Rare Victorian - M. & H. Schrenkeisen Sofa With Carved Bust Arms

M. & H. Schrenkeisen Sofa With Carved Bust Arms

carved bust arms M. & H. Schrenkeisen Sofa With Carved Bust Arms

schrenkeisen sofa M. & H. Schrenkeisen Sofa With Carved Bust Arms

I thought I’d post a catalog reference image for M. & H. Schrenkeisen to help set the record (kinda) straight on this sofa.  I say “kinda” since one can never believe everything one reads, but this is photographic proof that M. &. H Schrenkeisen sold this parlor set, and most likely manufactured it.  Which is more than we can say of any Jelliff attributions.  You may also remember the J. W. Hamburger post that identified another furniture set often attributed to Jelliff.

The bottom half of the image is courtesy of LiveAuctioneers.com and is part of a six-piece parlor set that sold under the “John Jelliff” maker description.  Here’s another one that also had sold under the Jelliff moniker.

The top half of the image is from an 1872 catalog for M. & H. Schrenkeisen for their “Grand Duchess” suit.  Be sure to see the link for the six-piece set since the armchair and sidechair are spitting images for what I see in the Schrenkeisen catalog.  You will often see those chairs alone without one another.  Both the sofa and chair have the carved female bust arms which lead to the pervasive attribution to John Jelliff.

carved bust arms M. & H. Schrenkeisen Sofa With Carved Bust Arms
Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers.com

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  • drew49 - February 25, 2009

    Thanks for posting this catalog image with the photo. I appreciate seeing more pieces from M. & H. Schrenkeisen.
    Best regards,

  • RareVictorian - February 25, 2009

    You’re welcome Drew.

    As an aside, i think it’s nice to see the original upholstery and how the tufting design had been done way back when.

  • Phil - February 26, 2009

    Hey, John.
    I was talking with a friend last weekend who deals in pretty high-end furniture. I asked why there were so few high-end, furniture catalogues availalble to clear up the considerably muddy waters when it comes to accurately assessing manufacturers. His understanding is that tip-top folk like Herter and maybe P&S made custom furniture, so by the very nature of their business they would not have had catalogues. But somewhere not so far down the economic chain, you get to companies like Jeliff whom it would appear was doing a lot of mass production, and it would seem he would, therefore, have made use of catalogues as a sales tool.

    My request is threefold:
    Would you please list maybe the top ten finest Victorian furniture manufacturers (your subjective opinion, of course) in descending order.

    Which of those stamped, stenciled, or labeled their pieces?

    Thirdly, state which ones have existing catalogues that you know about.

    I think all of us who collect Victoriana hunger to gather as many “history” puzzle pieces as we can, and then link them together as coherently as we can, in an effort to assemble an accurate account of history. You do that very well, and I appreciate it.

  • Ulysses Dietz - July 29, 2009

    I gotta weigh in here. I know that Schrenkeisen catalogue from 1872, which is in the Winterthur Museum library (unless there’s another one out there). I’ve known about that catalogue for 28 years and have studied it closely. What I take exception to is the little phrase “and most likely manufactured it.” Anyone who has studied American manufacturing history (silver, furniture, ceramics, jewelry, glass) understands that the appearance of something in a catalogue means one thing and one thing only: the catalogue’s publisher offered it for sale. That single elaborate “Grand Duchess” suite is unique in the entire Schrenkeisen catalogue. Nothing else that company offers ever rises above middle class in quality or design. The Grand Duchess suite is an anomaly. It is the single upscale object offered in an otherwise middle class catalogue. Why?

    Consider also that there is not any wholesale or retail catalogue known in this country for a truly high-end manufacturer. Curators and dealers alike have long been searching for catalogues for Belter, Roux, Herter, Meeks (other than the 1837 Broadside). Upscale makers didn’t advertise in this way, apparently. Catalogues are for mass-market goods, inexpensive goods, especially after the railroads open up the country. (There are no catalogues of Tiffany silver, for example, but lots of catalogues of electroplated silver.) Plus, we know for a fact that firms such as Belter sold wholesale to furniture outlets in other cities (Mary Lincoln purchased Belter furniture, with no idea that Belter made it, at a Philadelphia furniture store for what is now called the Lincoln Bedroom). We also have evidence that the Cincinnati firm of Mitchell & Rammelsberg was wholesaleing furniture to Newark, NJ–and in fact possibly to Jelliff & Co.

