From Denmark, Moonlight’s

Georg Jensen silver from Denmark has a tactile quality all its own, probably because it is handmade. It gets only better with age.

Michael von Essen, the founder and curator of the Georg Jensen Museum in Copenhagen, tried to explain its appeal: “Once you have touched pieces of Jensen, you want to have them. The silver has a warmth to it, whether the style is 1900, Art Deco or modern.” Last year, the company Georg Jensen founded celebrated its 100th anniversary. Jensen, who was not a gifted businessman, would probably have been surprised.

Jensen (1866-1935) was the seventh of eight children, born into a working-class family living north of Copenhagen. As a child, he worked with his father, a grinder in a knife factory. When he was 14, the family moved to Copenhagen. There he apprenticed with a goldsmith and took art classes, eventually passing the entrance exam for the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts.

After graduating in 1892, he tried to earn a living as a sculptor and art potter. He married and had several children. In 1901, he joined the workshop of a metalsmith, who acquainted him with the Arts and Crafts Movement. For extra money, he made jewelry, and it sold.

In 1904, with backing from a businessman, he was able to open his own workshop. A great craftsman, he took inspiration from Danish silver forms of the late 16th century, 17th-century Scandinavian baroque, Danish rococo and Art Nouveau. He created flatware and holloware: bowls, pitchers, tea sets, vases, even solid silver chandeliers. He always believed in silver as a material, for its affordability (vis-à-vis gold) and its intrinsic qualities.

“Silver is the best material we have,” Jensen said in an interview in 1926 on his 60th birthday. “Gold is precious for its worth, not for its effect. Silver has that lovely glow of moonlight, something like the light of a Danish summer night. Silver is like dusk, dewy and misty. Gold, on the other hand, is effective only in its brilliance and that it conceals much.”

Inspired by his childhood love of nature, Jensen designed services adorned with grapes, pine cones, blossoms and berries, which are still popular today. He employed people with different sensibilities, Deco to modernist, and, amazingly, let them initial their work.

In 1931, for example, he hired Sigvard Bernadotte (1907-2002), the son of Gustaf VI Adolf, the king of Sweden. Bernadotte, the first to design exclusively in the modernist idiom, said his preference for simplicity was a reaction to Jensen’s own style. The prince remained there 50 years.

Beginning in 1909, Georg Jensen opened outlets in Berlin, Paris, London, Buenos Aires and, in 1924, New York. “For years, the shop was one of the most exquisite on Fifth Avenue,” Mr. von Essen said. “It was still important in the 1950’s, when it became a haven for everything Scandinavian.” Today, Jensen boutiques are on Madison Avenue and in SoHo.

On Wednesday, Christie’s New York is having what it claims is the first-ever auction devoted solely to Georg Jensen silver, with some 800 objects. Estimated to total $3 million to $5 million, the sale is titled the “Rowler Collection” after the name of the owner’s country estate in England, which Christie’s is also selling.

Erwin Eisenberg, an Israeli businessman based in London, is believed to be the consignor (as he wished to remain anonymous Christie’s would neither reveal nor confirm his name). In a telephone interview in which he declined to identify himself, the consignor said he began buying Jensen in 1996 and is selling it because “I have come to a time in life when I want to move on.”

He never intended to collect Jensen. “It was a bit of an accident,” he said. “I had an Art Deco dining table and needed some silver for it. Jensen is very livable silver. It wasn’t so recognized then and could still be bought cheaply. I found pieces in Argentina, Chile, Mexico and all over Europe.”

Mr. von Essen, the curator, who is giving a talk about Jensen on Monday at Christie’s, said: “The collection has incredible width in that it covers 100 years. Most people specialize in one period.”

Michael James, director of the Silver Fund, a London-based gallery that specializes in Jensen estate silver, estimated that “more than 50 percent of Jensen’s original production designs are in the sale.” Mr. James helped the consignor locate items when he was acquiring the collection. “Many of these pieces have never been at auction; they came from private dealers, estates and individuals,” he said.

“You can’t be everywhere, and you can’t get all the catalogs,” the owner explained. “The Silver Fund looked out for me. Many items were in private homes and had to be carefully sourced.” The Silver Fund also made the owner custom wooden cases for his Jensen flatware services; in the sale, they come with their contents.

