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tline3open  Unger Bros. Fob

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Author Topic:   Unger Bros. Fob

Posts: 4121
Registered: Apr 99

iconnumber posted 08-06-2003 10:35 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for wev     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Quavering back and forth, I decided this was the appropriate forum. I found this watch fob (I assume) wedged in amongst a batch of old billheads and photographs I bought as a bulk lot a few days ago.

The mark is clear enough, but it would be nice to know its approximate date. Is it pictured in any of the catalogs? Does it have a pattern name?

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Paul Lemieux

Posts: 1792
Registered: Apr 2000

iconnumber posted 08-07-2003 11:33 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Paul Lemieux     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
wev, I think this piece is actually a luggage tag. It dates to around 1910--say 1908-1912.

Sometime around 1910, Unger Brothers began making objects in a far more restrained style than their Art Nouveau pieces. Clearly a different designer was at work. Your luggage tag is an example of that. This later Unger silver shows a change from extremely ornate stamped Art Nouveau women, beasts, flowers, animals, etc. to more chaste scrolls and geometric designs.

A lot of times the later pieces are heavier. One later Unger piece I had a while ago was a bar pin with not-very-skillfully engraved leaves. I also had a sash pin with scrolls similar to those on your piece. Both that and the bar pin were heavier and not as well designed as their Nouveau pieces (which were all designed by one man).

In fact, this fellow who designed their Art Nouveau wares (I forget his name now) is basically responsible for Unger's popularity today. Prior to his appearance, Unger silver was pretty humdrum (think of patterns like Passaic). After he started designing, patterns like Dawn and He Loves Me appeared. These are much more popular today than their earlier patterns and sell for a lot more. He also designed most or all of their familiar Nouveau jewelry designs. After around 1910, when the Art Nouveau style was on the wane, it seemed like Unger changed to a whole new company (or reverted to its old self). As I mentioned above, they no longer seemed to produce well-designed products.

And honestly, Unger silver has never been truly well made (in the way Shiebler, Jensen, and old Gorham jewelry is). If you've ever handled one of their stamped Art Nouveau pieces, you've noticed that the silver is thin and susceptible to wear-through and denting (I will say their Nouveau flatware is relatively heavy). In other words, since Unger jewelry has never been top quality, Unger prices are based almost totally on design.

So, Unger silver is most desirable if it is their Art Nouveau work, since that was Unger's only period of excellent design (I'm sure a few pre- and post-Nouveau pieces are exceptions to that). Some people buy earlier/later pieces if they are Unger collectors, but prices aren't anywhere near their better pieces. Your luggage tag is actually among the nicest of their later jewelry I have seen. It is nicer than the bar pin and sash pin I mentioned above (which sold for only $25 and $45, respectively, whereas similar Nouveau pieces would have sold double or triple that or better).

Early, less desirable Passaic pattern

  • Cupid's Sunbeam pattern, c. 1904

  • Later, less desirable brooch

  • Very desirable c. 1905 brooch

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  • wev

    Posts: 4121
    Registered: Apr 99

    iconnumber posted 08-09-2003 05:55 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for wev     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
    Than you, Paul, for all the information. I must admit that the Ungers's work in the Art Nouveau style has never done much for me, though I rather like the more peculiar designs like the bat brooch. As you say, the quality is not high; my tag is just a piece of lightly finished die-stamping, but pleasant for all that. Besides, it was free.

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    Paul Lemieux

    Posts: 1792
    Registered: Apr 2000

    iconnumber posted 08-09-2003 08:20 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Paul Lemieux     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
    I agree about Unger's nouveau jewelry--a lot of it seems too ornate or busy. It's a good seller though. I do have an owl brooch and a Palmer Cox brownie face watch fob that are really cool and I haven't been able to part with them yet.

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    Cheryl and Richard

    Posts: 154
    Registered: May 99

    iconnumber posted 08-12-2003 01:59 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Cheryl and Richard     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
    While I agree with much of Paul's comments on Unger and its work, there is one aspect of the fob/luggage tag photo posted by wev that is worth comment. The photo appears to show a small dot in the center of the top part of the "U" in the mark on this piece. If that dot is really there, and is not a defect in the posted photo, it is worth taking a look at an article published -- I believe -- in Silver Magazine about three years ago by Janet Zapata. A dot in the mark in that location is an indication of reproduction Unger pieces that began showing up in the market several years ago -- they are well done and otherwise difficult to distinguish from the originals in terms of workmanship, weight, etc. The other aspect of this piece which may be a distinguishing feature is whether or not the engraving seems to be cast into the front or actually engraved. I can't tell from the photo.

    And yes, there are reproduction Unger luggage tags around, and have been for a number of years. It seems astonishing that such mundane pieces would be reproduced, but there it is.

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    Posts: 4121
    Registered: Apr 99

    iconnumber posted 08-12-2003 02:32 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for wev     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
    The speck is in the metal, but is post-punch; you can, at 15 power, see a slight ridge on one side where something dug in. There is no similar ridging on the mark. The monogram is definately engraved and not cast in; the basic decorative design is sharp and crisp, not the sort of mushiness I have seen on other repro work.

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