Lisner Company (Est. 1904 – 1985?) While the D. Lisner Company was officially established in 1904 by David Lisner, it had evolved from the Lisner family business that sold “fancy good” as early as 1869. At its 19th Century inception, the business sold goods imported from Europe at wholesale. These included jewelry, hats, pins, crystal giftware, and clocks.
David Lisner’s son, Sidney, and a cousin Saul (Solomon) Ganz joined the company shortly after its official creation in 1904 and continued to direct the company’s operation after David’s death in 1923. They also continued the firm’s wholesale operation well into the 1930’s. For nearly thirty years, the Lisner Company was the authorized American agent to import and sell Elsa Schiaparelli’s Parisian jewelry.
As Fascism began its march across Europe, importing jewelry and rhinestones from there became increasingly difficult. The owners realized it would be in the company’s best interests to create a retail line to produce jewelry domestically. Enter Urie Mandle (father of Robert Mandle of the R. Mandle Co,) as a full partner.
Because Lisner did not own a factory, Urie turned his sights to Providence, Rhode Island which had extensive jewelry manufacture resources already in place. Although Lisner designs was produced by others, it bore a Lisner mark. The first Lisner mark, “LISNER” in block letters first appeared in 1935. “Lisner” in script was first used in 1938 and “Lisner in script letters with a long L in a circle” was used in and after 1959
The Lisner Company was a direct competitor of Coro. Their jewelry is similar and they competed in the average to lower-priced costume jewelry market. However, some Lisner jewelry is of much higher quality.
In the 1930s, the company began selling its own designs. These employed Dupont’s new colored acrylic plastic, ‘Lucite,’ plus clear and colored rhinestones – particularly aurora borealis – and lava stones as well as chromed, silver-plated, and black japanned metal in modern designs including Art Deco. The Lisner Company commissioned bracelets and jewelry in a nautical style.
In 1953, Victor Ganz became president of Lisner when his father Saul passed away. Victor Ganz had a keen sense of design, fashion, and good taste. He became involved in every aspect of Lisner jewelry production. Each week, he traveled between New York and Providence to oversee the creative and manufacturing processes.
In the 1960s, after the retirement of his in-house designer, Sidney Welicky, Victor took over the design responsibilities with the help of his Vice President of Product Development, Iraida Garey. The jewelry produced during the 60’s has clean, sharp edges and a geometric sensibility that derives its inspiration from nature and includes leaves, fruits, and flowers. Other notable Lisner designs feature translucent, plastic “jelly” leaves.
Ganz’ personal style and sense of humor could be seen in everything from the actual jewelry to the retail packaging and advertising. A Lisner ad in the New York Times once featured a brown paper cone from which flowered jewelry emerged like a tiny bouquet. Ganz also developed a unique packaging design that involved a long tube where the jewelry looked like it was hanging in mid-air. That line was called ‘Suspense’.
Surprisingly, Victor Ganz is best known, not for jewelry, but for his art collection. His collection of works by Pablo Picasso, was one of the finest ever amassed. Ganz’s art collection also included works by such mid-20th century masters as Jasper Johns, Eva Hesse, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenberg, Robert Rauschenberg, Frank Stella, and Cy Twombly.
Visitors to Lisner’s main office in New York City at 393 5th Avenue were greeted by an enormous Frank Stella painting hanging prominently on the office wall. In 1981, Ganz joined the board of the Whitney Museum of American Art and became Vice-President of the Board of Trustees in 1985. Ganz died at the age of 74 in 1988.
Lisner bought the Richelieu Pearl Company in the mid-1970’s and the company was re-named, Lisner-Richelieu Corp. Victoria Creations purchased Lisner-Richelieu in 1979 but, after another turnover in ownership the Lisner name stopped appearing on jewelry in the mid-1980’s.
Once thought of as merely “junk jewelry,” vintage Lisner pieces have become collectible. In the 1990s, collectors saw that the clever shapes and bright colors of Lisner’s cheaply made plastic leaves and baubles possessed unique beauty.
Currently, one of the most coveted vintage Lisner lines is the molded plastic oak-leaf jewelry which was only produced for five years in the 1960s. Individual pins or necklaces without matching bracelets or earrings are more affordable but not nearly as collectible or valuable as Lisner’s complete sets.