Some of the consignor’s collection is illustrated (but not identified) in a 2003 book published by the Silver Fund: “George Jensen Holloware, the Silver Fund Collection” by David A. Taylor and Jason W. Laskey.

The sale has both popular designs and rare items, including a seven-light silver chandelier from 1920, a toothpick holder, a grape stand complete with grape scissors, and a gypsum model for an eel dish.

Modernists will appreciate the sleek Deco pieces, particularly a cylindrical tobacco canister designed by one of Georg Jensen’s sons, Jorgen Jensen. The pristine canister sits on little feet in the shape of a Z and is devoid of ornament. It is estimated at $5,000 to $8,000.

One memorable Arts and Crafts example is a silver and carnelian sugar caster that Jensen made for the Danish architect Anton Rosen in 1908. Based on a 1901 Rosen design for a heating stove, it was a collaboration. On the top, tigers march through a field of sugar cane, a hint at the purpose of the vessel.

“This sale has all the greatest hits,” said Jeanne Sloane, a silver specialist at Christie’s. “We think of Jensen as traditional, but many of the designers were avant-garde. Think of Verner Panton.” Panton (1926-98), the industrial designer known for the “Wire-Cone Chair,” worked with Jensen in the 1980’s.

Janet Drucker, a New York dealer who has specialized in Jensen for 27 years, would not say if she had sold to the consignor.

“The sale has some very rare pieces,” she said, “but I have never viewed people as collectors who buy something and then sell it all after only a few years. On the other hand, the sale has the aura of a celebrity auction. It may bring in new buyers.

“This is not ‘dated’ material,” she added. “It doesn’t have a ‘circa’ stamped on it. It’s appropriate for a modern house or a Deco home. I now have more young people registering for vintage Jensen flatware services on my bridal registry than ever.”

Robb Report: A Century of Silver

Alastair Crawford holds a large silver platter in his hands and tilts it to show the subtle detail that marks the piece as a product of the Georg Jensen silversmith workshop. Direct light transforms lesser-quality platters into a uniform sheet of blinding white, but when the rays hit the Jensen platter, they reveal innumerable shimmering circles that overlap each other and cover the flat surface. Jensen called this effect “the moonlight glow.”

“You have to hit [a platter] quite hard, using a round hammer [to create the circles]. It’s a day’s worth of work,” says Crawford, managing director of the Silver Fund, an 8-year-old concern that deals solely in vintage Jensen flatware, hollowware, and jewelry. (The company is not affiliated with Georg Jensen.) “It’s a real Jensen signature, the hand-hammering.” This attention to even the least obvious features won countless admirers and customers for Georg Jensen, which was founded by its namesake in 1904 in Copenhagen, Denmark. While Jensen’s talent for metalsmithing was evident in his youth, he aspired to a different calling, and he continues to declare his preference long after his death: Engraved below the name and the dates (1866–1935) on his gravestone is the word sculptor. “That’s what his abiding love was, and you can see it in his work,” says Crawford. “It’s as close to art as silver can get.”

Michael James, co-managing director of the Silver Fund, concurs. “Most other silver was made for a utilitarian purpose and then decorated. With Georg Jensen, the sculptural quality is apparent,” he says. “When he designed the Blossom tea service [the Blossom motif debuted on a teapot in 1905 and evolved into a pattern that the company continues to produce], he made the blossoms look like they grew in the ground. They’re earthy and natural-looking. You want to pick them up and caress them.”

The Georg Jensen company, which reached its centenary this year, has encouraged such artistry by allowing designers to sign the pieces they create. This practice, says Christie’s silver specialist Jennifer Pitman, has its roots in the Arts and Crafts movement, which was ascendant when the workshop opened. The creative license and public recognition offered by Jensen proved attractive for talented designers such as Harald Nielsen and Henning Koppel. “That’s the secret to its popularity, and why it remains so successful,” Pitman says. “It’s very hard for a firm to remain current for a long period, but Jensen employed designers who were allowed to create freely, and it gave them credit for their work.”

