Reprinted with permission from 
Vintage Fashion & Costume Jewelry
P.O Box 265
Glen Oaks, NY 11004
VCFJ@aol.com
and the author

WALTER LAMPL: UNUSUAL...AS USUAL

by Cheri van Hoover

Cheri Van Hoover and her husband, Robert (Rocky) Day own and operate Milky Way Jewels, a web-based vintage costume jewelry business. Her interest in vintage jewelry has been strong since about 1969, and she has both collected and sold it for many years. She is also a certified nurse-midwife and has worked in many settings over the course of her long career in women's health. She has a special interest in social history and enjoys researching the stories behind the jewelry she collects and sells.

 

The History of Costume Jewelry is filled with mysteries. Companies came and went, records were not maintained, and collectors have often been left frustrated by gaps in knowledge about favorite designers and manufacturers. One of these mystery companies has been that of Walter Lampl. In its day, this wholesale manufacturer of fine and costume jewelry was a powerhouse in the industry. 

Lampl jewelry has something for every collector. Looking for delicate Art Deco pieces with brilliant white rhinestones set in sterling silver? You’ll like Lampl. Does Orientalia float your boat? Lampl, again. How about huge Retro pieces set with enormous gemstones? Or charming figures in gold fill or silver? Want a bejeweled Swiss watch to wear as a brooch or on your writs? Are you a fan of exquisite enameling? Care for intricate charms with astonishing complexity and moving parts? If you can answer yes to even one of these questions, you are a potential Walter Lampl collector in search of a home. 

All of these Lampl characteristics appealed to me, so I started seeking out this fascinating jewelry wherever I could find it and featured it on my commercial website. Imagine my surprise and pleasure when Lampl relatives contacted me and my absolute delight when they agreed to share precious archival materials with me so I could write this article about the innovative company that produced such treasures.

Walter Lampl, Sr. was born to an impoverished family in New York City in 1895. From boyhood, Walter was ambitious. He wanted more and better. As a child he sold newspapers on the streets, and then in his teenage years discovered that it was more lucrative to buy lengths of chain, cut it to length, add findings to the ends, and sell watch chains. In 1921, at the age of 26, Walter became the sole owner and manager of a wholesale jewelry company named for himself. The offices and showroom were located on New York’s 47th Street.

Lampl’s jewelry was designed by women employees who produced drawings which were then approved by Walter. Two of these designers were Nat Block and June Redding. 

From the beginning, Lampl meant quality. The company’s jewelry often included gemstones set in sterling or gold fill.

Frequently used materials included jade, garnet, moonstone, coral, turquoise, pearl, ivory, amethyst, blue topaz, chrysoprase, aquamarine, zircon, citrine, and others. This same idea was adopted many years later by the Swoboda Company and enjoyed great popularity again, more than 30 years after Walter Lampl made his name with the same concept. 

Family Ties

Walter Lampl was a business built on relationships. Joe Lampl, Walter’s brother, worked as as salesman for the firm. Employees came to stay. During the Depression years, when work was hard to find, Walter Lampl hired the grooms of his female employees if the men did not have other jobs when they married. 

Traveling the country on routes that took in all the major cities, Walter Lampl and his team of salesmen visited the buyers of major department stores across the nation, developing friendships and trading partnerships. Later, when his daughter Miriam married Jerome Ornsteen, Walter hired his new son-in-law as a salesman and gave him Walter’s own sales route. Walter’s kindness is legend among family members who recount how Walter would take pity on newsboys shivering on street corners during frigid New York winters and buy all their papers so they could go home to get out of the cold.Walter promoted personal and business relationships in other ways, as well, always with an eye to forging bonds that would benefit all parties. He was a member of the Jewelry Publicity Board and the 24 Karat Club. 

His boost was Lampl also joined the Metropolis Country Club and the Masonic Order and became an active sponsor of the New York Guild for the Jewish Blind. As an attraction at the annual jewelry trade show at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, where he announced his presence with 12 inch high letters spelling out his name, each letter completely inlaid with a dramatic mosaic of intricately carved jade, lapis, amethyst, carnelian, and coral.

Campaigning for Jade

In 1927 Walter Lampl wrote an article for the Keystone jewelry trade magazine in which he proposed changing the November birthstone from topaz to jade. In this article he talked about the rich history of Chinese jade and extolled the virtues of this very versatile material. He particularly emphasized the advantages to the jeweler of being able to offer a variety of pieces all made from the same type and color of jade, such as "rings, bracelets and ear-drops, carved pendants, necklaces and brooches." He pointed out that men would be likely to wear this stone as well, set in rings and cufflinks. Lampl went on to state, "Sales of jade toilet articles, ornamental clocks, pin trays, fan frames, hand bags, topped and inset with this beautiful ‘Green Gem of the East,’ will follow when once the jade ensemble idea has been established in the mind of the customer." The Keystone editors added a short article at the end of Lampl’s piece, meant to be used as a news release for local newspapers in every jeweler’s home community. 

Obviously, this idea never caught on, and the birthstone for November remains the topaz. But Lampl’s ability to think big, not to mention his love of jade and other gemstones, is obvious in this article.

The warmth, creativity, and humor of Walter’s character were reflected in the jewelry he produced, as well as in his motto, "Creators of the Unusual, As Usual." Prime examples of these qualities are the whimsical jeweled fish pin and the enameled circus tent shown illustrated in this article. Equal care was lavished on the craftsmanship of all his jewelry pieces, from those made of gold and platinum set with diamonds to those made of gold fill or sterling and rhinestones. This respect for all the customers, no matter what their buying power, remains one of the most outstanding features of this company’s production.

