who was the D. Lisner of D. Lisner & Co.
|David Lisner was born in the central German region of
Saxe-Meiningen in about 1846. He and his family emigrated to New York City in
1864. His father, Selig’s, occupation on his Ellis Island immigration
manifest, was in fact, listed as ‘merchant’. It seems that the roots of the
D. Lisner Company go back even further than their official founding of 1904, to
post- Civil War New York City where in 1869 David Lisner, his father Selig,
brothers George and Abraham were merchants selling ’fancy goods.’ According
to a New York City directory from that date, David Lisner had offices at both
323 Canal and 26 Jones Street in New York. The Lisner family business imported
wholesale goods from Europe, which included jewelry, hatpins, crystal giftware
The DC Connection
George Lisner died in 1894 and Abraham Lisner left the family business to found his own successful venture, Palais Royal department store in Washington, D.C. It is interesting to note that in 1884, Abraham, despondent over having epilepsy and general poor health, shot himself in the head at the home of his brother George. Abraham not only survived the suicide attempt, but went on to become one of Washington D.C.’s most prominent citizens.
He was known for hosting presidents and other important dignitaries at his home. He led a long life and upon his death, left his fortune to George Washington University in Washington, D.C., where the Lisner Auditorium is named in his honor.
By the early part of the 20th Century, David Lisner’s son Sidney and a cousin Saul (Solomon) Ganz eventually joined the business. In a 1915 New York City Directory, David and Sidney Lisner are listed as proprietors of “D. Lisner & Co.” There is also another listing for a “D & Co.” that sold novelties with David & Sidney Lisner and Saul H. Ganz as owners.
Saul Ganz, who became president of Lisner in 1916, would have been a first cousin to David Lisner. His parents also emigrated from the Saxe-Meiningen area. Saul Ganz’s granddaughter, Kate Ganz Belin, believes three Ganz brothers migrated from Germany to Kansas in about the 1850s. Saul (Solomon) Ganz was born in Junction City, Kansas in 1874. Saul’s father died young and by 1880 his widowed mother was supporting there three children as the proprietor of a lodging house. Thus, at an early age, Saul needed to provide for himself. An 1890 Washington D.C. directory lists the sixteen year-old Saul Ganz as a ‘clerk’. One might assume that he joined his successful cousin Abraham Lisner at Palais Royale. Saul then moved to New York City around the turn of the last century to join cousin David Lisner in the D. Lisner Company. Saul is listed in the 1910 census as an importer of jewelry from New York City. Son Victor, the final president of Lisner, was born in 1913. Victor joined the family business in 1934.
David Lisner died on May 6, 1923 at the age of 77. Lisner’s business was largely wholesale, and their jewelry imported from Europe, until the 1930s. A major part of Lisner’s business was importing and distributing Schiaparelli jewelry in the U.S. Lisner not only imported Schiaparelli French-made pieces, but also licensed the Schiaparelli name for U.S. distribution and production of her jewelry and accessories. The D. Lisner Company expanded into other ventures as well. In 1936, Saul Ganz bought the Prince Matchabelli perfume line (“Wind Song”) for $250,000 from Princess Norina Matchabelli, widow of Prince Georges V. Matchabelli. Saul Ganz’s older son, Paul, ran the company until the late 1940s, when it was sold to the Vicks Chemical Company.
As Fascism swept through 1930s Europe, it became difficult to import jewelry and rhinestones. Many of the major U.S. costume jewelry companies had European offices that closed with the onset of war. It was at this time that Urie Mandel (father of Robert Mandle, of the R. Mandle Co.) was asked to join Lisner as a full partner. His task was to build a retail, domestically produced jewelry line in Providence, RI. The Lisner mark was first used in 1938. Providence’s vast resources of jewelry manufacturing facilities allowed the D. Lisner Company to produce fashion jewelry without having their own factory. Whiting and Davis even manufactured bracelets for Lisner. Lisner, in fact, did not own their own factory until the very end of their existence.
In 1953, Victor Ganz became president of Lisner upon the death of his father Saul. Victor Ganz was a renaissance man who became involved in every aspect of Lisner jewelry production. Each week, he traveled between New York and Providence to oversee the creative and manufacturing processes. In the 1960s, he even took over the design responsibilities with the help of his Vice President of Product Development, Iraida Garey, after the retirement of his in-house designer, Sidney Welicky.