Collectors covet early examples of Jensen silver made by the master himself or under his supervision, as well as pieces inset with precious stones and those that were produced in limited numbers. Among the most valuable of these items are chandeliers. Jensen is believed to have produced fewer than 20 during his lifetime, and the Silver Fund sold one at auction earlier this year for $320,000.

Those who wish to own rare Jensen pieces need to display patience before they can display their treasures. “The biggest problem with Georg Jensen is not the price; it’s finding it,” says Crawford. “The really great stuff is in private collections all over the world, and some collections never come on the market. People who acquire Jensen silver tend to be wealthy and tend to hang on to it.”

Art Sales: Passport to America

[…] The Silver Fund, which deals in Georg Jensen silver from a gallery near Christie’s London headquarters, also opened a shop on Madison Avenue last year.

Michael James, managing director of the Silver Fund, says: “Probably about 75 per cent to 85 per cent of our entire business is in the US, especially in the New York area. Americans were not coming to us so, we decided to go to them.

“One client of ours, who runs a large retail chain in America, told us recently that he visits New York once a month, but he only comes to London once a year. We have done very well in the last financial year in America and we are very pleased that we opened up there, although it has got noticeably quieter since the war drums started beating in December.”

Flag-Bearer Of Fine Silver

By Wendy Moonan

Michael James was 18 when he bought his first piece of antique Georg Jensen silver. ”I had never heard of Georg Jensen when I bought the four-piece ‘Blossom’ tea set,” said Mr. James, an Englishman who began selling antique silver as a teenager. ”I’d never seen anything that amazing and different in my life. Everything else looked rehashed.”

Jensen, the Danish silver company, was founded in 1904, and by the 1920’s it had shops all over the world: ”In New York, Buenos Aires, Paris, London, Stockholm and Berlin,” said Mr. James, co-managing director of the Silver Fund, dealers in vintage Jensen silver. ”By the 1950’s, Jensen had a shop on the Queen Mary, the Concorde of its day. The Jensen name has always carried an assumption of quality. The silver was always made in the most expensive way possible.”

In the 1980’s Mr. James decided to specialize in antique Jensen silver and kept buying. His timing proved fortunate. ”Silver prices were depressed after the Bunker Hunt boom,” he said, referring to the attempt in 1980 by Nelson Bunker Hunt, the Texas oilman, and his family to inflate the price of silver by accumulating large amounts. Then the bubble burst.

To cater to the demand for vintage Jensen silver, Mr. James and Alastair Crawford, another veteran English dealer in antique silver, put together a group of investors in 1995 to form the Silver Fund. They amassed an inventory of 50,000 antique Jensen pieces, including estate flatware, jewelry and holloware. They opened a small shop in London and started selling estate Jensen silver at American fairs like the Palm Beach International Art and Antiques Fair and the Modernism show at the Seventh Regiment Armory in Manhattan. In 1996 the Englishmen created, a surprisingly successful Web site.

”All of our best clients buy on the Internet,” Mr. James said. ”You have to have a brand people trust. Think of it this way: if you were going to buy a tie online, you would buy an Hermès tie because you can trust the quality. There is safety in the brand. It’s the same with Jensen.”

Now his business has expanded again. Six months after opening their first United States store, at 1001 Madison Avenue, at 77th Street, in Manhattan, they moved their London shop. Last week they opened the new, three-floor Silver Fund store at 1 Duke of York Street at the corner of Jermyn Street in the St. James’s neighborhood of the West End.

The Silver Fund is now the single largest source in the world for vintage Jensen silver, Mr. James said. ”We are also the largest buyer,” he said. ”We buy estates. We buy from other dealers. We buy at Sotheby’s and Christie’s.” It is the choice for people as fashionable as Karl Lagerfeld and as powerful as Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.

There is a lot of antique Jensen silver in existence, about $800 million worth of it, Mr. James estimated. He calculated the volume in sheer manpower hours. ”In the 1930’s the firm probably had some 200 silversmiths,” he said. ”In its heyday in the 1950’s it employed 250. Now it has 12.”

At one time Jensen made 33 flatware patterns, 23 of which are no longer produced, and about 1,200 holloware items: bowls, candelabra, pitchers, tea sets, trays, vases, wine coolers, covered fish platters and more. Like Georg Jensen jewelry, many holloware pieces were embellished with semiprecious stones like amber, amethyst, garnet, lapis lazuli, malachite, opal and quartz.

