25+1 Anniversary Exhibition: A Retrospective of Ameico Products
Tibor Kalman’s Designs & Gerd Klein
In early 1997, Gerd Klein of Hamburg, Germany, the licensee of Tibor Kalman and the owner of M & Co Labs International in New York, contacted Peter, whom he had heard about from a mutual acquaintance in Germany. Gerd was looking for a consultant to step in and turn around his US company. Peter was very thankful for the opportunity to have some income while still building his own business. The consulting gig led to Peter being able to acquire M & Co Labs and was the beginning of a business and personal friendship between Peter and Gerd which now goes back a quarter of a century.
Many of Peter’s products, especially in the initial years, such as the Piet Stockmans 7-in-1 nesting porcelain bowls, the Arnout Visser Fruit on Wheels bowl, the Antonia Campi paper scissors (design 1962), the Max Bill wall clocks (design 1956), the Kuno Prey bottle brush Xmas tree and the contemporary cuckoo clock – a huge success – originated in Gerd’s product “kitchen”.
Peter found samples of these in a design store in Tokyo, around 2010. The name of the designer was embossed on the back of the leather. From the Finnish trade council in NYC, Peter received a telephone number to call in Finland. The first call was not successful, as a lady picked up who only spoke Finnish. Peter thought he must have a wrong number, but the trade council could not come up with another number to contact. On the second call, the same friendly female voice answered again in Finnish. Despairing at how to proceed, Peter took his sample from Tokyo and started swatting his desk close to the receiver. The woman on the other end now understood why Peter was calling, gave him in broken German the telephone number of a girlfriend who spoke some foreign languages and that is how the business relationship got started. It has been an ongoing success. Determination can sometimes pay off. 😊
These were our first products 26 years ago. The designer Yakoov Greenwurzel, a silver smith from Jerusalem, presented these designs to Peter who, not knowing any better and eager to get going in business, went for them. Production turned out to be more difficult than envisioned. No manufacturer in the States would touch it. Finally Peter found a company in Brescia, Italy, Serafino Zani, who was willing to give it a try. Peter invested in the tooling and the first 500 sets of the salad servers were made. They turned out to be quite sellable, but Zani was not willing to produce any more due to the great difficulties in creating this first and only batch. Fortunately, Peter broke even on this project and more importantly, learned about the table top business and was able subsequently to acquire the US distribution rights to Pott cutlery from Solingen, Germany. One thing often leads to the next.
Swiss Army Flash Lights
Peter, as all Swiss males, served in the Swiss Army. On marches, often through the night, he became acquainted with the Swiss Army flashlight, the design of which dates back to the 30ies. Peter purchased all the vintage flashlights he could find in Army surplus stores in Switzerland and Germany. We could sell them here in the States very briskly, as US design shop buyers snatched up this design classic from us.
Angelo Mangiarotti Maritime Clock 1956
Gerd and Peter were introduced to Angelo Mangiarotti in 2002 at his old world Milan studio. From this first meeting a tradition evolved of get-togethers with Mr. Mangiarotti in his studio, usually during the annual April pilgrimage to Milan for the Salone Design Week. Together, Gerd and Peter re-edited Angelo Mangiarotti’s maritime table clock, which was very well received. Mr. Mangiarotti passed in 2012. We miss not seeing him anymore.
Y-Ply Folding Neck Rest
Y-ply was presented to Peter by a very attractive young French lady, the Structure floor lamp to Jeannette by two handsome young French lads. Both were absolute failures and we still have plenty of stock, collecting dust. Moral of this short tale: try not to let personal attraction cloud your business decisions, especially when a bit of money is involved.
Richartz Pocket Knives
Shortly after signing up Pott cutlery from Solingen for US distribution, it was not far to go to also pursue Richartz pocket knives, located in the same town. We were successful in obtaining the US distribution around 1997/8 and did quite well, especially with the picnic pocket knife, which comes apart for practical alfresco or office dining. 9/11 in 2001 brought this business to an abrupt halt. None of our customers wanted to deal in pocket knives anymore. The business never came back.
Eva Zeisel Lomonosov Porcelain Service
Eva’s daughter, Jean, approached us when Eva was still alive (age about 100) and inquired if we would re-edit the very fine bone China service, produced, as it was originally, in Russia at the Lomonosov Imperial Porcelain Company. We were delighted to be entrusted with such a prestigious project. Unfortunately, it was close to impossible working with the Russians and we managed, over the course of a year, to bring in a total of 12 sets in perfect quality and without breakage. 10 sets we sold almost immediately, one we gave to the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum as a present and fortunately, one we kept.
Brigitta Brun stoneware, circa 1998
Peter found these in a tabletop store in Zurich and fell in love with them. It took some doing to find the artist, living on a small island in Denmark. We started bringing in her wares and they sold well. The difficulties were communication (only by phone) and lead times. Brigitta was an avid sailor and on an annual basis she would close up shop and go sailing for months at a time. We also lost quite a lot of product to breakage in shipping. Brigitta would wrap her stoneware in dried out reeds she collected on the island.
Max Bill Timepieces
If any one designer represents Ameico’s DNA, it is the Swiss architect and design professor Max Bill, who was the first director of the Ulm Design School, the successor to the Bauhaus School in postwar Germany. His minimalist wall clocks and watches we represented for about 20 years and unfortunately lost the distribution a few years ago due to a change in ownership of the manufacturer Junghans in Germany. The table clock, design 1956, was from our own very limited production, due to a fall-out with Jakob Bill, the son of Max Bill. It is often difficult dealing with the heirs of great designers, who feel the need to make their own mark, albeit inferior.
Man Ray Chess Set
Brodmann Blades from 2009
Bauhaus Christmas Ornaments Design 1929, Edit by Us 2019
Baby Bell Rattle / Spoon