I received this note from B.J. from “B and D Furniture with Generation Next Antiques” in St. Louis and thought it might be interesting to hear about a cabinetmaker from St. Louis, John H. Crane.
Recently, I had the priveledge of restoring this phenomenal pier mirror c.1875. The interesting thing is that my father purchased it not knowing it was a labeled piece. When I started working on the piece (filthy, pictured), I noticed that it was faintly stamped on back J.H. Crane/Furniture Manufacturing, (something unreadable, Washington Ave 4thSt./ St. Louis, MO. I researched the heck out of this on the world wibe web to no avail. However, thanks to our beautifully maintained, historic downtown library and the MO Historical Society, I was able to uncover some information that is extremely interesting! Yes, that was written biasly as wonderful St. Louis is my home.
J.H. Crane (John) was born February 25, 1832 in Newark, NJ. He came from cabinet maker lineage as his uncles successfully ran a furniture manufacturing business in Mobile, Al where John learned the trade. Also, his father, Lemuel, is credited with starting the first steam manufacturing of furniture in the U.S. John started business in 1855 and persevered through 2 major accidents that forced him to relocate in a time spanning across two decades.
He must have had quick success because the “Sketch Book of St. Louis” by Taylor & Crooks, published just three years after his start, reads, “This house is one of the most extensive in St. Louis, and is doing a large and flourishing business, and bids fair to become the leading house of the West.” Apparently, he was correct because I doubt many other furniture makers of the Mississippi Valley could craft this beautiful piece. Taylor and Crooks proved prophetic as the book “St. Louis: The Future Great City of the World”, by L.U. Reavis, 1876 states, “The history of the furniture business of St. Louis and the history of John H. Crane, may be said to be insepereable…that it will be clearer to blend the two in description, as they have long been blended in fact……To one who has never passed through an establishbment of its kind, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to properly convey the idea of the wealth of ingenuity and design, the elaboration of detail and the endless variety collected.”
The label on this mirror dates it to Crane’s second location (1871-1881). During this time, St. Louis was flowing with Victorian flavor through art, architechture, and furniture as evident by this piece. In my opinion, the piece is crafted just as finely as many of the major makers of the time. It is interesting to note the softer design detail as opposed to the fierce detail of the East (especially the lions, which seem more inviting and welcoming rather than protecting)….maybe due to the more laidback aura and lifestyle of the friendlier Midwest. Either way, like it or not, if you’re a fan of the time period, you’ll probably appreciate it. Enjoy, and let me know what you think. And as always, thanks oh so much for the wealth of knowledge you provide to me and all of your readers!
P.S.-The last picture is of the company’s August 1883 furniture catalog
Side note from John: the “last picture” he references is actually the photo at the top of this post. Click on the 3 thumbnails below to see enlarged images of the pier mirror mentioned.