I was in New York City last week for some rest and relaxation. And since poking around thrift shops is my favourite way to de-stress, I popped into the Chelsea Goodwill and started digging through bins of flatware. And although I didn’t discover a Fabergé Egg or rare Picasso print, I was just as delighted to come across a lone fork designed by the Danish designer Henning Koppel for Georg Jensen.
The fork was part of a set called, appropriately, New York (pictured above). Created in 1963 for New York's World Fair, it’s an excellent example of the Koppel aesthetic because while it looks quite simple on first glance, closer inspection reveals subtle details such as a brushed finish and carefully curved lines that required skilled craftsmanship to carry out.
Unlike many modernist designers, Koppel considered himself an anti-functionalist. Which is not to say that his housewares, lighting and jewellery designs aren’t useful, it’s just that for him organic expression trumped mass production. By the way, this isn't my first Koppel find — I picked up the ring pictured below at a thrift shop in Toronto earlier this year.
Born in Copenhagen in 1914, Koppel trained as a painter and a sculptor. Koppel’s family was Jewish and because Denmark was occupied by Germany during WWII, he moved to Sweden. To make ends meet while living in exile, he often traded art for food. He also sold a group of paintings to a pewter shop that offered to teach him how to work with metal. Here he started making small jewellery items that caught the eye of Anders Holstrup-Pedersen, the head of Georg Jensen’s jewellery department.
After the war, Koppel returned to Denmark, where he later joined Georg Jensen’ hollowware division, creating space age candelabras, pitchers and utensils that were a bold break from Jensen’s art nouveau traditions. He then moved into cutlery, where he also broke with tradition by working with non-silver materials such as stainless steel and wood. His only mass-produced for Orskov was made of melamine.
And while his work was often copied, his attention to detail wasn't as replicable. Which is why that despite the fact that many of his designs are still in production, original pieces are so collectible today. Until his death in 1981, Koppel continued to experiment with different mediums to bring his concepts to life. He designed distinctive clocks and watches for Jensen, delicate porcelain plates for Royal Copenhagen, glass wares for Kastrup and Orrefors and lamps (like the 1970s-era Bubi pendant pictured above) for Louis Poulsen.