Own a Piece of Herter Brothers – Vanderbilt History

by John Werry on August 22, 2008

herter dresser Own a Piece of Herter Brothers   Vanderbilt History

If you are a Herter Brothers collector, here would be a special item to add to that collection.  In 1879, Christian Herter began his “magnus opus, the William H. Vanderbilt residence on Fifth Avenue at Fifty-first Street.  It was the largest, most elaborate commission in his career.”1

This dresser is branded “Herter Bros” and is signed in pencil, “N 411 Vanderbilt Esq.”  below the marble and “Vanderbilt” behind the mirror.  There is a reasonable chance that this was either Mr. or Mrs. Vanderbilt’s own personal dresser.  Since Christian designed each room with it’s own theme in the house and the owners’ bedroom(s) was done in the Anglo-Japanese taste, this dresser would have been an appropriate part of the decor.

To explain the “N 411″ written on the piece, on a whim, I Googled “411 Vanderbilt” and turned up another prominent New York businessman’s home in Brooklyn, Cornelius Hoagland, who became very wealthy making baking powder and his home was built in 1882.  It’s address was 409-411 Vanderbilt Ave.

He had the money and lived in the timeframe in which he could have bought a dresser like this from Herter Brothers, but it is an unnecessary diversion from reality.  “Vanderbilt Esq.” ties the dresser directly to William Vanderbilt Esq.  “N 411″ is likely a number to identify the piece: a model number or order item number.

The dresser will sell on August 26th, starting at $20,000 with expected range of $40,000 to $60,000.  More at the listing.

1 “Herter Brothers Furniture and Interiors for a Gilded Age”, Howe/Frelinghuysen/Voorsanger

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

misslilybart August 22, 2008 at 2:12 pm

The “N411″ notation is probably part of some internal numbering system used by the firm; per its catalog entry in the Herter book, the wardrobe at the Met has drawer bottoms marked “N1″ and N2.”

This dresser was not from Mr. Vanderbilt’s bedroom, as can been seen in these images from ‘Artistic Houses’ and ‘Mr. Vanderbilt’s house and collection’:
http://i536.photobucket.com/albums/ff322/thepeacockroom/AH-MrVbed.jpg
http://i536.photobucket.com/albums/ff322/thepeacockroom/MVHAC-southbed.jpg

AFAIK no image exists of Mrs. Vanderbilt’s bedroom. Her boudoir can be seen in these images:
http://i536.photobucket.com/albums/ff322/thepeacockroom/AH-MrsVboudoir.jpg
http://i536.photobucket.com/albums/ff322/thepeacockroom/MVHAC-MrsVboudoir.jpg

The boudoir fittings and furniture were of either ebony or ebonized wood, inlaid with ivory, again, according to “Herter Brothers: Furniture and Interiors for a Gilded Age” (catalog entry 40)… does this help us to place this dresser, of ebonized cherry with marquetry of light-colored woods, in Mrs. V’s bedroom, or would the decoration of that room and her dressing room have been more closely related to that of her boudoir, placing this suite in one of the several other bedrooms of the house?

Reply

misslilybart August 22, 2008 at 3:34 pm

The dresser being offered at Julia is almost certainly the one which Margot Johnson was offering in 1992, en suite with this bed and a night table:

http://i536.photobucket.com/albums/ff322/thepeacockroom/johnson_1992.jpg

as the marquetry is the same. (My apologies for the very poor quality image. It is a scan of a scan that was printed out…)

Other than than the “Lillian Russell” armoire, Herter reused the basic design for at least one other suite. That one was owned by Joan Bogart, c. 1994:

http://i536.photobucket.com/albums/ff322/thepeacockroom/bogart2_1994.jpg
http://i536.photobucket.com/albums/ff322/thepeacockroom/bogart1_1994.jpg

In a 1975 discussion of the Russell armoire, Marilynn Bordes writes that “the panels inlaid with flowering branches are similar in character to the wall treatment” in this illustration of a Herter designed bedroom from Clarence Cook’s “The House Beautiful,”( http://i536.photobucket.com/albums/ff322/thepeacockroom/housebeautiful.jpg) She also notes that “other marked pieces with this same type of marquetry are known,” with two such pieces being “A dressing bureau” in a NJ private collection and a table in a Long Island Private collection.
(See Marilynn Johnson Bordes, “Christian Herter and the Cult of Japan” Record of the Art Museum, Princeton University, Vol. 34, No. 2, Aspects of the Arts and Crafts Movement in America, 1975)

The suite that included the Pierre Lorillard bed (now in the collection of the High Museum), and dresser (at the The Minneapolis Institute of Arts) also makes use of related ‘flowering branch’ and ‘cascade of floating blossoms’ motifs, while omitting the marquetry nod to the metal corner mounts of authentic oriental furniture.

Reply

RareVictorian August 23, 2008 at 11:05 am

mlb, thanks for all the detailed analysis. Too bad the “en suite” is no longer a “suite”. Now it’s just a one-off.

There is what I believe to be a Herter Brothers dresser sitting in a gift shop in a touristy town that I visit often. Massively tall and wide. Amazing marble. Aesthetic inlays. Unbelievably precise carvings.

It just sits there as a display for other items, with a $4k price tag on it. I’ve often been tempted, but who has a place for a one-off dresser with a unique design, and for which you will never find it’s mates?

Reply

james conrad August 24, 2008 at 12:51 pm

LOL,WOW, misslilybart is all over this Herter dresser or is it the Vanderbilt house decor?

Hmmmm, 4k for a Herter piece is a very good buy. As for never finding the mates to victorian era furniture sets, as time goes along that will become the norm, single pieces. Thats the way it is for early american, you never find the matching lowboy for the highboy and vise versa.

Reply

bobby August 25, 2008 at 3:56 pm

From what I recall reading on the mansion, Mr. Vanderbilt had 4 Main bedrooms in the house. One bedroom on each corner of the building. One may assume this dresser probably belongs to one of the bedroom.

Reply

RareVictorian August 25, 2008 at 9:12 pm

James, I think you’re right and you’re depressing me. Never thought about that, given another 100-200 years (like Early American today), the majority of the Victorian sets will likely be broken up. Though, it might take until after my lifetime.

Bobby, welcome to the site. I hadn’t heard that he had 4 bedrooms. That is when you know you have too much money.

Reply

james conrad August 26, 2008 at 3:42 pm

LOL @ James, I think you’re right and you’re depressing me. Awwww, its not that bad, you just place things that are not a matched set is all. Actually i kinda like that each piece is unique and stands alone.

On another front, the Vanderbilt’s have a house here in north carolina called Biltmore in Asheville NC, reported to be the largest personal residence in america. Fabulous victorian architecture which i believe is still owned/administered by the Vanderbilt family, absolutely worth a visit if in the carolinas.

http://www.biltmore.com/

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: