Book Review: Victorian Detail by Priscilla S. Meyer

by John Werry on May 18, 2008

I had previously mentioned that I’d be giving you a little more of a review on my latest book purchase, Victorian Detail, by Priscilla S. Meyer, so here goes.

victorian detail meyer Book Review: Victorian Detail by Priscilla S. Meyer

Lise Bohm tipped me off to this book, as she occasionally does, and this time I hit some research paydirt immediately upon receiving it. I had been trying to identify a particular chair that repeatedly shows up at auctions and was finally able to point to Charles Klein as the maker due to this book.

The full official name of the book is Victorian Detail: A Working Dictionary. The latter part of the title is the important part. For those of us who didn’t major in Decorative Arts in college or haven’t worked at an auction house for 25 years, it’s good to find a Victorian-specific “Dictionary” that educates the reader on the decorative elements of furniture – specifically Victorian furniture. Yes, there are other furniture anatomy books but they are so broad in scope that they aren’t helpful. Although I’m interested in it, I don’t currently desire to learn about the finishing touches of a Chippendale highboy.

I’m going to detail the Table of Contents because I believe that it gives you a complete picture of the value of the book:

Temple Furniture

  • Joseph Meeks’ 1833 Furniture Line
  • Identifying Neo-Grec Pieces (1865-1873)
  • Empire Reproduction in the 1890s

Palace Furniture

  • John Belter’s Amazing Chairs
  • Meeks, Baudouine and Other Belter Competitors
  • Rococo-Revival Detail Close Up
  • Unpierced Belter
  • The “French Antique” Style (1850)
  • Gilding, Straight Lines and Louis XVI (1865-1875)
  • Real Louis XIV, XV and XVI (A Chart)
  • Palace Reproductions form the 1890s
  • Pre-Civil War Plantation Furniture

Castle Furniture

  • Gothic Furniture (1830-1865)
  • Elizabethan Style (1840s-1865)
  • Mitchell & Rammelsberg, An Early Factory
  • Everything One Company Made in 1863
  • A Dictionary of Construction Detail
  • “Modern Renaissance” Style (1850)
  • Renaissance-Revival (1865-1875)
  • Grand Rapids Goes Baroque (1875-1880)
  • Gothic, Elizabethan, and Renaissance (1890′s)
  • Eastlake Gothic Reform
  • Turkish Cozies and the Orient (1880′s-1900)
  • Stickley’s Reform: Mission
  • Colonial Reproductions

Dictionary of Design Details (pp. 134-146)

Right next to the table of contents is a list of all the cabinetmakers included in the book, which includes many of the familiar and unfamilar: J.S.L. Babbs, Charles Baudouine, Beebe & Lee, John Henry Belter, Berkey & Gay, Thomas Brooks, Alexander Jackson Davis, Gould & Co., John Hall, J.L & G.A. Hazard, George Henkels, Herter Brothers, George Hunzinger, John Jelliff, S.J. John, Kimbel & Cabus, Charles Klein, Charles-Honore Lannuier, Ignatius Lutz, Prudent Mallard, Leon Marcotte, Joseph Meeks, Mitchell & Rammelsberg, Nelson & Matter Co., Daniel Pabst, Duncan Phyfe, George Platt, Pottier & Stymus, Alexander Roux, Francois Seignouret, Edwin A. Smallwood, A.J. Stewart, Gustav Stickley, Louis Comfort Tiffany, James W. Woodwell.

The book is completely in black-and-white and is profusely illustrated. After wearing out the Schiffer Dubrow books for so long, it’s nice to find another book with a fresh set of images that aren’t reproduced in other publications. There are many period in-situ pictures of furniture as well as a handful of manufacturer catalog excerpts.

If you don’t know what a volute, acanthus leaf, or anthemion looks like on Victorian furniture, then the diagrams in this book would help you. The Dictionary of design details at the end of the book has many photographs of decorative elements and, as an example, there is a breakout of the difference in the appearance of acanthus carvings between Renaissance, Rococo and Grecian designs.

The book goes into historic detail on some of the elements that it documents. Did you know that lion heads were a favorite design of Napoleon, were frequently used in English Regency, reappear in the Neo-Grec style, and were frequently used by Mitchell & Rammelsberg? Lion heads were common in late 1890s Renaissance and less common in earlier Renaissance (1850-1880).

Unfortunately the book’s not cheap. I don’t believe it is in production anymore so the pricing is based on availability. Victorian Details is available on Amazon. Lise may still have a very nice copy left and another source for this book is via AbeBooks.

Highly recommended if you can secure a copy for yourself.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Joe Wiessinger May 19, 2008 at 7:21 am

The book “Victorian Detail” by P.S. Meyer has been out for quite a while. I think I have had mine for at least 12-15 years or more. You are right , it is an invaluable resource guide and mine is dog earred and well worn. I wonder if the author is the same former antiques dealer in Lafayette, LA Prscilla St. Germaine? Anyone know.?

Reply

drew49 May 19, 2008 at 7:14 pm

Hi!
I found four copies for sale on abebooks.com, ranging in price from $40-75.
Thanks!

Reply

woodwright May 30, 2008 at 12:13 am

I just received a copy of Victorian Detail I found on ebay ($40.00). Many pics. of period room settings, lot’s of great high style, high end Victorian furniture, original advertising, also much information there. Excellent book! I strongly second RareV.’s recomendation for this book. It should be in every serious collector/ lover of rare Victorian furniture’s library. I own many dozens if not hundreds of furniture books, I can hardly pass a bookstore w/o stopping, yet I’m surprised I’ve never seen or been aware of this title before Rare Victorian’s mention/ review. Thanks for the info RareV. woodwright

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RareVictorian May 30, 2008 at 12:48 am

Glad you liked it. I keep opening it up and learning something new.

My latest book acquisition is “American Furniture” 1994 (Beckerdite). It has probably the most information (and pictures) on Leon Marcotte that I’ve run across.

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RareVictorian September 29, 2008 at 10:20 am

I heard from Nevin at Flomaton and he has recently spoken to Priscilla St. Germaine and she is not the same person as the author of this book.

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