with Hallmarks

by Martine D’Haeseleer 

   
     
 

 
     
Belgium, a small country situated between France, The Netherlands, and Germany, is known worldwide for its diversity of languages, cultures and the quality of its food and restaurants.   Yearlong fights between Flemish people and Walloons (which happen mostly for political reasons and with curious consequences) made me feel like a foreigner in my own country. Because my mother tongue was French, I was not allowed to go to the public school in the Flemish village where I lived!

French or English people traveling in our country sometimes lose their way because the name of one city can take different forms according to the region they are crossing. How can you know you are reaching Lille in the North of France, when it is indicated ‘Rijssel’ on the highway signs near Ghent?

Fortunately, we make and eat the best French-fries (at the origin, they are really Belgian), the best ‘Croquettes aux Crevettes’, the best mussels, the best chocolates, and the greatest variety of beers, etc., etc., etc.…. But, we have still more interesting things for you to discover.  

 For centuries, Belgium has been rich in land, climate, agriculture and natural resources and is at the crossroads of Europe. As a consequence, we developed important manufacturing centers with a large variety of artistic creativity in painting, tapestry, sculpture, glassware (Val St. Lambert) and silverware. We cultivated the richness of a variety of cultures.

As a specialist and teacher in Belgian and European silver, I have had the opportunity to compare the artistic expressions of different countries, and I would like to allow you to discover the richness of our small country’s creativity during the Art Deco Period of 1920 -1942.  

Hotel Stocklet –mansion designed by Joseff Hoffmann


The construction of the Hotel Stocklet in Brussels by the Austrian Josef Hoffmann (1905-11) was a definitive turning point in the decline of floral or curvilinear Art Nouveau and the introduction of austere linear and geometric forms.


The geometric style of Art Deco is related to the abstract and cubist movements in painting and is probably partially a consequence of the first world war.  

I read a few interesting lines that said more or less, "It is striking to see that when man is ‘questioning ‘ his relationship to ‘Nature’ or to ‘Creation’, he gives more importance to the ‘Invisible’ than to the ‘visible’ and the artist then elects to express himself through ‘Abstract Art’.…….

 

Two main centers of style influenced European Art Deco:  The French Art Deco (The Architect Le Corbusier and Jean Puifrocat’s plastic translation of numeric calculations and geometric rigor)  and the Bauhaus in Germany. In Belgium, we also had a few unique interpretations of Art Deco--coming from Norway, inspired by African Art, and also unique personal traditions of a few designers.


I would like to give you an appreciation of some Art Deco objects of which I have had the opportunity to handle and sell to collectors and museums.  

Brussels:

Wolfers Frères Workshop and retailers :  

First, let  me tell you more about one of the best-known Belgian silversmiths: Wolfers.

The Wolfers family is a ‘dynasty’ of silversmiths. In the 20th century, Philippe Wolfers was the chief silversmith and jeweler during the Belgian Art Nouveau period. He was the designer for the Brussels Workshop, ' Wolfers’ Frères,’ and also created his personal workshop in La Hulpe (South of Brussels)  with a selected crew of artists and craftsmen. This workshop was situated in a house designed by Paul Hankar, one Belgian's Art Nouveau architects. There he created his unique pieces of Art Nouveau silverware, sculpture, and jewelry.

 

International Exhibitions encouraged creativity and presented participants to an international public.  

Philippe Wolfers was present in 1925 at the ‘ Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes’ which gave the name to the ‘Art Deco’ Movement and Period. In the Belgian Pavilion, he presented what would be his last striking design,' The Gioconda,' created in collaboration with other designers of the Wolfers Frères workshop.

d Coffee service –Gioconda- 1925-30
Wolfers Frères – Brussels- Design Philippe Wolfers and
Co.


This was a “ten-sided“ model which incorporated geometric motifs, mostly triangular in form. This design is similar to the French geometric style-- plain undecorated angular planes.  