Mr. Charm

The attention to detail and fine craftsmanship of Lampl’s jewelry lent itself perfectly to charms. In these lovely miniatures, Walter Lampl achieved some of his most remarkable technical feats. Another undated newspaper clipping reports that Walter Lampl was granted the "sole authorization by the New York World’s Fair Corporation to manufacture the trylon and perisphere [charm] with the view of Democracy or ‘The City of Tomorrow’ seen through [a] tiny crystal in [the] sphere." A second fantastic charm developed for the 1939 World’s Fair was called "Tomorrow’s Heirloom, the Theme Charm." 

This piece is reported to have been a "tiny movie camera 1/2 inch high" with a glass lens through which one looked to see "25 views of ‘Mr. Whalen’s extravaganza-on-the-Flushing-Meadows’." (sic) The patent for this moving picture charm was granted in 1939.

Walter’s fondness for charms extended to his personal life, as well. His beloved wife, Sylvia (whom he called "Toots"), wore bracelets heavily laden with the best Lampl charms. Walter also made special charms for Sylvia, often engraved with private messages. Many of the romantic charms later sold to the general public were first inspired by these love tokens for his wife, one lovely example being a wind-up music box charm which plays "I Love You Truly."

It was in 1938 or 1939, about the time Lampl was granted the exclusive rights to produce the very lucrative world’s fair souvenir charms, that he moved his showroom uptown to prestigious 5th Avenue.

From this prime location he expanded his distribution network. The years of hard work, dedication to quality products, and respectful relationships with consumers, employees, and colleagues had paid off for Walter Lampl.

The Patriot Pin

Disaster struck on December 7, 1941 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. While the nation was still reeling with horror and beginning to mobilize for war, the Lampl design team sprang into action. Only 22 days after the attack, on December 29, Walter Lampl filed a patent with the U.S. Patent Office for "The Patriot Pin." This was a large enameled brooch depicting the earth, with a cultured pearl in the center of the Pacific Ocean representing Hawaii. An airplane was placed on a stem above the earth, headed for Hawaii. Behind the plane, streaming out from the earth were enameled red, white, and blue banners, each with one word in raised gold letters, "REMEMBER PEARL HARBOR". 

These pins retailed for $1.00 each, and Lampl donated 10% of the retail price to the Pearl Harbor Relief Fund at the Honolulu Community Chest. He promoted these pins widely. A picture of a woman wearing the pin appeared in 500 newspapers nationwide. Sixty-five radio stations broadcast information about this item, which was also advertised in the March 1942 Mademoiselle magazine and featured editorially in  Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, Glamour, Esquire, and Bride’s Magazine. Sales of the pin began early and continued briskly. In January of 1942 alone, Lampl contributed $1,630.80 to the Relief Fund, indicating sales of 16,380 pins in that first month. The pin was still being advertised a year later, when Saks Fifth Avenue at Rockefeller Center ran a newspaper ad reminding customers that the pin could be found on their Street Floor. 

Walter’s younger son, Burt, and daughter, Miriam, donated their Patriot Pin to the Naval Academy Museum at Annapolis in memory of their father in 1991, on the 50th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack. It remains there on permanent display.

The war was personal to the Lampl family in other ways, as well. Walter’s oldest son, Walter, Jr., was a lieutenant, fighting the war in Europe. Fortunately, Walter, Sr. had helped members of Sylvia’s extended family, the relatives of her sister Helen’s husband, come to the United States from Germany during the 1930s, sparing them from the Holocaust.

During the war years silver, other jewelry materials, and labor were scarce in the United States. Many of the major costume jewelry manufacturers moved their production to Mexico where skilled silversmiths abounded and material were still cheap. Coro formed a relationship with H Hector Aguilar. Silson jewelry was made by the William Spratling workshops. Walter Lampl went south during these years, as well. It is not known which Mexican artisans assisted in the production of his jewelry during this time, but it may have been someone in Mexico City, rather than Taxco. The evidence for this is the lovely tea service he brought home for Sylvia, with pieces made by Kimberley and Lilyan. Kimberley is known to have been an older silver house in Mexico City.

Lampl introduced two new jewelry lines in 1944: Tottle-Tot and Walburt. Toddle-Tot was a collection of baby jewelry. These necklaces, bracelets, rings, barrettes, lockets, and charms came in 14 karat gold, 10 karat gold, sterling silver, and gold fill. Walter’s first grandchild, Babs, was featured in the Toddle-Tot advertisements, wearing a locket necklace with her eyelet-trimmed dress. The Walburt line was named for Walter’s two sons, Walter, Jr. and Burton. The motto of the Walburt division was "Style Interpreted in Jewels."

Spoiled Victory

August 6, 1945 was VJ Day, finally marking the end of the war. Germany had fallen three months earlier, and Lt. Walter Lampl, Jr. was part of the occupying force in Germany, stationed at the Nuremberg trials. The Lampl family rejoiced with the rest of the country. But only a few months later, on Christmas Eve afternoon at the annual party Walter hosted for his staff at the Hotel Shelton, the unthinkable happened. In front of all his devoted employees, Walter Lampl suffered a fatal heart attack, dying before a doctor could reach him He was 50 years old.

Grieving employees remained loyal to the company Walter had created and continued to work for the family during the difficult transition period that followed. They pooled their talents and money to create a bronze plaque in Walter’s memory. This plaque was presented to the family a year after his death and hung in the business offices for the next 14 years. It shows an image in high relief of a benevolent, pipe-smoking Walter and read, "IN MEMORY OF WALTER LAMPL 1895-1945," with "DEDICATED BY HIS DEVOTED EMPLOYEES, DECEMBER, 1946"

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