Within a given flatware pattern, like the ever popular ”Acorn,” Jensen created as many as 272 separate pieces: serving pieces, fish knives and forks, ice cream spoons, you name it. One full set is on display in Copenhagen in the small Jensen museum next to the shop selling products made by Royal Scandinavia, the current parent of Georg Jensen.

Why would people buy vintage Jensen flatware when they could order a brand new set at the Jensen shop in New York? ”We are 40 to 50 percent cheaper, and we have more selection,” Mr. James said. The Silver Fund also has a bridal and gift registry.

Jensen silver comes in three distinct styles: Art Nouveau, Art Deco and Modern. Georg Jensen himself was a follower of the Art Nouveau movement. His signature motif, the cluster of grapes, is part of his repertory of forms from nature, including berries, leaves and fauna, which he combined with lightly hammered plain surfaces.

Over the years before his death in 1935, Jensen hired a series of talented designers who were allowed to go their own ways. The most noteworthy include Harald Nielsen (1892-1977), the young brother of Jensen’s third wife, Johanne Nielsen; Count Sigvard Bernadotte (1907-2002), the second son of Gustav VI of Sweden, who was known for his classic geometric shapes, especially cylinders, spheres and streamlining elements; and Henning Koppel (1918-1981), a radical modernist whose unadorned biomorphic designs have become icons of their time and are in great demand.

In the end Jensen’s greatest talent may have been his ability to find and nurture other talents. Jensen did not lead an easy life and did not die a happy man despite his success and recognition.

The son of a blacksmith, Jensen grew up in a poor family in the little industrial town of Raavad, north of Copenhagen. He always called it ”a paradise on earth,” fondly remembering its powerful oaks, towering beeches and blue clay, which he used to sculpture human figures. As a boy, he was sent to work at a foundry to help support his parents and seven siblings.

When he was 14, his family moved to Copenhagen, and he apprenticed with a goldsmith. In his spare time, he took drawing, geometry, engraving and modeling courses. He decided to become a sculptor.

”It was an improbable ambition for a working-class young man,” Mr. James said. ”Jensen was driven to realize his dream. He passed the entrance examination of the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts and joined its sculpture class in 1887.”

After graduating in 1892 he made art pottery. Nothing sold. He married and had two children, but after his wife died he decided he had better return to his old craft, metalsmithing, to support the family. He designed and made silver jewelry.

Finally in 1904 he opened his own shop in Copenhagen. Soon he had 60 people working for him. His designs were a success; his business skills were not.

”He struggled most of his life,” Mr. James said. ”He always needed new investors.”

His life was also filled with personal sorrow. He lost three wives, Mr. James said. He also lost control of his company. In 1925 Jensen left the company and moved to Paris to start a new workshop. It didn’t work. The next year he was back in Copenhagen. He agreed to become the company’s artistic director, a role that was fairly limited, though he continued to design for the company until he died. Today he is recognized for his immense creativity and productivity, especially outside his native country.

Silver Lining

My partner and I were struck by the frustration of Georg Jensen collectors, who were finding it very difficult to location some of the most sought-after designs,” says London shop owner Alastair Crawford. “So in 1996 we decided to focus our efforts on finding vintage Jensen patterns to meet their needs.”

Crawford and his partner, Michael James, have ince accumulated a 50,000-piece inventory of Jensen jewelry, flatware and hollowware. Matthew White (right, with a set of ca. 1950 Jensen Caravel flatware designed by Henning Koppel) has long been a fan of their two-story gallery, The Silver Fund.

“The diversity of Jensen’s design is fascinating to me,” White says. “They’re elegant and sophisticated but always simple. He created sleek, mid-century shops and wonderfully organic items with patterns that work well in the city or the country. And The Silver Fund real has the best of the best.” Popular Jensen designs range from a ca.1928 cocktail shaker by Johan Rohde and a ca. 1918 grape compote (left) to a ca. 1920 two-arm candelabrum (below). The Silver Fund 40 Bury St., London SW1Y 6AU.

