ASCAS Association of Small Collectors of Antique Silver
article # 148
by Dorothea Burstyn
(click on photos to enlarge image)



"Frauensilber, Paula Straus, Emmy Roth & Co., Silberschmiedinnen der Bauhauszeit" (Silver made by women, Paula Straus, Emmy Roth & Co., Female silversmiths in the time of the Bauhaus) (note 1) is a wonderful exhibition showing more than 180 objects, the majority from private collections and now for the first time introduced to the public. These female artists, many of them of Jewish origin, had been forgotten due to the political circumstances in the 1930s and 1940s. It is thanks to Dr. Reinhard Saenger's considerable energy dedicated to the research into the life and works of these artists that their lasting legacy for German silversmithing is now secured. The research proved especially difficult. Archives had been destroyed in WWII. Other private archives like the one of Bruckmann & Söhne had simply been discarded as their importance for the history of the German silver industry was not fully recognized. Combing through trade journals and other publications, working through the papers of well connected art historians like Karl Schwartz (note 2), and last but not least finding Paula Straus' portfolio dating to 1938 as well as many other photos with her sister in New York City led to many corrections and considerably advanced our knowledge of the contribution of female silversmiths of this period.

Exhibition halls at the Badische Landesmuseum, Karlsruhe Exhibition halls at the Badische Landesmuseum, Karlsruhe
Exhibition halls at the Badische Landesmuseum, Karlsruhe
At the beginning of the 20th century women had started to take a place in silversmithing, traditionally a male dominated trade. They were educated either in silversmiths' workshops or in specialist schools for decorative art. Not hobbyists but serious proponents of their trade, their aim was to establish workshops and make a living with their art. To facilitate this aim in the very trying economic climate of the 1930s some shared studio space or joined artists' work groups. The "Frauensilber" exhibition is the first extensive show of the fifteen most important female silversmiths of Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Most of them worked as jewelers but Paula Straus, Emmy Roth and Christa Ehrlich beside some others started to make silver tableware.
Paula Straus, teapot from Service 13161 for Bruckmann & Söhne, 1928 Paula Straus, fruit bowl, for Bruckmann & Söhne, ca.1926 Emmy Roth, tea service 1926
Emmy Roth, sugar caster, Berlin 1927 Christa Ehrlich, after dinner coffee service Erika Petersen, claret jug, 1933
(upper row, left to right): Paula Straus, teapot from Service 13161 for Bruckmann & Söhne, 1928; Paula Straus, fruit bowl, for Bruckmann & Söhne, ca.1926; Emmy Roth, tea service 1926
(bottom row, left to right): Emmy Roth, sugar caster, Berlin 1927; Christa Ehrlich, after dinner coffee service; Erika Petersen, claret jug, 1933
Coming from a mostly traditional bourgeois background, they found a new form language for their silverware. The result was a definite No to the over laden and 'the everything matching' silver table of their mothers and grandmothers. The center of attention was now a plain, sometimes multipurpose object which convinces by its useful form - a single vase, a candlestick, a special box or a fruit dish. It is an amazing fact that these artists produced silver pieces of the simple, elegant forms so conducive for serial production at a time when the Bauhaus in Weimar and Dessau, whose mission to produce prototypes for industrial production was still in an experimental phase. Therefore Paula Straus, Christa Ehrlich and Emmy Roth can be called the first female industrial designers, whose designs for Bruckmann & Söhne and the Zilverfabriek Voorschoten quickly adapted to the demands of machine production.

The accompanying catalogue to the exhibition (note 3), written by Reinhard W. Saenger, with essays by Annelies Krekel-Aalberse, Heidrun Jecht and Rüdiger Joppien, is a book which should be found in the library of every collector of modern silver. It not only gives - sometimes very movingly - biographies of the various silversmiths, but its many illustrations form a reference catalogue for good modern silver. Especially interesting are the many included design drawings; the depiction of the various master marks and the enclosed bibliography are very useful. The sales figures for this catalogue are very encouraging and the publisher is seriously thinking of printing a second edition.

This exhibition is not only a spectacular success with enthusiastic reviews in many publications, but it has also led to new discoveries of Emmy Roth and Paula Straus' silver pieces in private collections. Dr. Saenger in cooperation with the Jewish Museum in Berlin has plans to not only introduce the oeuvre of these two silversmiths to the American public with an exhibition but also to publish his detailed research and extensive hitherto unpublished picture material in form of an illustrated monograph. I am sure to speak for all collectors of modern silver when I hope that all these ambitious plans will come to fruition.


