Our featured museum item this month is a berry spoon in the gorgeous La Fantaisie pattern by Unger Brothers. Berry spoons are typically larger than a tablespoon and are used for serving berries, casseroles, and other juicy dishes. Many berry spoons, like this one, feature a shell-shaped bowl.
First produced in 1904, the La Fantaisie pattern showcases a lovely art nouveau design, with a striking female form, sinuous lines, and floral elements. The art nouveau movement formed in France and western Europe in the late 19th century, and was at its zenith between 1890 and 1910. Art nouveau began as a form of protest against the poor design quality of mass-produced, machine-made goods produced during the Industrial Revolution. The art nouveau style is traditionally defined by its use of flowing lines that echo those found in nature. Unger Brothers is especially well known for their exquisite art nouveau designs, which adorned not only flatware produced by the company, but also hollowware, jewelry, vanity sets, match boxes, hat pins, and many other silver specialty items.
The story of Unger Brothers begins when the Ungerer family emigrated from Germany to the United States in 1849, and shortened their surname to "Unger." In 1872, the five Unger brothers (Herman, William, George, Frederick, and Eugene) established a hardware and pocketknife business in Newark, New Jersey. Herman and George each brought unique talents to the company; Herman had started an engraving business in 1870, while George was a jeweler by trade.
In 1878, Unger Brothers began producing silver jewelry, but encountered a major setback the following year when William, George, and Frederick all passed away after contracting an unknown illness. The remaining brothers, Herman and Eugene, continued the business as a partnership and hired engraver Philemon Dickinson. Dickinson’s art nouveau designs proved to be very popular, and he continued to serve as the artistic director for Unger Brothers until his death in 1905.
Following the death of the last remaining Unger brother, Eugene, in 1909, control of the company passed to Eugene’s son-in-law, George La Rue Masters. Masters discontinued all art nouveau patterns in 1910 to focus on simpler designs, and the company stopped producing all silver items in 1914 in order to manufacture airplane parts. In 1919, the company was sold. Today, the Unger Brothers legacy lives on as their art nouveau silver designs continue to be highly sought by collectors.
While the Unger Brothers La Fantaisie berry spoon in our museum is not for sale, we do have a variety of Unger Brothers pieces available for purchase in our inventory; be sure to browse our web site. And remember that we always invite you to visit our facilities – here you’ll see a stunning variety of silver, china, crystal, and collectibles. Our Retail Store is open from 9:00 am - 6:00 pm ET, Monday through Saturday and 1:00 pm - 6:00 pm ET, Sunday (except holidays); free tours are available Monday through Saturday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm as well as Sunday from 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm. The showroom and museum are conveniently located between Greensboro and Burlington, NC, at exit 132 off Interstate 85/40. We look forward to seeing you.