This ‘Gioconda’ pattern was also developed and produced in glassware and earthenware.  

Ten sided’ design Tray-Gioconda –Wolfers Frères

Detail of the handle, geometric ornamentation


How do we recognize Wolfers’ marks ?

For ‘Wolfers Frères Workshop ‘ it is mostly a triangle with 3 stars. and the silver standard.  


.

 

Marks of Wolfers Frères workshop and Silver Standard before 1942.
833/1000

Hallmark system of the Gioconda Service
Wolfers frères Workshop with the three stars in a lobe triangle, Silver standard : 950/1000

On this Gioconda model the triangle is a lobed one.

The ‘assay’ mark (silver standard) can be presented in different forms starting from 800/1000 to  950/1000
When the object is a really particular one we’ll find another Wolfers makers’ mark or designer’s mark such as the special entwined initials ‘FW’ for ‘Wolfers Frères’ Workshop’.  

 

Initials F W for Wolfers Frères design

Service ‘Jade’-1930-35
Wolfers Frères Workshop- Brussels

A simpler design that was wide spread is the ‘Jade ‘ Model, a 16 sided shape (seen in this this tea and coffee service as well as quite "sober" flatware designs). 

 

 


Special Items from Wolfers Frères Workshop productions were handmade. Later on they were also mechanically produced. 

Chalice with lacquer work -1930
Marcel Wolfers – Brussels 

Philippe Wolfers died in 1929, Marcel Wolfers followed as the designer and director of the workshop. One of his specialties was lacquer work developed after the Chinese ‘Sung’ lacquer technique and his encounter with the French lacquer master Jean Dunand.
 
 

Chalice-Marks Wolfers Frères and silver standard 950/1000

 

   

Chalice : signature Marcel Wolfers


The Workshop also produced the creations of an interesting designer, ‘Dom Martin,’ a priest who was also a silversmith, from the abbey of Keizersberg
He crafted fine quality religious items with visible hammering and also collaborated with Marcel Wolfers who lacquered some of his objects.


This religious Art Deco silversmithing coincided with a period of religious (Roman- Catholic) revival –Rerum Novarum 1891-1931- and the construction of the huge Basilica of Koekelberg in Brussels. For the celebration of their vows, priests often received a unique religious object, created and crafted by personal commission.  

Workshop Delheid Frères:

 

Delheid Frères” is the second best known silver workshop in Brussels. They were the largest producers of sterling silver flatware in Belgium (in sterling silver only). Delheid Frères were not retailers, their silver production was sold in the Belgian Jewelry and silver shops.

Very early on, this workshop adapted to modernity and used the press to create silver wares. This very somber bonbonnière  is one example of the adaptation of a decorative style to modern mechanization. (adaptation of applied arts to mechanization).  

Bonbonnière-Sweet meat dish’ Engine Turned
Delheid.-Brussels –1930-35


They also made interesting objects of a higher artistic quality, often combinations of sterling silver with rare woods (mostly from the Belgian Congo), such as this beautiful center piece also called ‘Jardinière’, which combines the simplicity of faceted silver with  black ebony feet, adorned with the application of silver decorated with intricate geometric forms.

   

‘Jardinière’-Geometric panels on black ebony feet,
Delheid Frères

 Delheid Jardinière
Detail of the Geometric ornamentation of the feet

 

Makers Marks: Delheid, 
before 1942



“Delheid Frères” maker’s mark:
 

 D crowned with a serpent, (snake). Sometimes you will find the maker’s mark upside down.  

