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Monday, December 4, 2017

Gene Moore's Tiffany Window Displays in the Spotlight

It seems appropriate to extend the October “Blogathon” theme of “collaboration” into November and December in order to highlight collaborations that have led to the processing, digitization, and online presence of the National Museum of American History Archives Center’s Gene Moore Tiffany & Company Photographs, with its nearly four thousand images, in 2017. Archives Center staff and interns constituted the project team, but advice and information provided by Stephen Van Dyk, librarian at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York, plus the essential encouragement of Thomas Beebe, a student and colleague of Moore, and donors William Rondina and Daniel Gelman, all made this project possible. These photographs of Tiffany window displays by Gene Moore (1910-1998) document his innovative, often whimsical displays for this famous design firm’s New York store.

Tiffany display designed by Gene Moore, February 1, 1968. Silver gelatin photographic print, Gene Moore
Tiffany and Company Photographs, Archives Center, NMAH, No. AC1280-0001327.
As archivist Franklin A. Robinson, Jr. writes in the finding aid, “These photographs document window displays of Tiffany and Company, 5th Avenue, New York City…during Moore's tenure as artistic director from 1955-1994. Nearly all of the imaginative and inventive window displays created by Moore and other designers during his almost 40-year association with Tiffany's are documented in these photographs. … Moore…is best known for his highly acclaimed work as Display Manager, Artistic Director, and Vice President. There he created innovative, imaginative window displays… His designs were famous for combining and juxtaposing common, everyday objects with exquisite pieces of fine jewelry.”

Tiffany display designed by Gene Moore, November 29, 1968.  Silver gelatin photographic print,
Gene Moore Tiffany and Company Photographs, Archives Center, NMAH, No. AC1280-0001446.

I learned about Gene Moore’s Tiffany window displays through the collection itself. As I've never had any personal interest in expensive high-fashion jewelry, I probably never peered into Tiffany windows during trips to New York City through the 1990s, when Moore’s striking, sometimes fantastic, often whimsical designs reigned supreme. It was through discussions of cataloging adjustments, since the Smithsonian Libraries’ catalog records for these design archives had to be incorporated into the “Archives, Manuscripts, and Photographic Collections” SIRIS catalog, plus inspection of the photographs themselves, that I became familiar with this collection, one of twelve archival design collections which had been transferred from the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York City to the NMAH Archives Center in 2012. These transfers were controversial at the time, as documented in the New York Times, because designers and researchers in the field worried about these resources leaving New York. However, storing such archival collections, administered by the Cooper Hewitt library, had become a challenge in the face of a renovation, and the decision was made to transfer them to the NMAH Archives Center.

Tiffany display designed by Gene Moore, November 29, 1968. Silver gelatin photographic print, Gene Moore Tiffany and Company Photographs, Archives Center, NMAH, No. AC1280-0001447.

On October 21, 2014, Tom Beebe, a virtual whirlwind of enthusiasm, called me, asking if there were ways to publicize our Gene Moore collection, which contained thousands of photographs of Moore’s Tiffany display windows. On December 16 he was in my office to emphasize the point. He had a personal interest in the collection because of his long association with Moore, and had accompanied Moore to donate the collection to the Cooper Hewitt in 1997. Short of an exhibition, which didn’t seem feasible in the foreseeable future, the obvious solution was the digitization of these photographs for online display. Although the Archives Center has always provided scholars and members of the general public with photographic reproductions of items in its collections, first in the form of traditional photographic prints, later as digital images, such copies were usually created on an ad hoc, on-demand basis. Even as the full-scale digitization of entire collections became feasible, the need for limited, on-demand service continued. However, Beebe, as the friend and student of Moore, was anxious to see the entire collection digitized, rather than having it done selectively (and slowly). Tiffany & Co. itself had ordered scans of dozens of the Moore display window photographs only months earlier.

Soon Tom arranged for the design magazine “design:retail” to publicize the collection, and my colleague Kay Peterson in the Archives Center and I worked with editor Alison Medina to supply illustrations from the existing scan file. I also photographed the collection in its Garber Facility storage location. I cringed when I saw the rather sensationalized title of the published article, “The Lost Archives of Gene Moore,” because of course these photographs had never been lost at all. They had been in the care of the Cooper Hewitt Museum from 1997 to 2012, duly cataloged in SIRIS with their location clearly indicated. Within a few months of the transfer of the design collections to us, in collaboration with Stephen Van Dyk at the Cooper Hewitt library, I had edited the SIRIS records to show that they were now available in the NMAH Archives Center. Consulting the database directly or through a Google search would have provided anyone with information about the collection and its location, both before and after the transfer. 

Nevertheless, the magazine publicity about the collection to the design community was gratifying. Tom Beebe continued to advocate vigorously for the scanning project, but his enthusiasm was matched by his realism. He knew that the concentrated effort required to digitize a large image collection within a comparatively short time often requires special funding to hire a dedicated project archivist, so he offered to locate potential donors. He found two contributors who also had been friends and admirers of Gene Moore—Daniel Gelman (of Lighting Services Inc) and William Rondina. They provided donations to fund high-priority collection processing and digitization, and we are all delighted that the finding aid and the images are now online in SOVA (Smithsonian Online Virtual Archives). The Archives Center is deeply grateful to Mr. Gelman and Mr. Rondina for their kindness and generosity. To get these images online and linked to the finding aid required image processing by Kay Peterson, while the overall project was coordinated by reference archivist Joe Hursey.

David Haberstich, Curator of Photography
Archives Center, National Museum of American History


Anonymous, “Gene Moore, In Memoriam, 1910-1998, Visual Store, Alitalia Group, 6/27/2000, (no longer available online).

Goldman, Judith, Windows at Tiffany’s: the art of Gene Moore; with commentary by Gene Moore; Ruth Eisenstein, ed.  New York : H. N. Abrams, 1980.

Moore, Gene, and Hyams, Jay, My time at Tiffany’s. New York : St. Martin's Press, c1990.
Pogrebin, Robin, “Design Museum Archival Shifts Prompt Concern,” New York Times,” Feb. 14, 2006, p. B1+.

Rebholtz, Jenny S. “The Lost Archives of Gene Moore,” design:retail, April/ May 2015, vol. 27, no. 4, pp. 40-46;

Thomas, Robert McG., Jr., “Gene Moore, 88, Window Display Artist, Dies,” New York Times, Nov. 26, 1998, p. C17.

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