High-Style, Mass-Produced Furniture

by John Werry on October 4, 2007

Who made this chair? The answer follows…

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I often blog about the highest-end Victorian furniture from the period, but there is a class of furniture a notch below which was still high-style but mass-produced for the middle class. The quality of this furniture in this segment is at the higher-end but not quite at the level of Herter Brothers, while being produced in much larger quantities. There is an intriguing article about this segment of the furniture market that you can read here by Anna Tobin D’Ambrosio.

Kilian Brothers produced furniture in this segment (You saw one example in my previous post). If you read the article you will run across an interesting mention of labeled Prudence Mallard furniture which was actually produced by Kilian Brothers (as photographic evidence attests). This “OEMing” of furniture further demonstrates the difficulty with performing maker attributions.

Aside from covering Kilian, the article also addresses Schrenkeisen furniture, which was also aimed at this segment of the market. The article talks further about the Jelliff/Schrenkeisen confusion and goes as far as attributing furniture marked as Jelliff in two museums to Schrenkeisen due to catalog documentation. There is special mention of the documented “Grand Duchess” pattern chair by Schrenkeisen of which you see a picture of at the top of this post. This chair is in the collection of the Munson Williams Proctor Museum in Utica. I myself have photocopies of Schrenkeisen’s catalog from 1872 and the Grand Duchess pattern no. 31 is in it. The only exception is that the arms have the Jenny Lind busts in the catalog which the version above does not. The article explains that there were two versions of the Schrenkeisen Grand Duchess set over time.

Per the article, “J. W. Hamburger and also Jordan and Moriarty of New York City sold furniture in the Grand Duchess pattern, the latter company as late as 1888.” So I imagine that you have at least 3 companies selling furniture in the “Grand Duchess” pattern, which has a distinctive sofa shape (see below), club chair configuration for the armchair (picture at the top), and sidechairs (not so distinctive, but shown below). Some of these appear to be reaping Jelliff attributions throughout the antique world.

By the way, this lot below is for sale now and is most certainly Schrenkeisen as it matches the catalog image about 98%. Of course I need to get my hands on pictures of the Hamburger, and Jordan and Moriarty versions to be sure…

Side note: I have seen Jenny Lind bust arms on confirmed pieces from Jelliff, Schrenkeisen, and J.W. Hamburger (not yet seen those from Jordan and Moriarty), so I am certain that there is way too much attribution to Jelliff based on this element alone. In speaking with a long-time antiques dealer, he conveyed to me that those carved-bust arms were readily available for purchase from furniture parts suppliers and therefore could be quickly added by any manufacturer to their designs.

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