Marcus "Martin" Leo Ehrmann rose from the status of poor German-Jewish immigrant to being America's premier dealer in high-quality mineral specimens. He was born August 9, 1904 in Rava Russkaya, a town then in the Russian empire (now in Belarus), the son of Wolf and Rachael Ehrmann. The family moved to Kiel, Germany ca. 1914, and when Martin graduated from school in 1921 he took a job as a steward for a German shipping line. When his ship docked in New York, he disembarked to make America his home. For the next several years he took a succession of jobs, including as a waiter in restaurants and as a shoe salesman.
Martin married Rita Zorn, a distant cousin, in 1928, automatically acquiring U.S. citizenship thereby, and they settled in her hometown of Hoboken, New Jersey. Rita worked as secretary to a Chinese importer of gemstone carvings, and soon Martin was hired to be the company's only salesman. Learning about Chinese jade, he discovered a passion for aesthetic mineralogy in general. The following year, having learned the business (and perhaps with some mentoring from George Kunz, who also lived in Hoboken), Martin established his own dealership in Chinese jade objects, soon branched into other gem species, and then into aesthetic mineral specimens. He sold gemstones, jade, jade carvings and fine minerals to the major museums and slowly built up his customer list. His address changed regularly:
1931 – 610 Washington Ave., Hoboken
1932 – 27 Central Ave., Hartsdale
1932 – 3435 Olinville Ave., Bronx
1933 – 700 West 176th St., New York
1935 – 25 West 68th St., New York
1938 – 25 Central Park, New York
1940 – 18 West 70th St., New York
Martin made his first big acquisition in 1932, when he bought a large quantity of mostly gem-species material from Tiffany's that the recently deceased George Kunz had accumulated on their behalf. When he acquired the enormous 100,000-specimen Calvert collection in 1938, however, he could no longer work from his home, and instead rented office space at Suite 2008 of the International Building, 630 Fifth Avenue, in Rockefeller Center. As World War II loomed, however, he made increasingly frequent trips to Europe and not only brought back many superb gem and mineral specimens, but also 16 members of his extended family whose lives would soon be endangered.
When Pearl Harbor was bombed Martin immediately volunteered for the U.S. Army, even though he was 37 years old and exempt from the draft. He was made an intelligence officer and rose to be Commanding Officer of the Ordnance Bomb Disposal School. He was also heavily involved in acquiring strategic minerals, such as quartz and tourmaline, from Brazil and Madagascar, and at the end of the war was involved in locating, interviewing and removing German scientists to the United States. He retired from the service in 1945, at the rank of Lieutenant Coronel, and was awarded the Legion of Merit.
Martin had sold his remaining mineral stock, including what was left of the Calvert collection, to the Hartman Trading Company in 1943, so when he returned home from the service he did not immediately resume his gem and mineral business. Instead he took jobs with the William V. Schmidt gemstone company (1946) and the Lazare Kaplan diamond company (1947), before setting himself up as a diamond wholesaler in 1948, and was soon thereafter dealing in all colored stones. He needed financial partners in such a lucrative business, and first associated himself with William Lowe and Company, then Nishan Vartanian, the latter relationship lasting for the rest of his life. The family moved to California in 1948, where Martin opened offices in downtown Los Angeles (but he retained his Fifth Avenue office in New York through 1950). His Los Angeles addresses were as follows:
1948 – 448 S. Hill St.
1958 – 1100 S. Beverly Dr.
1962 – 369 S. Robertson Blvd.
1966 – 676 N. Lapeer Dr.
Ehrmann became one of the first mineral dealers to literally travel the world in search of fine specimens. He was already visiting Tsumeb in the 1950's, made his first trip to Burma in 1955, was a regular visitor to Brazil where he acquired fabulous things, and had contacts for tanzanite crystals in the 1960's. He had stories to tell about acquiring specimens in Ceylon, Mexico, Russia, Bolivia, Colombia and Australia. Ehrmann also handled the purchase and resale of the "famous 25" best specimens from the Vaux family collection in 1967. Ehrmann was universally known as honorable, generous, gentlemanly and kind; he was possessed of Old-World manners, with a winning and gentle but energetic personality. In the end, however, his heavy smoking caught up with him, and he died of lung cancer on May 22, 1972, at the age of 67.
SMITH, B., and SMITH, C. (1994) Martin Leo Ehrmann (1904-1972). Mineralogical Record, 25, 347-370.
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||Article on Ehrmann by Norman Archer in Coronet magazine, March 1961, page 55.|
||Article on Ehrmann by Norman Archer in Coronet magazine, March 1961, page 56.|
||Article on Ehrmann by Norman Archer in Coronet magazine, March 1961, page 57.|
||Article on Ehrmann by Norman Archer in Coronet magazine, March 1961, page 58.|