"Christoffersen Designed"

Danish/American Silversmith

Kurt Eric Christoffersen

by Marbeth Schon

 

 

 


In 1954, around the time the above picture was taken, Kurt Eric Christoffersen was a handsome 28-year old bachelor associated with the International Silver Company, at that time, the largest manufacturer of silverware in the world.
     

A selection of Christoffersen jewelry offered by International Sterling.

Kurt Eric Christoffersen began his life in 1926, near Ringsted Denmark where on his fathers farm, at the age of two, his life was threatened when he severely seared his throat by accidentally drinking hydrochloric acid.  He continued to have trouble eating  even after several difficult operations that kept him at the State Hospital in Copenhagen for six years; from 1928-1934.

He was told by his doctor, Professor Erik Husfeldt (who later became know for his work with the Danish Resistance during World War II, in which Kurt also became active),  that there were only  two doctors in the world who could possibly cure him, a surgeon in Moscow and a surgeon in Boston.  Kurt decided to go to the United States even though the Russian doctor offered to operate without cost.  In 1947, at the age of 21, he was finally cured in a near-fatal five hour operation by famous American throat surgeon, Dr. Richard H. Sweet.

After the operation, Kurt returned to his native Denmark.  He left the United States with a burning desire to someday return.

While back in Denmark, Kurt continued his education as a goldsmith, training at the Copenhagen firm of A. Michelsen, jewelers to the Royal Danish Court.  He later graduated from the Academy of Arts and Crafts of Denmark and in the presence of King Frederik IX and Queen Ingrid he received the coveted Silver medal for Excellence from the Danish Gold and Silversmith's Guild. 

 

 

After the war, In 1949, on an immigration visa, Kurt returned to the United States where he became a salesman for Shreve, Crump, and Low Co., a Boston retail establishment for fine jewelry. It was during the five years that he worked for Shreve, Crump, and Low, that Kurt acquired indispensable knowledge of American tastes and preferences for jewelry design. 

In order to put together enough money to buy  materials and tools for models of his personal designs, he took a second job as a nighttime waiter at The Hotel Ritz Carlton

"Swan"
Brooch
Offered  in the Christoffersen Designed" section of the International Craft Associates Catalog.

Though Kurt's workdays often lasted more than sixteen hours, he still found time to create his own pieces, which he exhibited in libraries and other venues around the Boston area. His work was noticed by a representative of The International Silver Company and he became associated with them.
 

"Coronet" 
Brooch
Offered  in the Christoffersen Designed" section of the International Craft Associates Catalog.

In an 18th century Colonial house in Meriden, Connecticut, Kurt worked with the International Sterling Craft Associates under the sponsorship of the International Silver Company. It was the same studio where, in 1952, in the rear of the house, Alphonse La Paglia  (who tied tragically in an accident in 1953) had started the organization with fewer than a dozen craftsmen.

An International Sterling Craft Associates catalog contains two sections, one titled "La Paglia Designed" and the other "Christoffersen Designed."

The section titled "Christoffersen Designed" includes this paragraph:

 "A unique collection of sterling jewelry exquisitely wrought by the art of a master silversmith...masterpieces of sophisticated contemporary originality designed with a timeless beauty. Created with care and in a limited number, this collection includes handsome tailored accessories for ladies and men...in matched sets or individual pieces, with wide range of appeal, from whimsical conversation pieces to the timeless beauty of Nature

Titles of Christoffersen jewelry in the catalog included Summer Ivy, Billiards, Fireworks, Swiss Cheese, Comedy & Tragedy, Freeform, Coronet, Nest, Blossom, Snow Flake, Harvest Moon, Wheat, Nuggets, Champagne, Madonna, Coral, Butterfly II, Monad, Flagstone, Pallet, Swan, Bells, Cactus, and Maple Leaf.

Right to Left: "Swiss Cheese," unknown title, and "Billiards"
Cufflinks

In the International Craft Associates catalog, prices for men's accessories by Christoffersen such as tie bars and cufflinks averaged below $20.00 and bracelets about $50.00.  The most expensive item was a bracelet in Christoffersen's billiard design, an abstract design of silver rectangles, each with an  inserted square and a triangular arrangement of three silver balls resembling billiard balls (the bracelet actually had a silver "cue" lying diagonally across the square).

A wonderfully capricious modernist suite made up of a bracelet, necklace, tie bar, earrings, and cufflinks formed from triangles and squares with ovoid holes is called "Swiss Cheese."  It would be interesting to know whether Christoffersen's design was actually influenced by the look of Swiss cheese or  if he proceeded with an abstract design that turned out to resemble Swiss cheese and thus the name. 