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Georg Jensen Hollowware: An Enduring Standard of Twentieth-Century Design

Nearly a century after he opened his shop, few question why, in 1935, The New York Herald Tribune called Danish craftsman Georg Arthur Jensen (1866–1935), “The greatest silversmith of the last 300 years.” Known for the spare elegance of his sculptural silver designs, Jensen had a highly developed sense of form and an eye for creating distinctive designs based in contemporary and historical sources. In an increasingly industrialized world, Jensen’s work exhibited a devotion to fine craftsmanship, offering affordable objects of beauty and practicality (Fig. 1).

Jensen’s artistic sensibilities were applied early on when, as a young boy of fourteen, he apprenticed with a goldsmith in Copenhagen. His interests lay in sculpting, however, and he was accepted as a student of sculpture at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, graduating in 1892 at the age of twenty-five. Later, Jensen was awarded a Grand Tour of Paris, Rome, and Florence after a ceramic he had collaborated on with friend Christian Joachim Petersen won honorable mention at the 1900 World Exhibition in Paris; this type of cooperative venture would continue as Jensen built his reputation as the most influential silver designer of the twentieth century. Over the two years spent in travel, Jensen gained exposure to historical and contemporary artworks that would influence his future designs.

In the 1890s, Jensen opened a pottery business but the venture was unsuccessful and in 1904, he returned to the skills learned as an apprentice, opening a small silver shop in Copenhagen. Initially, most of his work was in jewelry, but once his growing clientele afforded him the ability to acquire larger amounts of silver, he began making the hollowware designs still popular today.

Readily identifiable, Jensen’s hollowware celebrates the beauty of handmade objects and elevates what had been a craft to a new and distinct art form. His attention to composition resulted in a careful balance between form and ornament, one that gives his works a spare elegance and a great sculptural sense, enhanced, no doubt, by his training at the academy.

Jensen incorporated a holistic approach to his silver, combining elements and forms from the past with current stylistic influences. His preference for lightly hammered rather than the smooth surfaces preferred by later designers at his company reveals the influence of the Arts and Crafts movement, where details of craftsmanship were meant to be evident in the design. The hammering also gave his silver a faceted surface that reflected light in various directions, providing a more animated visual effect; however, much of this texture has been significantly worn down over the years and is sometimes nearly imperceptible. Jensen’s signature motif, individually crafted clusters of grapes, reflected the naturalistic emphasis of the art nouveau. He often incorporated flowers and plants as well, either as applied ornament or as chased decoration. He combined these organic treatments with historical forms, evident in his grape goblet (Fig. 2), which emulates a sixteenth-century Danish cup with naturalistic motifs. Elsewhere his hollowware illustrates the influence of the Scandinavian baroque of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries (Fig. 3). In other designs, he combined the swirling, asymmetrical elements characteristic of the Danish rococo style of the mid-eighteenth century with the lines of Japanese ceramics (Fig. 4).

Jensen’s business grew to such an extent that in 1916 he formed the Georg Jensen Solvsmedie A/S (Georg Jensen Silversmithy, Ltd.), followed in 1919 by a joint venture to manage an increasing number of retail shops. The company is generally referred to simply by its founder’s name and is now part of Royal Scandinavia Group. Though the size of his business expanded, Jensen maintained the importance of producing beautiful forms at affordable prices; it was his intent, for instance, that his silver be priced so that his employees could purchase Jensen silver on a monthly basis.

Besides his gift as a prolific designer, Jensen acted as mentor, encouraging other designers within his shop to create original silver designs, all the while overseeing production and training new employees. Perhaps more importantly, he gave designers full credit for their contributions in the company’s success, and each designer’s hallmark appears beside the Jensen hallmark on completed pieces. As a result of such support and encouragement, Jensen is lauded for helping Danish silver gain the international respect it continues to enjoy. In the decades since Jensen’s death in 1935, many talented designers have continued to create jewelry, hollowware, and flatware for the company. This fact was underscored in the Smithsonian Institution’s 1980 exhibition, Georg Jensen Silversmithy: 77 Artists, 75 Years.

