This Sofa Is Flipping Us The “Bird” (Pattern)
When speaking of John Henry Belter and J & JW Meeks furniture, there are several “patterns” that were typically made by the makers as original designs or commissions for wealthy clients and subsequently produced again and again.
Some Belter pattern examples are “Tuthill King“, “Henry Clay“, “Cornucopia“, “Fountain Elms“, “Rosalie” and “Rosalie w/Grapes“. You may not have heard about the Belter “Milwaukee Pattern” which doesn’t seem to show up too often. Meeks examples are “Hawkins” and “Stanton Hall“.
If we are really lucky in this lifetime (and with the Swiss bank account that we have amassed), you get a chance to buy “THE” first/reference set for a particular pattern, which recently happened with the Belter Henry Clay pattern – $105,000.
Once the reference set was produced, the patterns adopted their name from an identifying feature (e.g. Cornucopia), name of the mansion (e.g. Rosalie), or person (e.g. Tuthill King). Usually, these “patterns” represent the best that those makers had to offer at the time and since they were made for special commissions, tend to be fairly well documented, and thus, we know who made them.
Cut to the sofa in the “Bird Pattern” above, which leaves me scratching my head.
What was true in 1980, when the book Victorian Details was published, is true today: there is disagreement on who actually designed and made that furniture. Neal auction wisely sidestepped naming names in the their sales (here and here). Victorian Details mentions museums that had Bird Pattern furniture decades ago and had originally labeled them as having been made by A. Roux … purportedly because (1) it was Rococo and (2) there were birds on it. Yikes.
They have all since removed the Roux attribution and I haven’t checked now in 2008 to see if there have been subsequent attributions or whether the museums still own the pieces (Smithsonian, Bayou Bend, St. Louis Fine Arts Museum).
Southampton has/had a Bird pattern Roux available for sale and states that:
This pattern has been attributed to John Henry Belter but it was more likely made by Alexander Roux.
In this case, the sofa is laminated. The problem with a Roux attribution and the reason why the museums removed that name from their furniture is that Roux, to my [limited] knowledge, didn’t produce laminated parlor furniture. Someone please correct me if I have this wrong.
Why is the furniture in this pattern still in limbo today? Even “American Furniture of the 19th Century” by Dubrow and Dubrow leaves it unnamed. It is obviously of a significant caliber and comparable to many (and exceeding some) of the patterns mentioned earlier. It seems that someone knows something out there somewhere and we missed it.
It seems to me that someone with time on their hands, a “Bird” pattern chair or sofa, and the Belter book which has detailed scientific analysis of Belter construction techniques (they X-rayed the furniture for crying out loud), could rule out or confirm whether Belter made these pieces.
So, it seems this furniture will be flipping us the “Bird” for the foreseeable future.
On a side note:
Thanks go out to Neal Auction for allowing me to user their photos on my sites. Without photographs, this website would be fairly useless.
By the way, they have their Louisianna Purchase sale coming up September 26th and 27th which I will talk more about as we approach. I’m already drooling over the Allen & Brother cabinet that will be part of the sale.