 

 

Makers Mark: Delheid,
 upside down, before 1942

 

Workshop and Retailer Altenloh: 

The dealers’ shop situated
at ‘Place Royale’ near the Royal Palace attracted the aristocracy and international clients and was the silversmith for the Royal Family. The shop handled its own production as well as foreign silverware and jewelry such as Lalique, WMF,and Asprey. The style of Robert Altenloh’s Art Deco silver was more influenced by Danish or Swedish silver. We can see similarities between the design of this tea caddie or biscuits box and some of Erik Fleming’s items ( Stepped pyramidal body)

   

 

Altenloh Tea or Sweet meat box, (Stepped , pyramidal body)

Altenloh makers’ mark: Quite a beautiful one, with ‘ 2 feathers and a star’ and the 950M – This silver content was quite a high one for our country. Sometimes, next to those two marks you’ll find engraved in a circle (ALTENLOH BRUXELLES) and (ORFEVRES de LLMM Roi & Reine). On some objects you might encounter only the maker’s mark (Two feathers).   
 

Maker’s marks: Altenloh

 

Workshop Lemaire et de Vernissy:

A Internet contact sent me a picture of a really beautiful and rather special Art Deco model of flatware which I had never seen before, with a special geometric form.
 

Art Deco flatware,
 Lemaire et de Vernissy.

Maker’s mark de Vernissy in a lozenge form

 

They worked mainly as a workshop not a retailer. Edmond de Vernissy was of French origin; he studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and the Ecole des Arts Decoratifs in Paris. As an interesting consequence, their maker’s mark is presented in a lozenge form like those of French silversmiths.
Two letters ( L and a V) with a flower in the middle of the two initials. 

An important exhibition took place in Belgium, in Antwerp, in 1930. It was called Exposition Internationale pour les colonies et l’art Flamand Trad (International exhibition for the Colonies and Flemish art). Belgium had ‘colonies’ in Africa. In fact, what is now called the “Republic of Congo” was one of our King Leopold II ‘s conquests in the second part of the 19th century. Nowadays, his attitude is contested at a humanitarian and ecological level, Following his command, massive numbers of elephants were killed and their tusks were used in the decorative arts, silverware and sculptures.

Other important influences on the Art Deco movement were African Art and music (Jazz).

Raymond Ruys Workshop and retailer :  

Now we shall discover the superb interpretations of a Silversmith- jeweler in Antwerp whose house
still exists and is a beautiful and interesting example of Art Nouveau architecture.  

The designer, Raymond Ruys, adapted the form of African seats, drums, vases, etc., to silver hollowware creating unique, original items. These objects are also special for their  visible hammering, from which similarities can be drawn to the work of the French silversmith  Jean Despres.  

 

 

Raymond Ruys- Antwerp - Art Deco vase, Inlfuence of African Art

 

 

Raymond Ruys ‘Art Deco Vase Martelé’ - Hammered  crafting


That visible ‘martelé’ look is really uncommon for Belgian silver at the Art Deco Period
, but there is still so much to discover! 

The Makers mark: 

A letter R in a larger letter R for Raymond Ruys. We can also find the designer’s signature: R. Ruys engraved on the item
(In the same way as the signature of Jean E. Puiforcat on his personal creations).

Raymond Ruys signature

 

Raymond Ruys maker’s mark

 

Raymond Ruys Art Deco interpretation of a classical pattern of dishes

During the same Art Deco period, Raymond Ruys refreshed (or ‘renewed ‘) a very classical design for dishes and plates' -- from the plain ‘lobed contours’ with six  ‘rounded scallops ’ to a four scalloped ’ design  with  V shaped indentations underlined by a vigorous rattail.  

Ghent:

As many as twelve city’s silversmiths trained at ‘St. Lucas’ school for Decorative arts. Their production was mostly ecclesiastical; secular silver was manufactured on a limited scale.

Bourdon Frères retailers and workshop:

Bourdon Frères was located near the Episcopal palace, and Bourdon became the representative for Wolfers Frères. The introduction of Art Deco style was due to Armand A. M .J. Bourdon, and at the end of the thirties, Bourdon manufactured a number of chalices in modernistic style, which brought success at the Paris exhibition in 1937.

 

Bourdon Ghent ‘Functionalist’ Wine Bottle basket


A rare example of
table silver is this rather sober and simple object, a ‘decanting’ or ‘wine bottle’ basket. The very simple lines and pure form might be influenced by Dutch ‘ Nieuwe Zakelijkheid’ or Functionalism, an abstract and individual style in which form and ornament had become indistinguishable from one another.
 