A Century of Silver and Metalwork from the Margo Grant Walsh Collection is showing at the San Francisco International Airport, Terminal 2, from April to October 2011. The SFO, established by the Airport Commission in 1980 with the expressed wish to humanize the airport environment, is a very well-funded museum since it gets one and a half percent of all landing fees and is able to invest in high-end showcases, and display material and maintain more than twenty galleries throughout the airport terminals.

SFO Exhibition SFO Exhibition
SFO Exhibition
Since retiring from a successful career as interior architect from Gensler, Margo Grant Walsh has dedicated herself to researching her large collection of modern silver and metalwork and has spent her time and energy to make it available to the public. A generous donor, she has given the Portland Museum over two hundred fifty pieces of American and English silver and contributed important pieces to the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum, NYC. Her collection has been shown in five exhibitions in the last six years, one of these in the entrance hall of the San Francisco airport. The current show is placed beyond security screening in the new Terminal 2, Departure Level which proves to be a much better location - since we all rush through the entrance halls of airports to check in only to have hours of leisure after passing security until boarding time - last month already saw a high volume of visitors' traffic.
SFO Exhibition
SFO Exhibition
For Margo Grant Walsh, form and style were always the determining factors for her purchases - this exhibition shows a good mix of works in silver, copper and pewter. In the beginning Margo Grant Walsh concentrated on collecting English and American artists, favoring English works of the Guild of Handicrafts, the Keswick School of Industrial Arts and Liberty & Co., and American metal work from the Kalo Shop, Clemens Friedell and Dick van Erp to name only a few. But soon she branched out to other countries recognizing that great design and craftsmanship really knows no borders. Here naturally she was drawn to silver designed by famous architects like Josef Hoffmann and Josef Maria Olbrich.

Pewter decanter by Josef Maria Olbrich
Pewter decanter by Josef Maria Olbrich
The show also expresses the growth of Grant-Walsh's collecting activities. Her attendance of the Goldsmiths' Fairs at London Goldsmiths' Hall brought her in contact with many modern English silversmith, many of which she counts now as her friends.
The SFO exhibition includes examples of the beautiful works of Wally Gilbert, Ane Christianson, David Webdale, Katy Felton and Hiroshi Suzuki.

two beakers by Wally Gilbert Beaker by Hiroshi Suzuki, 2006
Two beakers by Wally Gilbert (left)
Beaker by Hiroshi Suzuki, 2006 (right)
Scandinavian silversmiths are well represented, Svend Weihrauch's tea service, made ca. 1948, with its sinuous lines, is a definite eye catcher. Italian designers had a lasting influence on silver and metalwork of the 20th century, the hemispherical teapot designed by Gabriele De Vecchi, 2006, and other works by architect-designer teams for Milan's San Lorenzo workshop are witness to this statement.

Tea service by Svend Weihrauch, ca. 1948 for Frantz Hingelberg Silversmithy Gabriele de Vecchi, teapot, 2006
Tea service by Svend Weihrauch, ca. 1948 for Frantz Hingelberg Silversmithy (left)
Gabriele de Vecchi, teapot, 2006 (right)
Part of the collection is pictured in "Collecting by Design, Silver & Metalwork of the Twentieth Century from the Margo Grant Walsh Collection" (note 4). The SFO Museum will undertake extensive photographing of this show, which will hopefully be the basis for a new book showing the many new additions to the Margo Grant Walsh collection.


The opening of the exhibition HaKaRo coincided with this year's flatware collectors' meeting in the Deutsche Klingenmuseum, Solingen (note 5). Curating this exhibition are Heinrich Averwerser and Jörg Müller-Daehn - a research team already well known for their books on modern German flatware (note 6). HaKaRo stands for Hans Karl Rodenkirchen, a very versatile graphic artist and industrial designer and also one of the early environmentalists. After buying an old mill on the river Wupper, his concentrated efforts and the founding of the environment group Nordrhein-Westfalen led eventually to better regulations for industrial water use and consequently to an improved water quality of this river.

Rodenkirchen together with his wife and business partner Lotte not only made the old mill their home, it also became a cultural center; a place for various exhibitions, concerts, theatre performances and lectures. From 1954 to 1965 it served as studio space of various artists who formed the "Werkring Wipperkotten". This led to the establishment of a permanent gallery which sold their various products as well as glasses, flatware and table accessories designed by Rodenkirchen and executed by local firms.

