The Unger Brothers
Newark, NJ. 1872-1910 (1919)

by David E.Fairbrothers

The official spelling of the firm's name was Unger Bros. They had both a factory and salesroom located in Newark, NJ. The firm advertised as manufacturing jewelers, silversmiths and glass cutters.

The Unger family immigrated to Newark, NJ in 1849 from Germany, and changed the surname to Unger. The oldest son, Herman, established a jewelry business between 1870-1872 and began the manufacture of sterling silver items in 1878. In time all five sons joined the company. Three of the five brothers (William, George and Frederick) died in 1879, and the two survivors (Herman and Eugene) continued the business. Herman, a silversmith, and Eugene, an engraver, were both officers of the firm. This firm reached its economic zenith from 1895 to 1907.

Sterling silver bears a stamped circle surrounding a combination trademark and hallmark with the interlaced U and B, plus the words and numbers STERLING 925 FINE. Cut glass with sterling tops bore a trademark on the glass and a trademark/hallmark combination on the silver.

In 1880 Eugene Unger and Emma Dickinson married, and her brother, Philemon, joined and eventually became the leading artistic designer at the firm. Philemon developed the extensive line of beautiful repousse Art Nouveau items which became the company's signature designs. Two additional designers employed by Unger Bros. were Otto Leigh and Edward P. Beach. The three men created patents registered by Unger Bros.

Unger Bros. molds and dies judged too worn to meet the firm's standards sometimes were sold to other companies which used them to make jewelry. Therefore, Unger Bros. Sterling silver patterns lacking trademarks probably were not manufactured by the Unger firm.

Unger Bros. was one of the most creative and premier manufacturers of Art Nouveau sterling silver items in the United States. The company's most popular lines were dresser sets (toilet sets) decorated with fantastic Art Nouveau designs incorporating flowers, heads of women with flowing tresses, ocean waves and/or seashells. Such articles were often ten piece sets, which included cut glass hair receiver, powder, rouge and glove boxes, decorated with repousse silver lids, sterling silver hatpin holders and vase, hand mirror, comb, brushes, shoe horn and button hook. Many attractive patterns were available, with exotic names such as Le Secrete des Fleurs, Reine des Fleurs, Dawn, Love's Dream, Evangeline, Bride of the Wave and Stolen Kiss.

In addition to Unger Bros. the following silver companies catered to Art Nouveau connoisseurs in America: Gorham Mfg., Reed & Barton, Mauser Manufacturing Co., Tiffany & Co., Alvin Mfg. Co., F. M. Whiting and Wm. B. Kerr & Co. Many of these companies included silver hatpins in their jewelry offerings.

We have seen two large folio-sized catalogs issued by the company in 1904 and 1906 which included artistic and original designs in sterling silver items, including hatpins and hatpin holders. The 1903, 1904 and 1906 Unger Bros. Catalogs illustrate at least 150 hatpin designs, with 60-65% being Art Nouveau. The fantastic 1906 catalog illustrates hanging hatpin holders with a top hook decorated with a fancy ribbon to slip over the adjustment knobs on posts holding the mirror on the bedroom dresser. They also produced a free-standing weighted round-base foot 4 1/4" high holder. Do not confuse the very similar dresser vase with the hatpin holder, both produced by Unger Bros. Some dresser sets have both these items. The difference is that the circular vase top is solid (lacking divisions), while the hatpin holder top consists of five divisions with slightly overlapping bases, which resemble five flower petals. The hanging and free-standing holders feature repousse designs.

Hatpins, holders and other items often have sinuous coils of flowers and leaves as part of the decor. Patterns include the lithe female clad in filmy garments with sweeping long hair fading into a caput adorned with flowers, or maidens with up stretched hands grasping at waves that form the caput. Remember, Art Nouveau design involved both form and decoration. Some items had a woman smoking a cigarette and blowing smoke in curls. Selected Unger Bros. Sterling silver pieces were designed to appeal to men, such as silver applied to smoking pipes, pocket knives, match safes, whiskey flasks, ashtrays, cigar jars and boxes, cigar tip cutters, and cigarette cases. These items often had sporting or hunting scenes, horse, duck, fox, ram, bulldog, deer, devil, eagle or fish.

We attended the opening reception, lectures and workshop associated with the must-see exhibition "The Glitter & The Gold", celebrating 100 years of jewelry making in Newark, NJ, once the world-famous City of Gold and Platinum and Precious Stones. We had in the show a sterling silver Unger Bros. hatpin holder filled with five hatpins made by Newark silver companies. The 189 page well documented and illustrated catalog will have a positive impact on future jewelry and kindred trades literature.


Enamel | Fake Hatpins and Holders

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