All Furniture Was Not Made In America

by John Werry on May 14, 2008

4df4 1 300x225 All Furniture Was Not Made In America

Sometimes I think that there is a rush to judge too quickly that antiques that we run across have been made in America. This bookcase is certainly a very nice one, but I think the tile inserts led the seller to believe it must have been made by a prominent American maker. The reality is that during that time, most of the skilled craftsman that were in America were of German or French, or at least European, descent. The reason we have all these great pieces is that these European craftsman came to the U.S. and brought their extensive training with them. Many of the names whose furniture we value most are 1st generation immigrants. But not all of them came to America! Some stayed behind and they still made furniture over there!

All you need to do is look at the book by John Andrews, “Victorian and Edwardian Furniture“, and you’ll get a taste for what European (primarily English) Victorian furniture looks like. Guess what, it looks a lot like ours. You’ll see there a lot of French-inspired designs that look like pieces that we would jump to attribute to Roux, Marcotte, etc. There are pieces in there that mirror pieces that I have recently seen attributed to Kimbel & Cabus and Herter Brothers.  In the case of the bookcase above, they are attributing it to Pottier & Stymus. I haven’t done enough digging to say that they are correct or not, but a quick glance had me reaching for the Andrews book on a hunch that more research is necessary.  If you’re interested in researching Victorian furniture and their attributions, I feel it very necessary that you remember to also look abroad when identifying furniture.

More detail and images on this bookcase that is selling are here.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

drew49 May 14, 2008 at 10:35 am

Hi!
I agree. The Roux-attributed chair with the rustic style carving is another case in point.

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zeke May 14, 2008 at 6:47 pm

Most walnut, mahogany and rosewood UK and European Victorian furniture I encounter has oak as secondary wood (Back of piece, inside drawers etc.) and most American has pine. European oak has a different look than American oak also. While this is not a hard and fast rule, it’s a very good starting point if you can examine the piece in person.

Zeke

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woodwright May 15, 2008 at 12:36 am

The strap hinges on this bookcase look British, and have an Arts & Crafts style to them. The stepped crown w/ the 3 inset tiles is also an unusual detail. Take these 2 design elements away and it would look like a lot of other 4 door American Walnut Rennaisance Revival bookcases.
Minton or Minton Hollins (of the UK) was the most renown & prolific 19th century tile manufacturer. These tiles may or may not be Minton – I don’t know for sure. Minton also had American distributors for their tiles – see the following photos of a Minton tile display @ the 1876 Centennial Exhibit in Philadelphia which are labeled “Minton Tiles”, but if you look at the displays they have a New York and Philadelphia business name and address on them (to zoom in hold down the Ctrl key on the keyboard and roll the mouse wheel forward). http://libwww.library.phila.gov/CenCol/Details.cfm?ItemNo=c011470&sourceURL=subjcapsrch3.cfm&subjQueryKind=contains&subject=minton&capQueryKind=begwith&CaptionTitle=Minton%27s%20Tiles also http://libwww.library.phila.gov/CenCol/Details.cfm?ItemNo=c012917&sourceURL=subjcapsrch3.cfm&subjQueryKind=contains&subject=minton&capQueryKind=begwith&CaptionTitle=Minton%20Tiles also http://libwww.library.phila.gov/CenCol/Details.cfm?ItemNo=c020783&sourceURL=subjcapsrch3.cfm&subjQueryKind=contains&subject=minton&capQueryKind=begwith&CaptionTitle=Minton%20Tiles
Another point to ponder is: The Ebonized Brunswick pool table (just recently featured here on RareVictorian – for sale this weekend @ Bob Courtney’s auction) http://cgi.liveauctions.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&viewitem=&item=180231550846 has 2 minton tiles built into it – 1 on each end. I spoke w/ Mark Stellinga (owner of this pool table) a while ago about it and asked him how he knew they were Minton tiles. He replied that the tiles were removed during the restoration and are stamped Minton on the back side (as most if not all Minton tiles are). I have since also seen the exact same Minton tiles for sale on ebay in different colors marked Minton. This table is unmistakeably made in the US by Brunswick, and definately has Minton tiles made in the UK. My point is that even if it has tiles from the UK is not enough to prove that it was made in the UK. Certainly there were a lot of European craftsman making furniture, but the Atlantic Ocean is a formidable barrier that would have been costly to overcome, particularly for large/ heavy pieces of furniture. Although today there are a fair number of importers bringing large/ impressive pieces of european furniture to the US market in containers. woodwright

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RareVictorian May 15, 2008 at 7:33 am

Drew, Yes, the “Roux” chair is a glaring example. He must have taken up the Dutch language at some point ;-)

Zeke, Thanks for the pointer on the secondary. I knew there would be a distinction to be found there. Thanks for the tip.

Woodright, yes, the tiles don’t guarantee origin due to the free flow of decorative elements between Europe and U.S. back then (plaques, tiles, etc.). In my view, they seem to have been employed more freely in the UK than they were in America. I don’t think an American furniture maker would ever think to slap some tiles on an otherwise “normal” RR bookcase. On this piece they almost look out of place.

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drew49 May 15, 2008 at 9:24 am

Hi!
I might add that I have often been tempted to think that certain pieces are British in origin when they are American with UK-style design elements. (Example-some late Victorian oak pieces with A/C brass decorations or some Aesthetic-style pieces.)
Thanks!

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