The exhibits for this show were furnished by Heinrich Averwerser and Lotte Rodenkirchen. There are an interesting number of drawings and designs, mirrors and jewelry pieces, but Rodenkirchen's flatware designs are naturally the main interest. When Rodenkirchen began to design for the Solingen flatware industry it had just recovered from the devastation of WWII. The industry's adjustments of the artist's design vision and what seemed feasible to produce with the existing machinery and tooling created a constant conflict. Cost was the reason for abolishing dinner- and luncheon flatware and the sole production of a medium sized flatware type. The popularity of the Scandinavian style made the Solingen firms seek out the sleek, simple forms often devoid of decoration. Rodenkirchen’s designs mostly fit with these industrial demands. Exceptional is the forged flatware design for "Obelisk", 1961, executed by Paul Wirths, Solingen, which takes its design inspiration from the leaf of the rowan tree. Rodenkirchen also designed special table accessories, which were mostly marketed in the Wipperkotten Gallery. To mention a few examples are a set of napkin rings decorated with semi-precious stones, special servers for chicken; as well as the design for stainless steel party flatware for Englert & Solvie, Mettmann.
'Stavanger', Willi Drache, Solingen, stainless steel, 1962 'Obelisk', Paul Wirths, Solingen, stainless steel, 1961 stainless steel napkin rings set with semi-precious stones. Völker, Forst &Merten, Solingen chicken servers, 1964, Völker, Forst & Merten, Solingen
(left to right): 'Stavanger', Willi Drache, Solingen, stainless steel, 1962;
'Obelisk', Paul Wirths, Solingen, stainless steel, 1961;
stainless steel napkin rings set with semi-precious stones. Völker, Forst & Merten, Solingen
chicken servers, 1964, Völker, Forst & Merten, Solingen
Brilliant were Rodenkirchen's designs for children's flatware. Up to then flatware for children were just diminutive versions of dinner flatware. Here Rodenkirchen showed real innovation by developing new forms more ergonomically adjusted to children's needs. The new ideas for the decoration make these children's sets especially adorable. Rodenkirchen designed twentynine children's sets, but it is not quite clear how many designs were in fact executed. The exhibition shows next to actual examples remarkable witty design drawings for children's flatware, which might not have found a ready buyer in the industry.


child's flatware set, Gustav Ebl, Solingen, silver-plated, circa 1960/61 child's flatware set, Carl Mertens, Solingen, stainless steel, 1962
Child's flatware set, Gustav Ebl, Solingen, silver-plated, circa 1960/61 (left)
Child's flatware set, Carl Mertens, Solingen, stainless steel, 1962 (right)
Rodenkirchen's relationship with the Solingen flatware firms was rather rocky. Many of his designs were executed yet a number of firms failed to pay the small design honorary which led to many court cases. A number of his designs were reproduced without his authorization or monetary benefit, which contributed to Rodenkirchen’s bitter feeling towards the industry. These were the main reasons why he stopped designing flatware from the middle 1970s on and concentrated on other projects.

The exhibition comprehensively tells the story of Rodenkirchen's contribution to modern flatware design. The richly illustrated catalogue of the exhibition, written by Averwerser/Müller-Daehn, is the next best thing to seeing the exhibition in person and is available from the Deutsche Klingenmuseum, Solingen (note 7).

All photos courtesy of Badisches Landesmuseum, Karlsruhe, Paul Foster and Heinrich Averwerser.


1. The exhibition is shown in Badisches Landesmuseum Karlsruhe, Feb.19 to June 19, 2011, then in the Bröhan Museum, Berlin, July 7.- October 9, 2011

2. Karl Schwartz, a Berlin art historian, who emigrated to Tel Aviv and built up the collection of the Tel Aviv art museum

3. Frauensilber, Paula Straus, Emmy Roth & Co., Silberschmiedinnen der Bauhauszeit, Info Verlag, Karlsruhe 2011, catalogue of the exhibition, available from the book shops of both museums

4. Timothy A. O’Brien with Margo Grant Walsh: Collecting by Design, Silver and Metalwork from the Twentieth Century from the Margo Grant Walsh Collection, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Distributed by Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2008

5., the exhibition is shown from March 13 to June 19, 2011

6. Heinz-Jürgen Averwerser/Jörg Müller- Daehn, Besteckdesign in Deutschland 1960-1970, 2009 Heinz-Jürgen Averwerser/Jörg Müller-Daehn,Amboss, Bestecke- Flatware/1950-1992, catalogue to the exhibitions in Solingen and Hanover, 2010

7. HaKaRo - Hans Karl Rodenkirchen, Deutsches Klingenmuseum, Solingen, 2011, available for Euro 14.90
Dorothea Burstyn is the Editor of the Silver Society of Canada Journal
and Administrator of SSC website
- 2011 -