Many of his designs, though named after actual objects or plant forms, can stand well on their own as serious wearable sculpture. The names Christoffersen gave to his pieces suggest that he had a whimsical side and perhaps wished his work to be fun and not necessarily taken too seriously as art, though the designs as well as the quality and workmanship of his pieces are consistently exceptional.

"Swiss Cheese"
Necklace, Bracelet, Earrings,
 Cufflinks, and Tie Bar
Offered  in the Christoffersen Designed" section of the International Craft Associates Catalog.

Christoffersen's simple, modernist, three-dimensional "Bells" brooch was my introduction to his work when I found it in a shop in New York.  It reminded me of the work of American mid 20th century studio jewelers, especially that of Paul Lobel.

"Bells"
Brooch

Offered  in the Christoffersen Designed" section of the International Craft Associates Catalog.

Innovatively, Christoffersen designed matching jewelry for men and women. The collections included matched sets for women with their counterpart in men's cufflinks and tie tacks--"His and Hers" jewelry.

"Comedy & Tragedy"
Bracelet, Pin, and Earrings
(this set also came with cufflinks and tie bar)

Offered  in the Christoffersen Designed" section of the International Craft Associates Catalog.

Caption for this photo from the Christoffersen Designed" section of the International Craft Associates Catalog reads: "His & Hers' Jewelry...cuff links and tie bars to match 'her' jewelry in a varied assortment of intriguing designs..."
The influence of Georg Jensen can be seen in  Christoffersen's pieces, especially in his copious use of silver "beads." However, unlike the work of La Paglia, who designed for Georg Jensen USA, Christoffersens's designs are modern and novel and, for the most part, lack sensuous curves, hammering, and repoussť work.  
"Butterfly II" (showing influences of Georg Jensen)
Brooch
Offered  in the Christoffersen Designed" section of the International Craft Associates Catalog.
The styles of a number of Christofferson's bracelets, however, are reminiscent of  1940s-50s Jensen bracelet designs with their square or rectangular links with interior designs or plain rectangular links separated by looped wires. 

Classic modernist designs such as Christoffersen's double circle cufflinks bear similarities to Hans Hansen's minimalist jewelry.  Christofferson's amoeboid shapes are typical of the biomorphic modernism of the 1950s which can seen in the jewelry of Henning Koppel for Georg Jensen as well as in that of American modernist jewelers such as Rebajes.

Modernist sterling cufflinks (or earrings) in original "International Sterling, Christoffersen Designed" box, most likely the design titled "Mono-Round."
"Free Form"
Bracelet, Earrings, Cufflinks,
and Tie Bar

Offered  in the Christoffersen Designed" section of the International Craft Associates Catalog.


'Pallet"
Brooch

Offered  in the Christoffersen Designed" section of the International Craft Associates Catalog.

For International Silver, Christoffersen produced a sleek, modern line called "Continental" which included a candlestick design as well as a mint dish, bud vase, salt and peppers, and mustard pot with spoon. These were sold at various department stores and ranged in price from $15.00 for a bud vase to $70.00 for a pair of candlesticks.

International Sterling Company ad template showing the "Continental" line.
Individual stores could add their own name at the bottom

Store window displaying Christoffersen designs

The prominent Philadelphia retailer, J.E. Caldwell & Co. sold jewelry by Christoffersen, presenting it as "New International Sterling Jewelry created by Christoffersen" and "Imagination, beauty, and modern design by a famous young Danish artist in Silver."  Prices ranged from $9.00 for a tie bar to $14.00 for a brooch.
J.E. Caldwell & Co. ad for Christoffersen Jewelry


Kurt Eric Christoffersen
(probably late 1960s)

After leaving The International Silver Company, Christoffersen worked for seven years as a designer for Artistic Wire Products Company in Taftville, Connecticut. In 1965, he went to Peru and Bolivia under the auspices of the U.S. Agency for International Development in order to help local producers sell their work in silver. He met and married a Chinese/Peruvian woman, Julia Luzmila Choy Castillo, and in 1968, they moved to St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands where Christoffersen worked for The Glass Slipper Shop selling Scandinavian artwork. The couple later moved to Denmark, to Kurt's home town of Ringsted where he died in 1981.1

"International Sterling, Christoffersen Designed" mark from "Swan" brooch
"International Sterling, KC" mark from "Butterfly" brooch

__________________________________________________________

1 Schon, Marbeth, "Modernist Jewelry, 1930-1960, The Wearable Art Movement, " pg. 230.

 

Many thanks to Lisa Christoffersen for her assistance with this article.

Article and photographs by Marbeth Schon and courtesy of Lisa Christoffersen
and publications from The International Silver Company, c. 1950s and "Modernist Jewelry, 1930-1960,
The Wearable Art Movement"

Web design by Marbeth Schon  
 Copyright © 2005 Modern Silver Magazine
 
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