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Old Norse Style

Anne Pedersen

Around the mid 1800s, the desire to create a special style celebrating the national character emerged in Denmark and her neighbouring countries. One possibility was the Old Nordic style. It was unique to Scandinavia, unlike other styles, which were also common in the rest of Europe.

The Old Nordic style was inspired by the antiquities which were arriving in increasing numbers at the Museum for Northern Antiquities in Copenhagen. Among them was the small dragon style silver cup from Jelling. The aim was not merely to copy these antiquities, but to adapt their design for contemporary use. The desire was to create something new which was at the same time firmly rooted in the past.

Around 1860 the gold and silversmiths of Copenhagen began to work in this new style. Archaeological jewellery became popular around the middle of the 1800s, and jewellery in the Old Nordic style was widely acclaimed at craft exhibitions both at home and abroad.

Silverware and cutlery were also manufactured. Silver goblets and drinking horns were often particularly imaginative, combining the Nordic style with figures of gods and heroes, or historical scenes and symbols. This mixture of styles was acceptable as long as it emphasised the unity of the whole. In contrast to such exquisite silverware, goods manufactured in silver plate or cast-iron and bronze could be produced in large numbers and sold at reasonable prices. In this way the Old Nordic style entered many more Danish homes.

Ernst Voss’ Factory in Fredericia was one of the Danish companies which began to exploit new mass production technology. The factory was established in 1878, and specialised in making lamps and small household items. In the factory’s 1908 sales catalogue there are 51 different cast-iron objects in the Old Nordic style. Many of the dragon-like animal figures are based on the animals decorating the small silver cup from Jelling, and the large Jelling stone inspired three paperweights with runic inscriptions.

Jewellery in the Old Nordic style was popular for about 20 years, between 1860 and 1880. The style was, however, heavily criticised, and in the long run could not compete with the many other contemporary styles of the 1800s. Around 1900 the style slowly petered out, although cast-iron and bronze articles for everyday use were still available from the Voss factory well into the 1900s.

For more information on Old Norse jewellery see

C. Gere & J. Rudoe, Jewellery in the Age of Queen Victoria, London 2010. Chapter 8, p. 437-43.

Kirsten Rykind-Eriksen, Beauty and taste. V. Christesen, jewelry and silver manufacture; 1850-1900. Scandinavian Journal of Design History vol. 2 (1992), p. 39-62.