A Little History on Frankart, Inc.
The following article was provided by Neil Underberg, son of Henry Underberg. Henry Underberg was Vice President and General Manager of Frankart, Inc from 1922 to 1932 and died in 1992 at the age of 94. The author of this article is unknown.
by Henry Underberg
My first job was with the Metal and Export Company of America on 59 Pearl Street in downtown New York City. I was an assistant to the traffic manager, a man by the name of Newman. I want to mention something about my summer vacations. Because we needed the money pretty badly, my summers were never a vacation! I had to look for jobs during my High School days. And among the many jobs I had was one with a firm called Freeman Brothers who were wholesale hatters. They had a loft on Broadway and about West 4th Street and their loft was on street level and ran all the way back from Broadway to Mercer Street. I was going by the store one day when I saw a lineup of boys in front of the place and outside there was a sign which said, "Boy Wanted." So I got on the end of the line and, believe it or not, they finally reached me. And I must have made an impression on them because they decided to take me. So I got myself a job and I think the salary was either four and a half or five dollars a week. At any rate, after I was told I had the job they said to please go outside and take down the "Boy Wanted" sign. Well, I went outside to take down the sign and was almost mobbed by a hundred other kids who wanted to kill me because I got the job. That was an experience I have never forgotten.
The Metal Export Company of America lasted until international affairs changed and the export market for metals had come to the point where there was not much business. It changed from an exporting company to an importing company. They organized Old World Arts, Inc. Incidentally, the fellow who was the traffic manager quit his job and I became traffic manager. The company moved to 212 Fifth Ave at 26th Street.
Mr. Mores, the head of the company, went to Europe on an extensive buying trip and bought up a lot of "Old World" art. We had a fine shop on Fifth Avenue and I was Assistant Manager of the shop. I got to meet and see a lot of famous people, among them Charlie Chaplin who came into our shop one day and I had a few words with him. He looked around but didn't buy anything.
One day a gentleman, a young man, came in and showed me a metal figurine and wondered if I would show it in the shop and sell it on consignment. I looked at the figurine and was very much impressed by its beauty. The gentleman was Arthur Frankenberg, a sculptor. I took a few of the figurines and they sold well. I took more and more. After a little while I had had enough of that shop and I decided to go into business for myself. I got some temporary space at 1170 Broadway, where my friend, Nat Goldstein, had an office and I started the Hennart Company with some decorated items made by a Jacksonville hand-decorating factory. In those days there were no gift shops in the department stores so the type of goods I was handling had to be sold to the Art Needlework departments. One of my early sales was to R.H. Macy and Company.
After a little while, Frankenberg asked me if I would help market his figurines. I did that and for a time remained at 1170 Broadway. I did the shipping of the figurines from the basement of our Blake Avenue residence. For a while I set up a store on Atlantic Avenue and we got the metal castings from a metal caster. I, with an assistant, did our own spraying in a Gingrich oven which I bought. It was a heating oven which heated the enamels after they were sprayed.
George Murad was the caster. Business grew and Murad became the factory manager. I gave up the store on Atlantic Avenue and the figurines were handled where the metal was cast. Murad did the finishing and everything else and I did the shipping. Frankenberg was inspired by the reception to his early pieces and continued to design additional pieces until it became a very extensive line of products. Finally we organized Frankart, Inc. (I created the name!) Frankenberg was the president, I was the Vice-President and General Manager and George Murad was the Secretary.
This Frankart business developed to its full in about 1922 and continued until about 1932 when Frankenberg decided he wanted to run the business for himself and wanted Murad and me out of it. A legal action was started by Murad and I to stop Frankenberg. We won the legal action and continued the Frankart line for a while without Frankenberg. After a while Frankart became less successful and I sold the Frankart name to George Murad. About this time, I tied up with Martin S. Breslauer and we formed Breslauer-Underberg, Inc. We started out with imported products, primarily iron trays, beautifully hand decorated with enamel, made in Russia. We did business with the American agency for Russian products called Amtorg, Inc.
This business continued for a while until one day we made a contact with a gentleman named Frederick Buehner who was making aluminum hostess service accessories. We liked the product. Incidentally, they were located in a loft on 59th Street just off the 59th Street Bridge. We started to market their product. It wasn't much, but it got us started. It developed quite quickly, so Frederick Buehner joined with his partner, Franz Wanner, and changed the name of their company to Buehner-Wanner and moved to a factory in Norwalk, Connecticut, where they manufactured all of their products. They made additions to their line year after year. This lasted for many years and was a very fruitful connection.
A few years after we separated from Frankenberg, he came into the showroom one day and showed me a little statuette of Winston Churchill. But before he did that, he wanted to tell me how sorry he was. I didn't have much to say about that and our conversation was on the rather cool side. That was the last time I saw Frankenberg.