The story begins in 1907 with the New York Art Bronze Works in Manhattan’s lower east side. The founder of the company, Romanian metalsmith, Joseph B. Hirsch, began importing pieces directly from French foundries. Around that period, foundries with close ties to the talented artists and sculptors of the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, began producing their now famous works in “French Bronze.” Some of the finest talent throughout Europe trained at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, exhibiting their works at the Salon de Artistes and other great Salons in Paris, the center of the art world.
Between the wars, during the 1920s and 1930s, an entirely new modern style of decorative art emerged, using a combination of bronze and ivory. With the ban of ivory in the early 1930s, ivorine or celluloid (predecessor of plastic) was used in its place. The ivory or ivorine representing exposed flesh and the bronze or spelter representing clothing. The combination of “French Bronze” (spelter) and ivory or ivorine were fully exploited during the Deco period using events of discovery (opening of King Tut’s Tomb in the 1920s), celebrities, athletes (1936 Olympics), children, the fashions and costumes of the period by Erte and Gerdago, and dancers from the Ballet Russe.
After World War I, when the French occupation closed one of Hirsch’s primary suppliers, he went to Paris and purchased that company’s molds to begin his own casting foundry. With the acquisitions of additional molds from French, German and Italian foundries, Hirsch was able to put together the finest and rarest collection of Beaux Arts, Nouveau and Deco sculptural molds in the world.
During World War II, the French foundries were again prohibited from using metal for statues. To prevent the valuable sculptural art from being destroyed by marauding armies, the molds were broken up, the pieces scattered, buried under factory floors, and hidden in house cellars. Most French foundries remained closed after World War II, and the molds remained hidden.
In 1948, J.B. Hirsch’s son, Abraham, heard of their existence, and planned “archaeological expeditions” to France to search for the buried mold fragments. Between 1948 and 1963 Abraham Hirsch was able to piece together over 200 objects and acquire the molds from 15 “French Bronze” foundries. Abraham’s son, Stanley was put in charge of reassembling exhumed molds that arrived in pieces. After attending a symposium on the Beaux Arts by the NY Metropolitan Museum of Arts, Stanley Hirsch discovered he was in possession of the original molds from which the displayed pieces were cast. Putting together the puzzle of scrambled parts is still an ongoing process.
Today, bookends manufactured by JB Hirsch -- romantic, elaborate, and elegantly designed -- are the most sought after of all bookend manufacturers. They are usually figural pieces cast in pure spelter.