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The Extraordinary Stickpins of
Hans Brassler

By Arthur Anderson

Hans Brassler Egyptian Revival stickpin.
Hans Brassler Egyptian Revival stickpin circa 1910.

Hans Brassler was a wonderfully imaginative artist, goldsmith and jewelry designer who created fine jewelry and beautiful objects during the first half of the 20th century.  He was born in 1882 in Germany into a family of jewelers and precious metal artists whose members several centuries earlier were engaged in engraving decorative designs on the arms and armor of lords and knights.  Brassler inherited his ancestors' talents for design and craftsmanship.

In the late 1800s Brassler was admitted into the Academie Julian in Paris where he pursued his artistic studies with an emphasis on jewelry design.  Family history relates that the exemplar he submitted while seeking admission was a painting of a butterfly. 

While in Paris Brassler is reported to have won a medal at the 1900 Exposition Universelle.  About this time he was approached by a representative of Tiffany & Co and offered a design position in New York.  He accepted and, despite his father's misgivings, emigrated to the United States in 1902.  While working at Tiffany & Co., he found success designing silverware and jewelry.  During this period he also created cover art and jewelry illustrations for the Jeweler's Circular and possibly other trade publications.

Hans Brassler Art Deco stickpin.
Hans Brassler jade stickpin circa 1910.

By 1909 he was ready to strike out on his own and founded with partners The Brassler Company in Newark, New Jersey.  During the next half-dozen years where he served the firm as a vice president and artistic director. 

The extraordinary jewels he created during this period drew upon the diverse design styles of the early 20th century - Victorian, Art Nouveau, Arts & Crafts, Edwardian and Art Deco - as well as borrowing motifs and themes from ancient and distant cultures.  But the uniqueness and originality of Brassler's jewels is primarily attributable to his own unique imagination.  The following is a brief survey of some of the wonderful stickpins he created.

Brassler bacchanalian stickpin circa 1910.

Brassler found inspiration in a variety of sources including classical mythology.  This sculptural stickpin features addorsed profiles of Bacchus, the God of Wine, framing a rich amethyst.  Among the ancient Greeks and Romans it was believed that amethyst protected an passionate imbiber from over intoxication, so this jewel would have been perfect for both a Bacchanalian revel and a less frenzied wine tasting.

Brassler Medieval lapis lazuli stickpin. (J9519)
Brassler lapis lazuli stickpin circa 1910.

The British Arts & Crafts movement with its interest in the art and artifacts of the Middle Ages was one of the design influences of the early 20th century.  This Brassler stickpin with a cruciform top and eight-side lapis lazuli reflects appears to reflect this interest.  During the Middle Ages the rich blue color of lapis lazuli was prized by painters and used to color the robes of the Virgin Mary.  The gemstone's association with divine and sacred symbols in earlier ages piqued the interest of late Victorians and resonated with the spiritual interests of the late 19th and  early 20th centuries.

Brassler worked with a variety of gemstones.  His creations were colored with the rich hues of amethysts, heliotropes, citrines and sapphires.  Other favored gemstones included black opal, moonstones and small white pearls. Small diamonds were occasionally set as sparkling accents.  Brassler was most concerned with how the beauty and color of a gemstone complemented the design of a jewel, not necessarily its scarcity or value.

Brassler moonstone stickpin circa 1910.

A luminous moonstone is set in a  golden Greek key border.  In this Arts & Crafts, or is it Classical Revival, design the goldwork gives the jewel a mysterious, archaic feel.  You can almost imagine this jewel being excavated from the treasury at Troy or a Mycenaean royal tomb.

Brassler lyre-form stickpin circa 1910.

Brassler played with and often challenged the prevailing design themes of the early 20th century.  His vision often led him to wed elements from disparate styles to create jewels of striking originality.  This is no more evident than in the jewels he created in the Art Nouveau fashion.  This striking citrine and pearl stickpin weds the flowing curves of Art Nouveau design with a lyre shape recalling the classical themes and symmetry favored in ancient jewelry.

Brassler lapis and pearl stickpin circa 1910.

In this Hans Brassler stickpin the boldness of a rich blue cabochon sapphire and outsized white pearl (possibly a replacement) anticipates later Art Deco designs.  The Greek key motif cradling the pearl reflects the artist's fondness for classical elements, while the fantastic shape and flowing curves of the setting suggests the fantasy of Art Nouveau.  This stickpin beautifully exemplifies Brassler's ability to imaginatively wed design elements from eclectic influences to create extraordinary jewels that are uniquely his own.

Hans Brassler Egyptian Revival stickpin. (J9136)

Brassler took equal care in the design and the crafting of his jewels.  No detail was small enough to be overlooked or obscure enough to be ignored.  This commitment to excellence in craftsmanship can be seen on the reverse of Brassler's stickpins. 

Pictured above is the back of the Egyptian Revival stickpin illustrated at the beginning of this article.  Note the repetition of the details of the Pharaohs' profiles on the usually unseen back and the continuation of the lappets of the Pharaohs' headdresses to support the back of the bloodstone.  As note before, no detail was too small not to be carefully considered and designed.

Brassler maker's mark.

 The maker's mark of The Brassler Company - "14 B" in a double oval - is most often found stamped on the back or upper pin stem of his stickpins. Hans Brassler remained affiliated with The Brassler Company until 1916.  His involvement with the firm after that date is unclear.  In 1933 the remaining assets of The Brassler Company were acquired by the jewelry maker Jones & Woodland, who in turn were later acquired by Krementz & Co.

Many more examples of Brassler's work can be viewed in the
Antique Stickpin Gallery and Antique Brooch Gallery.

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