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Winterthur Digital Collections

About this collection

George Christian Gebelein, perhaps America's foremost silversmith of the 20th century, has been referred to as "the modern Paul Revere." He was born in Germany in 1878, the son of Margeretha Solger and Johann Nicolaus Gebelein.  The family moved to the United States shortly after his birth, settling in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  George Gebelein graduated from the HarvardGrammar School in June 1893. 

 

After graduation, Gebelein worked briefly at a woolen mill and then began an apprenticeship in silversmithing at Goodnow and Jenks of Boston.  There he developed a passion for handcrafted silver.  After working for several other silversmiths, including Tiffany’s, Gebelein opened his own silversmithing and jewelry business at 79 Chestnut Street, Boston, in 1909.  Here, he sold not only his own work, but also those of his assistants, items produced by other companies, and antique silver goods, as well as pewter, brass, and copper ware. In addition, he crafted domestic and ecclesiastical silver, flatware, and such presentation pieces as trophies and cups, including the Harvard Cup.   Gebelein employed a jewelry designer, but in all likelihood the jewelry settings themselves were probably done elsewhere. During his early years in business, Gebelein taught silversmithing to a select group of pupils.

 

During his fifty-year career, Gebelein exhibited his work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the BrooklynMuseum, and the Currier Gallery of Art.  The Boston Society of Arts and Crafts awarded him its Master Craftsman's Medal, and he garnered other honors from the Art Institute of Chicago, and at the Panama Pacific Exposition of 1915.  In addition to producing items for private individuals, Gebelein had commissions from the United StatesMilitaryAcademy at West Point, the College of William and Mary, and the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. After George Gebelein died in 1945, his family kept the business going, but in 1984 it was sold.

 

The collection consists of drawings, mostly watercolor, for a wide variety of silver work and jewelry, including designs of reproduction English and colonial pieces, as well as original designs showing the influence of the Arts and Crafts Movement.  Over half of the drawings show tea and coffee services, including creamers, sugar bowls, and waste bowls.  There are, in addition, depictions of pitchers, candlesticks, plaques, frames, urns, and ceremonial cups.  Some of the leaves are annotated in pencil, revealing the names of those who commissioned Gebelein's work, prices, and directions for improving the way an object was to look.  A few have Gebelein's small paper labels affixed to the reverse.  The drawings from the 1930s and 1940s may have been done by Walter Edward Werner, who did a great deal of that sort of work during those years.

 

The jewelry designs are for bar pins, stick pins, brooches, earrings, pendants, necklaces, bracelets, a watch, watch fobs or seals, rings, cuff links, etc.  Some are marked with the initials G.E.G., one is dated 1914, some betray an influence of Art Deco work, and some indicate for whom the piece was designed.  A number of the jewelry designs include notes about which stones were to be used and a few indicate that the customer would supply the stones.  Finally, prices are recorded on some of the drawings.  It is not known who executed the jewelry designs. 

 

The finding aid for the collection is available at: http://findingaid.winterthur.org/html/HTML_Finding_Aids/COL0021.htm.

 

 

 
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