The Schwartz Family Business

The challenge for week 3 of the #52Ancestors challenge was – LONGEVITY.

Many of my ancestors have lived long and meaningful lives well into their 90s – but this blog is not about any of them, it is about a family business that traded from the same location in Copenhagen for over 175 years, with the business being handed down over many generations.

Johan Adam Schwartz (1751-1835) was my fifth great uncle.  As a young man, he travelled from his family home in Büdingen, Germany to Copenhagen in Denmark to become an apprentice “kunstdrejer”.  It is difficult to find an exact definition of the term kunstdrejer, but the best way I can explain it is a “turner”.  A kunstdrejer was considered an artist; a person who made fine items from materials such as ivory, narwhal tusk, whale bone, and tortoise shell by turning them on a lathe.

After completing his apprenticeship, and marrying his master’s widow (yes that’s right), Johan Adam opened the doors of his business at number 170 Sværtegade, Copenhagen in Denmark.   This family business was operated from the same premises for 177 years, closing in 1983.  

Johan Adam handed the business down to his nephew Johan Georg Schwartz (1789-1864) (brother to my 3 x great grandfather), and the business officially became I.G. Schwartz and Son.  I know you’re wondering “If his name was Johan, why was it I.G. Schwartz?” – well, long story cut short, Iohan is the Scandinavian version of the German Johan. To confuse matters more, Johan Georg then named his son Johan Adam (1820-1874), and he was also involved in the business, receiving a knighthood for his contribution to Danish art.JG Schwartz

I.G. Schwartz and Son, employed many craftsmen and artisans, including my third great grandfather, Carl August Schwartz who was responsible for the beautiful chess set shown in an earlier blog. The items produced by the company included chess sets, billiard balls, umbrella handles, canes, drinking horns, and paper knives. They were also regarded as specialists in the field of producing medical instruments. 

I.G. Schwartz & Son’s clientele included royalty, and the rich and Napoleonfamous, including Prince Napoleon

and Queen Alexandra (daughter-in-law of Queen Victoria).  The beautiful ivory fan pictured at the top of this blog, was designed by Christian Carl Peters (1822-1899) and made by the craftsmen of I.G. Schwartz & Son.  It is made from carved and pierced ivory with applied gold, and features a gold pin with turquoise head.  The fan was given to Princess Alexandra (later Queen) in 1863, by a group of Danish ladies, as a wedding gift.

150 years in the business….
In 1951, a book was written by Jørgen Bast entitled “Schwartzerne I Sværtegade” which celebrated 150 years of the business and its achievements.  I am lucky enough to have a copy if anyone would like to see it.  Several other books and articles have been written about the accomplishments of the various Schwartzs and the craftsmen who worked for them.

The original house where the business was located was built in 1738 (50 years before the First Fleet even arrived in Australia) and had several extensions added to it over the years to follow.  In 1847, my ancestors had the building converted to a shop, office and workshop. To the rear of the showroom, was a workshop, warehouse and accommodation for apprentices.  In the 1980s, these buildings were renovated into offices, and in 2010, architects Bertlesen and Schewing were commissioned to restore and transform the building into a restaurant, hotel and office space.  Their website features some of the history of the buildings along with photographs and drawings. Over the centuries, with changes in town planning, the building’s number has changed to No.3 Sværtegade. The picture above shows the shopfront prior to the 2010 renovations, and comes from the 1001 Stores of Denmark website.  Sadly, the I.G. Schwartz & Son sign has been removed and replaced with the name of the new owner.

Fischer painting

1001 stories of Denmark, “Schwartz Shop in Sværetegade”,, viewed 26 January 2018.

Bast, Jorgen, Schwartzerne I Sværtegade, København, 1951.

Bertelsen and Scheving, “Kalejdoskopæstetik I Snørklet Byhus”, viewed 26 January, 2018.

Gyldendal Den Store Dansk, “Georg Nygaard: J.G. Schwartz”,  viewed 26 January, 2018.

Royal Collection Trust, “Princess Alexandra’s Danish Fan”, viewed 26 January, 2018.

Wikipedia, “J A Schwartz”,, viewed 26 January, 2018.


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