During the twentieth century, the Jensen designers created silver that spanned from the art nouveau, popular at the start of the century, through the art deco period, and into the sleek modernism of the post-war years. Designers eventually created silver as beautifully devoid of ornamentation as Jensen’s early pieces were celebrated for their abundance of robust elements.

The influences of industrial design were evident by the 1920s, when much of the Jensen hollowware downplayed ornament in favor of form and line. Johan Rohde (1856–1935), a designer with the firm from 1907 until his death, designed architectonic pieces (Fig. 5) that moved the company forward, opening the door to modernism. His water pitcher (Fig. 6), based on early-nineteenth-century neoclassical design, became an iconic bestseller; the Museum of Modern Art owns an example and considers it to be one of the most important designs of the twentieth century. Yet, in 1920, the form was considered so avant-garde that it was not put into production for five years.

Harald Nielsen (1892–1977), Jensen’s brother-in-law and one of his closest colleagues, was active in the smithy from 1909 until 1962. Like Rohde, Nielsen designed hollowware with a minimum of ornamentation. His covered fish platter, (Fig. 7) introduced in 1931, is one of the most popular Jensen patterns. He is also known for his stylized dolphins, seen on Figure 7, and the pared-down functionalist style of the 1930s he championed. Characteristic of the art deco elements incorporated in his designs is his pyramid teapot (Fig. 8), which relies on the geometrically-based, simplified forms of the period. Nielsen once remarked of his work:

The ornament must never dominate. It is subservient to the harmony of the whole and does not exist for its own sake. It can stress the quietness and simpleness of outline but must never distract from it. Seeing the thing in its wholeness through simplifying and balancing ornament against plain surface is my basic principle in carrying further the spirit of Georg Jensen.1

In 1930, the second son of King Gustav VI of Sweden, Sigvard Bernadotte (1907–2002), attended the Stockholm Exhibition and decided then and there to become a designer. Over the next fifteen years he created more than 150 original hollowware designs and many unique presentation pieces for Jensen, designs that brilliantly expressed the streamlined (Figs. 9, 10), functionalist (Figs. 11, 12) aesthetic of the Swedish art deco. His 1939 flatware, called Bernadotte, is still a best-seller in Jensen stores around the world.

In a 1964 interview, Bernadotte made a statement that could easily have been a quote from Jensen himself:

What I wanted to do was design things that had a purpose, that could be used for something, not just an ornamental object that stood there on a shelf or on a table to be admired or forgotten. I wanted to try to give people attractive everyday objects for the home, kitchen, and office.2

Henning Koppel (1918–1981), one of the greatest designers associated with the Jensen silversmithy, joined the firm in 1945. His works signaled a bold new direction for the Jensen firm and attracted international acclaim. Koppel’s post-war designs perfectly exemplify the energy, freedom, and nonconformist spirit of the 1950s and 1960s. Collectors are familiar with his sleek, curvaceous covered fish platter (Fig. 13) with its humorous fish “lips,” but he is equally admired for a simplicity of design evident in his signature pregnant goose pitchers (Fig. 14). The fluid lines, subtle curves, and satiny surfaces of Koppel’s hollowware reflect his affinity for biomorphic forms and are nothing less than functional sculpture.

The century-long appeal of the Jensen company’s original silver designs cannot be overstated. Jensen silver has a special cachet, especially its signature hollowware created in the first decades of the century and the mid-century modern pieces that are still highly sought-after. With only a fraction of the original portfolio in production today, most collectors of Jensen hollowware find the pieces they want through dealers in the secondary market, often at antiques fairs in New York, Palm Beach, Dallas, Chicago, and San Francisco. Interest is fueled by the remarkable diversity of artistic creativity found in the range of Jensen silver, and in its timeless elegance.

Michael James co-founded The Silver Fund (, the world’s largest dealer in Georg Jensen estate silver, in London in 1995. For two decades, James has been as a leading specialist in twentieth-century silver. He divides his time between The Silver Fund’s London headquarters and its new store at 1001 Madison Avenue at 77th Street, in New York, 212.794.4994. The company has just published Georg Jensen Hollowware: The Silver Fund Collection (2002), written with David A. Taylor. David A. Taylor writes on traditional design and craftsmanship of European and American decorative arts of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He is employed at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C.

All photography courtesy of The Silver Fund.

