Julius Cornelius

Detail of a gold cross-shaped pendant with mayflowers twining around it and a pearl in the centre-most flower.

Considered by historian and curator Harry Piers to be the "most artistic and skillful designer and maker of gold jewelry, that we have ever had in Nova Scotia", Julius Cornelius was born July 4, 1825, in Prenzlau, Prussia (Germany).

After apprenticing with Rhode, a goldsmith in Prenzlau, Cornelius attended the Berlin Academy of Art in 1836 where he won the King’s medal for design.

14K gold flower earring with garnet centre, made by Julius Cornelius.

Earrings made by Julius Cornelius. 14K gold, garnet flower, gold bud.

NSM History Collection: 72.43.2a,b

Cornelius’s career continued as he worked in Berlin as a goldsmith and jeweller from 1842 to 1845, followed by years spent in Paris, London and eventually Tiffany’s in New York. He finally worked with the H.D. Morse firm in Boston until he came to Halifax in 1855 at the same time as William Herman Newman, another German jeweller.

Newman and Cornelius entered into a short-lived partnership and by April 1857 Cornelius was advertising as an independent jeweller. His ad offered "all kinds of jewelry, hair work, Masonic emblems, etc."

Gold brooch with floral design along the sides and a pearl set in the centre.

Gold brooch with pearl, attributed to Julius Cornelius.

NSM History Collection: 87.92.5

In 1856 he married Henrietta Blackadar, daughter of Henry Blackadar, a barrister and former Member for Pictou County in the NS Assembly. The two had met previously in Boston and eventually had two sons and six daughters. At the end of his life Cornelius retired to New Glasgow because of his wife’s family connection there, dying there in 1916.

With the growth of militia groups in Halifax in 1859, there was a new market for medals shared by the local gold and silversmiths. There were many prizes handed out for shooting competitions and Cornelius had his share of this work.

He won many prizes for his work. In 1862 some of his pieces were shown at the International Exhibition and won first prize and Diploma of Honour for “Best Asst. of Jewellery”. At the 1868 NS Industrial Exhibition he won an honourable mention in the category for “Best Exhibition of Jewelry made from Nova Scotia gold”. There were four entries and the top prize went to John McCulloch.

Gold brooch embedded with garnets made by Julius Cornelius.

Brooch made by Julius Cornelius. Two connected gold ovals embedded with garnets.

NSM History Collection: 72.43.1

In 1864 Cornelius was advertising that he offered the highest prices for Nova Scotia gold. Harry Piers wrote that Cornelius worked "almost wholly in Nova Scotia gold". He was known for using the mayflower motif (Nova Scotia’s provincial flower) in many pieces and favoured using Nova Scotia gold and stones, such as amethyst, agate and freshwater pearls. He engraved local landmarks and historic buildings on souvenir spoons and created medals and badges to order to celebrate the achievements of other Nova Scotians.