Published: December 16, 2014
Given their love of high-style English furniture and works of art, it is perhaps not surprising that Mark and Diana Jacoby and their colleague Emily Eerdmans fancy Christmas traditions popularized by the British monarch Victoria and her German-born consort, Albert. At Philip Colleck Ltd, the Jacobys’ townhouse gallery at 311 East 58th Street, the Manhattan antiquaries are offering weekdays through December 23 German Christmas tree stands collected by the New York designer Harry Heissmann, who spoke to us about his passion. Educated in Munich, Heissmann worked for decorating luminary Albert Hadley before launching his own firm.
Tell us about your collection.
I currently have about 200 stands, of which 150 are for sale at Philip Colleck Ltd. They range in date from 1879 to 1950.
What got you started?
I started collecting stands about 30 years ago in Germany. I was probably 15 or 16. Friends had an antiques store. I accompanied them to country flea markets every Sunday morning, flashlight in hand. When my eyes fell upon a very elaborate Art Nouveau stand, I was hooked.
Why do you collect stands?
Like most collections, it has to do with emotions. Objects take you back to something you might remember in the past. Each piece initiates a little story, maybe about the family that lived with it or the way the tree looked in it. Collecting is all about fantasy, which is one of the most important things in life.
How many were made and where?
The variety is endless, the reason being that some stands are custom or handmade. I have two unique tramp art stands, for instance. Some stands are pottery or porcelain, but most are of cast iron. They were generally made in northeastern Germany and are sometimes marked or numbered.
Where do you buy?
I’ve not bought a single stand in America. I see German stands once in a while here, but they are generally more common examples. I do a lot of online research. I’m known for tree stands the way Brooke Astor was known for dog paintings, so people offer stands to me. It’s hard, because I have most examples already.
What are your favorites?
I have the oldest known example. It has a water reservoir and is decorated very much of the period, about 1880. I also love my toadstool stand, a painted terracotta example of about 1920.
Are these stands small by modern standards?
Christmas trees were small — tabletop size, not the 8-footers we have today. And trees didn’t sit in water for weeks on end. Trees were freshly cut for the 12 Days of Christmas. German families put trees up on December 24 and took them down on January 6, Three Kings Day.
You sold your first collection in 1995. Why?
It was a big collection — 240 stands. I was moving to New York and didn’t know how to bring them along. I put the best 20 in my mom’s basement. A friend, who worked at a department store, suggested that we offer the rest. They sold out in two days. Every time my mom visited me here she brought one or two more stands in her luggage.
How much do these cost?
We’ve priced them between $250 and $1,500. We wanted to make it attractive for everyone, so there aren’t many in the high end of the range. One of the most expensive stands is a polychromed terracotta example shaped like a Yule log. It’s for a feather tree.
What has been written about tree stands?
Magdalene Hanke-Basfeld’s book Christbaumständer: Kleine Kulturgeschichte is the primary reference.
Are you still collecting?
At first, I bought every stand I found. Now I’m more selective. There are a few holy grail pieces that I’m still hunting down. But I have lots of other collections, everything from 1950s California pottery pixies to pieces by the great California designer Tony Duquette.
Do you decorate with holiday ornaments?
My professional decorating is client-centric. Because of my training, I can do anything from a period room to a stark contemporary interior. It all comes down to fantasy and dramatics, elements that are very important to interior design. When I worked for Albert Hadley, he would stop by my desk and ask, “What’s happening at the magic shop today?” Now I have my own magic shop.
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