jensen in an oval.

letters. The candlesticks appear with 6 holders, 2-armed, as low as an inch and half, and many 14-16” in height. Several chandeliers were produced, but in limited quantity. One is still in use in the Smithy and one was sold by Sotheby’s on December 1, 1989. The whereabouts of this item is unknown but hopefully news of its location will appear. This chandelier was made in 1919 by Jensen as an engagement gift to his fiancée. It is engraved “Til Tjuhel (pet name for his affianced, Agnes Christiansen).

His famous five-armed candelabra, dripping with grapes in clusters received great acclaim in Paris exhibitions and became a symbol of his unique creativity.  Many other forms of candlesticks were developed, such as the ones seen to the right. Designed by his long-time associate, Johan Rohde, it is made in the Acorn motif, which was Jensen’s most widely sold pattern.


The
candlesticks on the bottom measure 5 3/8' in height.  they are marked Dessin HN for Harald Nielsen, the designer, and were produced between 1933 and 1944 as evidenced by the GJ in a vertical rectangle. The candlesticks on the top measure 5 1/8' in height and are 2 5/8' in diameter at the base. They show the mark Dessin HK and were made sometime after 1945, having the contemporary Jensen mark of Georg Jensen in an oval.

The picture to the left shows a sample of the range of design over the different periods in Jensen production. The pair on the bottom typifies the more ornate style with base and columns varying in diameter and a fluted pattern near the top.  The pair on the top is at the other end of the style spectrum. Designed by the great Henning Koppel, the beauty of these candlesticks is in the sleek simplicity of their form, with no need for adornment.

The conversion of the primary home lighting source from candle to electricity was gradual, but as its use became commonplace, Jensen, once again, adapted to the changing need and style. He, then, developed a series of electric lamps. Although the columnar bases and pedestals sometimes were derived from prior candlesticks, their shapes were well applicable for use as lamp bases. Wiring was introduced (see box below) through the side of the pedestal, carried through the column and then into graceful harps that melded well with the base design, bringing power to the lighting fixture. The upper picture of the two smaller panels of the show in detail the beautifully molded leaves and buds that form the top of the pedestal. The lower photograph shows in detail the bud- like ornament that forms the beautiful finial for the lamp.


This lamp measures 17 3/4" from base to top.  The base is 5 1/4" in diameter. The hallmarks are Georg Jensen in an oval, GI 830s in an oval, #582 and the year of production-1922

Another group of lighting devices relates to accessories for use in smoking. The mundane box of wooden stick matches were turned into beautifully decorated items by Jensen’s covers for these boxes. In varying sizes and shapes, these covers are essentially a rigid rectangular cover into which the matchbox was inserted. The sides of the silver rectangle were fenestrated to permit striking of the matches on the abrasive sides of the original box. The one in the center has a raised border and a chased floral representation. The cover on the right has a diamond-shaped decoration in the center of which is a sculptural element with a bud-like design. The third and largest of the boxes is on the left in the box below to left. It has a large floral decoration in the center of which are the owner’s initials AB. Smaller repeats of the central design are found in each corner of the top.


The box in the center has the marks Sterling, Denmark, 88D (catalogue #), 925 S and a script G inscribed over a script J, indicating production before 1914. The box on the right measures 2 18” by ½’ by ¾”. It is marked Sterling, Denmark, Georg Jensen in an oval, # 389 B and the design cipher of a J over an R in an oval indicting that this was designed for Jensen by Johan Rohde. The box on the left  measures 2 3/8” by 1 ½” by¾”. The marks are the Georg Jensen in straight line, block letters and 830 S, probably being produced before 1925.

The next set of lighting devices moves forward in time when automatic lighters began to be in vogue. In the box below right, we show three examples. The two in the rear are table lighters and the one in the center is a pocket lighter.  In the lighter on the left the design is one of crossing stripes with small leaves at each junction. The one on the right is slightly larger and has vertical engineered stripes on the case. The central lighter is a pocket lighter with a simple linear border at the top and bottom of the case. In another innovative creation, Jensen even made silver covers to house pocket flashlights.

As the 100th anniversary of the birth of the


T
he one on the left measures 3” by 2 7/8” by 1 1/8”.There is a KW inscribed in the base. The Jensen marks are #39A, Sterling, Denmark, 925 and the 1933-44 hall mark of GJ in a rectangle.  The design is one of crossing stripes with small leaves at each junction.  The one on the right measures 3 1/8” by 2 /38” by 1 3/16”. The mechanism was made in Germany by Consul and the Jensen marks are # 366C, Sterling Denmark and the post-1945 mark of Georg Jensen in an oval.The central lighter measures 1 ¼” by 1 13/16” by ½”. The mechanism was made by the same company as the first lighter (KW). The marks are # 203, Denmark, Sterling and the post 1945 mark of Georg Jensen in an oval.

Georg Jensen Company nears, the examples shown here are a very small indication of the development the company has made not only in form, but in function as well. Designs have changed from the ornate decoration of the Art Nouveau period to present day sleek, unadorned shapes. Flatware patterns such as Acorn, Acanthus, Pyramid, Bernadotte, and Cactus, designed from 1915 and on into the 30’s, are perfectly suited for today’s use. Over the 100 years, the firm has prospered, and we hope will continue to make beautiful objects in silver with their well-known attention to exquisite detail in design, shape, and patina. The handwork, artistry, and design innovation Jensen insisted upon is still the credo of the modern company. The name  Georg Jensen will always connote excellence in quality and contemporary design. Known throughout the world, Georg Jensen is considered one of the greatest silversmiths of this century.


About the authors:

Caryl and Harold M. Unger, M. D. operate Imagination Unlimited in Miami beach, an Antique service dealing with Georg Jensen and other Danish silver.

Jamie Unger-Fink, their grandson, is a senior at Western High School in Davie, Fl, and does the photography and computer work for his grandparent’s firm, Imagination Unlimited.


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