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 Johann Jahn

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Johann Jahn

Birth
Death 10 Jan 1883 (aged 66)
Burial New Braunfels, Comal County, Texas, USA
Plot West of Ave A
Memorial ID 14557950 View Source
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From the Texas Handbook Online
JAHN, JOHANN MICHAEL

JAHN, JOHANN MICHAEL (1816–1883). Michael Jahn, cabinetmaker and early settler and civic leader of New Braunfels, was born on June 12, 1816, in Barth, a small town near Stralsund, in the Prussian province of Pomerania. As a youth he left home to serve a five-year apprenticeship with a cabinetmaker in Prague. During this period Jahn was permanently disabled when, during the course of an argument, his master threw a tool that struck his hip. Jahn subsequently worked for six years in Switzerland as a journeyman and probably earned the designation Tischlermeister, or master craftsman, before he immigrated to the United States in 1844. Jahn's reasons for leaving Europe are unknown; speculations have centered on his injury, which excluded him from military service, and the impact of machine-made items on the market for handcrafted items in Germany.

He sailed to the United States on the Herschel as a member of the Adelsverein. He arrived in Galveston on December 5, 1844, and traveled to Carlhafen (later Indianola), where his group joined Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels, who led them to the site of future New Braunfels on the banks of Comal Creek. Jahn apparently worked in New Orleans for a few months in the mid-1840s, thinking the market might be better there, but soon returned to establish a shop on Seguin Street and help to build the community of New Braunfels. He was a charter member of the German Protestant Church in 1846, and on June 7, 1847, he was elected an alderman in the town's first municipal elections. He continued to be active in civic affairs throughout his career, serving on a number of committees and in various appointed posts. In 1850 he married Anna Marie Klein Bellmer, widow of Carl Bellmer. They had two children.

Jahn's furniture business prospered throughout the 1850s and 1860s, so much that in 1866 he began importing machine-made furniture to meet the demand. Tax records indicate that he continued to handcraft furniture after 1866, with the help of his son and several assistants. Jahn produced furniture in the Biedermeier style, which typically features careful craftsmanship and the grain and color of wood as its primary decorative elements. Several cabinetmakers in New Braunfels worked in the style during this time. He occasionally experimented with more elaborate styles, as in a walnut scroll-back side chair, ca. 1870, for which the cross splat is beautifully carved in a scrolled Grecian motif. Jahn used native woods such as walnut, pine, cypress, mesquite, and cherry to make chairs, tables, sofas, chests of drawers, bedsteads, wardrobes, and other common household items. He signed only a few, if any, of his handmade pieces, although markings such as "J. J.," "Jahn," "J. Jahn," and "J. Jahn New Braunfels" were stenciled or written on machine-made furniture assembled and sold in his store. Attribution of his work therefore depends on an assessment of quality, construction techniques, and in some cases, provenance.

Jahn's business continued to expand in the 1870s, during which he constructed a two-story shop building adjacent to his home on Seguin Street and opened a second store in Seguin. An 1872 Texas New Yorker article on New Braunfels craftsmen estimated his estate to be "not worth a cent less than about $25,000.00." In later years he turned over an increasing amount of work and business affairs to his children. He focused his efforts on cultivating native mustang grapes and making wines that were served to guests and customers when they visited the Jahn home or shop. Jahn died on January 10, 1883, and was buried in Comal Cemetery. His children and grandchildren continued to run the shop until 1944; a Jahn building erected in 1910 still stood on Seguin Street in 1990. Examples of his work, as well as some of the tools that he made and used, are in the collections of the New Braunfels Conservation Society, the Sophienburg Museum in New Braunfels, the San Antonio Museum Association, and the Winedale Historical Center in Round Top.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Ruth Morgan, "The Crafts of Early Texas," Southwest Review 31 (Winter 1945). Pauline Pinckney, "Johann Michael Jahn, Texas Cabinetmaker," Antiques 75 (May 1959). Donald L. Stover, Tischlermeister Jahn (San Antonio Museum Association, 1978). Lonn W. Taylor, Texas Furniture: The Cabinet Makers and Their Work (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1975).

Kendall Curlee

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.
Kendall Curlee, "JAHN, JOHANN MICHAEL," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fjana), accessed July 05, 2013. Published by the Texas State Historical



Jahn Furniture dates back to New Braunfels beginnings

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

On this exact day in 1944, the Jahn Furniture Co. properties on S. Seguin Ave. sold for the very first time by the Jahn family to J.D. Nixon. Since then the beautiful brick building changed hands many times, at one time a Piggly Wiggly grocery store owned by Jarvis Hillje.

The Jahn Furniture Co. was no ordinary furniture company. On the exact spot, Johann Michael Jahn built his home. He had emigrated on the ship Hershel with the very first group of emigrants to settle in New Braunfels in 1845. Supposedly he arrived with 10 cents and a bag of handmade cabinet-making tools. Jahn was one of the first to be deeded lots by the Adelsverein.

Anyone in Texas who knows anything about old furniture knows about the furniture made by Johann Jahn. His handmade pieces of black walnut gathered from the banks of the Guadalupe River are sought after and famous. He was a true "Tischlermeister" (master cabinet maker).

Johann Jahn was born in Pomerania in Northern Germany in 1816. As a young man he served as an apprentice to a cabinet maker in Prague, Czechoslovakia. Ruth Heitkamp who is the g-granddaughter of Jahn says that he had a disagreement with someone at the school and it ended up in a fight in which Jahn was injured. This caused a hip injury that crippled him for the rest of his life. Because Jahn refused to talk about the past, Heitkamp thinks that the injury may have been the reason that Jahn would not have his photograph taken.

Right after the altercation, Jahn left home and worked in Switzerland for six years as a Journeyman. Because of his injury, he was disqualified for military service and perhaps that prompted him to decide to emigrate to Texas.

Upon arrival in the new colony, there was high demand for craftsmen and by 1846 there were about 100 houses in NB.(Roemer's "Texas") Emigrants were limited in the amount of furniture they could bring and few were skilled in this craft. Jahn built more than furniture. For example, the Jean von Coll house on Coll St. across from Carl Schurz School still has the pine floor constructed by Jahn. The floor itself is bordered by alternating planks of pine and walnut.

In 1850 Johann Jahn married widow Anna Marie Bellmer Klein, daughter of Stephan Klein. Jahn had helped Klein construct his fachwerk (cross timber) home that still stands next to Naegelin's Bakery.

At first Jahn set up his business in his home on the corner of Seguin Ave. and Butcher St. Then he added a shop next door and both are now at Conservation Plaza. After Jahn died, his son Carl took over the business and in 1910 constructed the present brick building. There was so much business that Carl began the practice of ordering furniture parts from New York and assembling these "knocked down" parts. By the way, if you have a Jahn piece that has "Jahn" stamped on the back, you probably have a "knocked down" piece.

Johann's hobby was wine-making done in the cellar. Family members claim that one specimen of white mustang grapes developed by Jahn provided the cuttings from which many such vines are still in existence. Does anyone have white mustang grapevines? Wine making was never done as a commercial enterprise, but both father Johann and son Carl enjoyed this hobby.

There are many pieces of Jahn furniture in private collections plus the Sophienburg, the Museum of Texas Handmade Furniture, and the Lindheimer House. As it should be, Ruth Heitkamp has a treasured work bench, tools, and possibly the only signed piece of Johann Jahn's furniture. A small "JJ" on the bottom of a beautifully crafted black walnut table enhances the value of that piece.


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