The Maker’s mark of Bourdon was a letter B and an anchor.  

 

Bourdon Ghent  maker's mark:
letter B and an anchor


More about the Art deco Style in Belgium:

During the Art Deco period, clients mostly ordered and bought tea and coffee services, flatware, plates and hollowware, and sport trophies. We discovered that those Art Deco creations were not so successful on a commercial basis.

The public and clients before the second world War were rather classical and preferred to order items in the Neo-Classical revival style, so lots of items did not sell at all and we found them still on display in shops’ cupboards in the 1950’s ,60’s, and 70’s.  This was probably also a consequence of the economical crisis of the 1930’s.  

Art Deco style silverware took a ‘second breath’ after the 1940’s and 50’s and was more in  ‘vogue’ at that time. The objects of that period follow the same line as before the war.

   

More to know about Belgian hallmarks, silver content, silver standards and marks at that time:  

Our count
ry's silversmiths had to fight hard against competition and concurrence, mainly imports from foreign countries. In Germany, mechanized factories used a lower silver standard and their products were also lower priced. France began producing and promoting low-cost silverplated products from the middle of the 19th century. Then, Belgian silversmiths asked for greater freedom of trade as to the silver content and also to get rid of the obligation of having a registered maker’s mark. As a consequence, we often find items, which are only punched with the silver content mark and  wear no maker’s mark at all.

We cannot speak of a legal assay mark, unless the one presented in "Tardy" : a Gothic A with number 1 or 2  for 900/1000 or 800/1000.

‘Legal’ 1st assay mark Belgium, 1869-1942 



 

 

‘Legal’ 2nd assay mark Belgium, 1869- 1942

 

Those unregistered silver content marks can have a great diversity of form (See picture). They were used from 1869 to 1942. 
 

Unregistered Belgian silver standards, 1869-1942

 
We also find French products that were imported to our country wearing the French silversmiths’ makers mark and a Belgian silver content mark.

This is the reason for the difficulties in studying and researching work from the period between 1868 to 1942.

Only experience and cross-references help to gather information and certitudes.  

N.B.

Post second world war Art Deco silver wears different marks. The makers mark appears in a ‘barrel’ form and the silver standard in an oval form with the letter A preceding the silver standard. Those new legal mark’s form are compulsory and again registered.

Bookshelf-- if you would like to learn more:

Art Nouveau and Art Deco Silver’ Annelies Krekel Aalberse – Harry N . Abrams, Inc, Publishers, New York. ISBN 0-8109-1892-7  

Silver of a New Era’ International Highlights of Precious Metalware from 1880 to 1940.
' ISBN 0-8109-1892-7

Art – Deco Zilver’ Sterckshof Studies 3 Provincial Museum Sterckshof- Zilvercentrum Antwerpen-Deurne (out of print).

Orfèvrerie au Poinçon de Bruxelles’- Jacques Vanwittenbergh - Catalog of the Exhibition organized by Société Générale de Banque ; Bruxelles 1979. 

Les Wolfers’ Orfèvres, Bijoutiers & Joaillers' – Walter van Dievoet- Studia Bruxellae.

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Martine D’Haeseleer is a specialist, teacher, and consultant in Belgian and European antique and modern silverware, promoting contemporary creative silversmith’s works. She is Founder of the Silver Society of Belgium and Creator and webmistress of the website: www.silverbel.com  

___________________________________

Article by Martine D'Haeseleer
Photographs courtesy of Martine D'Haeseleer
Photographs of Delheid Jardinière and Altenloh ‘Biscuit’ Box courtesy of‘Zilvermuseum Sterckshof Provincie Antwerpen- Belgium, www.zilvermuseum.be


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 Copyright © 2004 Modern Silver Magazine and Martine D'Haeseleer

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