Silver Spoon in Their Mouths

Business start-ups are always being urged to focus but few take this approach quite to the lengths of Alastair Crawford and Michael James.

The two of them run a company called The Silver Fund. As its name suggests, it deals in silver. But not any old silver. Based in St James’s, the exclusive fine arts and antiques district in London, it only buys and sells second-hand products made by the Scandinavian company, Georg Jensen.

If that looks too narrow a field to make sense, just look at the figures. Georg Jensen, the company, has an annual turnover of about £13m from its 64 shops and a number of concessions around the world selling products straight from its factory. But, according to Mr Crawford, The Silver Fund is doing nearly half as well with just its St James’s shop, plus an internet site.

The reason is simple. As he and Mr James discovered several years ago, Jensen cannot keep up with demand for the distinctive cutlery and other pieces it has produced since the beginning of the 20th century. Normally this would be an enviable position, but not when the merchandise is silver – and, therefore, not likely to wear out – and the designs have hardly changed over the years.

Faced with a wait of up to two years for their chosen items if they are new, the company’s customers are increasingly turning to the second- hand market – and it is here that Mr Crawford and Mr James are looking to clean up.

In the early years, particularly the 1930s when its shop was a New York landmark, Jensen was a much more prolific producer of goods than it is now. Accordingly, items are readily available. Mr Crawford, who is managing director of the business to Mr James’s trading director, says it is conservatively estimated that there is £500m worth of the company’s silverware in the world. Obviously, just a small proportion of that would be worth having.

“People say it’s such a niche business,” says Mr Crawford. “And it is, and I’m thrilled about it. From a trading point of view, it’s so much easier to focus on one product.”

Both he and Mr James know all about the ups and downs of the antiques business. Both silver experts of 20 years’ standing, they “lost their shirts” in the last recession, but were determined to come back.

Initially, they stuck to the varied approach that they had adopted before. But even in the mid-1990s, business was tough. Indeed, there was so little demand for the antique English silverware that is the staple of the trade, that prices were lower than when Mr Crawford was starting out.

Having always specialised in 20th century items, they were both aware of Georg Jensen. But it was not until a few years ago that they made their discovery about the extraordinary market for the firm’s wares.

“In the second-hand market, we can supply immediately and for less. We’re probably selling at a 30 per cent discount to the new price, but it is availability that gets us the customers,” he says. “They’re rich and they keep coming back.”

Thanks to the internet, the wealthy Americans who form the core of The Silver Fund’s clientele do not even have to wait for their annual trip to London to feed their addiction.

If brand is vital to success on the internet then Mr Crawford and Mr James seem well placed to thrive. As they point out, Jensen is one of the biggest names in silver. Moreover, because they have the company’s complete catalogue they can buy and sell in cyberspace without having to see the goods.

That brand also makes it less worrying for their customers to do business with them in this way, even though the goods they are buying can cost as much as £5,000 for a single teapot. And they are ensuring that the Jensen-buying public knows about them by buying the Georg Jensen name on such search engines as Yahoo.

Mr Crawford sees the website and the St James’s address as complementary to the extent that many internet customers bought their first items in person from the shop, while others want to put faces to names they only know by email when they travel to London. Nevertheless, it is impossible to overplay the internet’s importance to the business of The Silver Fund.

“Last year, 25 per cent of the business was through e-commerce,” says Mr Crawford. “This year it is 48 per cent, and this time next year it will be more than 80 per cent.”

It would appear that the only thing holding back the pair is lack of money with which to buy stock. Which is why they have hit upon the Enterprise Investment Scheme as a means of raising funds. The EIS is a government initiative designed to encourage support for entrepreneurs by granting investors income tax relief of 20 per cent in the year in which they invest, as well as Capital Gains Tax benefits.

On the back of this success, Mr Crawford and Mr James are launching The Silver Fund 2, specifically to fund the purchase of Jensen cutlery, or flatware, which is more affordable and, so, has a wider market. The subscription period for the fund, which is seeking to raise up to £3m, ends on 26 May, and the two men are confident they will not only continue their comeback but make good returns for their backers.

“We haven’t really begun yet,” says Mr Crawford. “Jensen is a very big market.”

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