Lisner designs often feature translucent plastic “jelly” leaves. A company from Kaufbeuren or Neu Gablonz, Germany called Walter Fischer, well known for manufacturing plastic leaves, may have produced them. Ganz regular trips to Kaufbeuren for product development. Ganz personal style and sense of humor could be seen in everything from the actual jewelry to the retail packaging to the advertising. A Lisner ad in New York Times Magazine section featured a brown paper cone from which flowered jewelry emerged, like a tiny bouquet. Ganz also developed a unique packaging design that involved a long tube where the jewelry looked like it was hanging in mid-air; the line was called ‘Suspense’.
Victor Ganz is actually best known, not for his jewelry, but for his art collection. His collection of works by Pablo Picasso, was one of the finest ever amassed. Ganz’s art collection also included works by such mid-20th century masters as Jasper Johns, Eva Hesse, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenberg, Robert Rauschenbnberg, Frank Stella, and Cy Twombly. Visitors to Lisner’s main office in New York City at 393 5th Avenue were greeted by an enormous Frank Stella painting hanging prominently on the office wall. In 1981, Ganz joined the board of the Whitney Museum of American Art and became the Vice-President of the Board of Trustees in 1985. In 1987, Ganz died at the age of 74. In 1988, some of Ganz’s art collection was sold at Sotheby’s auction for $44 million dollars and in 1997, after the death of Victor’s wife Sally, more of the works were sold at a Christie’s auction and brought the record price for a single-owner sale of $206.5 million dollars.
Lisner jewelry retailed at an average of $1-$5 per piece and was sold all over the United States. In the mid-1970s, Ganz purchased the Richelieu Pearl Company from Joseph H. Meyers and Bros. and the company was re-named the Lisner-Richelieu Corporation. A 1960 Richelieu advertisement for Bennett’s Department Store in Frederick, MD, suggests that there may have been an earlier connection between the two companies. The Richelieu ad says, “Be sure to see our other new Lisner jewelry.” In 1979, Ganz sold Lisner-Richelieu to Robert Andreoli of Victoria Creations. According to Andreoli, Lisner jewelry has not been manufactured since the mid-1980s. In 1984, the parent company of Victoria Creations, was sold to Jonathan Logan. Jonathan Logan was further acquired by United Merchants and Manufacturers. In 1996, United Merchants and Manufacturers went bankrupt and Andreoli purchased Victoria Creations back from the bank. In 2000, Andreoli re-sold Victoria & Co., Ltd. to the Jones Apparel Group. The Jones Apparel Group owns the Lisner name, but it no longer manufactures a Lisner jewelry line.
Over the last two years, Lisner jewelry has spiked in value. In October 2006, a Lisner red maple leaf parure, comprising a necklace, bracelet and earrings achieved a record price on E-bay for $610! There are numerous variations of Lisner leaf jewelry. There are at least 15 colors and color variations of the maple leaf set alone! The resin leaves have over a dozen different shapes! There are even multiple varieties of resin flowers! Some of the colors and shapes are quite rare and difficult to find, but it makes hunting for them all the more enjoyable! Recently, some fakes have entered the marketplace, in the form of poorly constructed floral and Christmas tree pins. There are often multiples of these items for sale on E-bay, which can be a warning that these items may not be genuine. Presently, there have been no reproductions made of the ‘jelly’ plastic Lisner jewelry.
Collectors are now appreciating Lisner fashion jewelry for its mid-century modern appeal. Unlike some of Lisner’s competitors, the jewelry the company produced in the 1950s and 1960s looks timeless and modern, with clean, sharp edges. (The Lisner jewelry pictured here was produced in the 1950s and 1960s.) Lisner jewelry has an abstract, geometric sensibility with designs that are often derived from nature, incorporating leaves, fruits and flowers. The jewelry of the mid-century can often be fussy and overdone. Victor Ganz’s daughter, Kate Ganz Belin remembers her father’s keen sense of fashion and good taste. “He tried to get away from the Mamie Eisenhower thing,” she said. Lisner jewelry captures the spirit of the age in a different way from the styles of Coro and Trifari jewelry from the same period. The enterprising David Lisner would be proud that his ancestors produced such classic costume jewelry that we still admire over twenty years since it was last produced.
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