Paul Karner
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Silversmith Shines in a Lost Art
Our Town, August 1997
by Sibylle Salewski

The small store is cramped with lamp posts, candelabras, coffee pots silver mirrors and many more old and often exotic treasures. In the back of the store, Paul Karner repairs the ivory insulators on the handle of a silver coffee pot. This one-man metal restoration store on 77th Street will celebrate its 10th anniversary this year.

On Karner's table, a huge trophy awaits refurbishing. The engraving reads "First Transcontinental Airline Excursion, TWA, Lindbergh Line, sponsored by Morris Kipp, November 19, 1934". One of the propellers of the plane that hangs over the metal globe is missing. The other day, Karner provided a mouse on a candelabra with a tail and an ivory horse with a new set of ears.

"I got my ivory from Charlie Little Eagle about 10 years ago," Karner explains. "He was an Indian who had a special license to sell ivory. He did ivory carvings and gave me the bits and pieces that were of no use to him." When Charlie Little Eagle died, Karner got the remainder of the Indian's pre-war supply. It has lasted him until now, but soon he will have to start to look for new materials such as bone, to restore handle insulators or horses' ears.

Paul Karner, who is now 50, began his career as a manufacturer of small jewelry. Now he repairs everything that has to do with metal. "I like this better than getting crazy with the four seasons of jewelry," Karner says, smiling. "I am the only one around here who does metal and ivory repairs." His whole family immigrated to the United States from Czechoslovakia in 1965. His father had been a top designer for Czech jewelry in Prague. When he came to New York he opened his own jewelty business with $200 and his son Paul worked together with him. "Once Hong Kong started, it was hard to keep up with it," Paul Karner says. We did little, hand-made stuff."

Today, his store is doing well, even though work arrives irregularly. "One summer is dead, the next summer I am one or one-and-a-half months behind in what I have to do," he says, "I can never tell." His customers are galleries, antique dealers, private people and auction houses. Most replacements, polishing and plating is done by hand. For some parts Karner uses a turning machine.

In addition to the objects awaiting repair, there are also some little things for sale at the store. Karner found most of them on flea markets and restored them carefully. They fill a glass cabinet in the front of the store- silver brushes, mirrors, coffee pots.

What kind of work he likes best? "I like to work on bronzes and good candelabras," he answers, "but I will do anything- missing parts, mending, polishing, whatever has to be done."