    The entire historical problem rests on the fact that the whole Jelliff attribution history, based on the distinctive carved caryatid armrests, began in 1926 with a donation of a sofa and two sidechairs to the Newark Museum. The furniture was from the Warren Trusdell house in Newark, and the woman was a little girl when her father purchased it new in the late 1860s. Grace Trusdell, the donor, referred to this furniture as her father’s Jelliff parlor furniture in correspondence in the 1930s. That’s it. Before 1926 no one had ever heard of Jelliff outside of Newark; and it was J. Stewart Johnson who transformed this family hearsay into history with his Antiques Magazine article nearly forty years ago. I think he was absolutely right.

    Among the hundreds of hand-drawn designs by Jelliff himself in the Newark Museum archive are drawings of a three-backed sofa very like the Trusdell sofa (but no carved armrests are visible in that design). But from other evidence–sofas identical line for line to the Trusdell sofa retailed in 1871 by W. W. Strong in Chicago, for example, also in Newark’s collection–it became clear that Jelliff & Co., with 100 employees in its Newark factory, would have needed to wholesale its fine rosewood furniture to retailers in other cities. W. W. Strong in Chicago apparently sold Jelliff furniture; so why not strike a deal with Mr. Schrenkeisen who was seeking a market and might have wanted a classy parlor set to offer his clients?

    Since the Trusdell pieces arrived in Newark 83 years ago, there have been two other Jelliff chairs that have some sort of real documentation. Just two. One is an armchair that belonged to Jelliff’s daughter Phebe, which has carved armrests in the form of bearded men. The other is a rosewood armchair identical to a suite from Meriden Connecticut at the Metropolitan Museum–all of which have carved volute armrests rather than figural ones. This chair comes with billheads from Jelliff & Co., from the Vanantwerp family of Newark, dated 1858. This chair demonstrates the emerging “Louis” style as interpreted by Jelliff, and it would evolve in the 1860s to incorporate the female and the male neo-grec heads. But many other smaller details on these two documented chairs–incising, turned legs, shaped aprons, carved crest details–connect them with the 1926 Trusdell furniture, supporting that historical attribution. The rich Meriden CT merchant who filled his parlor with the Jelliff furniture now at the Metropolitan did not buy it from Jelliff’s Newark wareroom, but from some unknown NYC furniture emporium who offered it as “modern French” style furniture.

    Both Charles Venable (then at the Dallas Museum) and Anna D’Ambrosio (at the Munson-Proctor in Utica) have chosen to publish what are clearly (to me) Jelliff suites as being by Schrenkeisen. Even though they are friends and smart people, I think they are both wrong because they have erroneously given the one photograph in the Schrenkeisen catalogue undue evidential weight, and have ignored or dismissed all of the other evidence that exists.

    Bottom line: if the 1926 Trusdell sofa at the Newark Museum is NOT Jelliff, then NONE of the neo-grec pieces attributed to Jelliff are by Jelliff. There is a huge body of material out there that is made by the same company, which I feel is Jelliff; and there are many other variations on the neo-grec caryatid-armed parlor suite out there by other makers (Hamburger included). These other makers’ work is very different from the Jelliff-attributed stuff if you look closely and carefully.

    However, accumulated evidence in the Newark Museum archives still offers a strong case in favor of Jelliff; certainly stronger than any evidence in favor of Schrenkeisen that anyone else has ever provided.

  • John Werry - July 29, 2009

    Ulysses, thanks for the detailed comment. Once I’m back at home I’ll need to refer back to the Newark Jelliff Bulletin to refresh my memory of which pieces are the Trusdell’s.

    I wrote about your rebuttal to the D’Ambrosio article here two years ago when my site was relatively new as was my knowledge (back then, I followed the “Jenny Lind” arms convention like a lemming).

    Two years later, I might revise a few thoughts that I wrote back then, but you may find it interesting. There is also a prior post here on the same topic.

    There is mention of another firm with a “Grand Duchess” pattern – Jordan & Moriarty of New York. They may be only similar in name and not in form, but I’d have to see their catalog to know. Have you run across pictures of their Grand Duchess?

  • mayerwagner - July 29, 2009

    I revisited the Winterthur Museum this week. I cannot share any images on the web due to the copyright/permission-to-publish terms established by the Museum, but I can share additional information about M. & H. Schrenkeisen.

    As one of the larger manufacturers in New York, M. & H. Schrenkeisen operated exclusively as a wholesale business with no retail outlet. Likewise, they produced both trade catalogues and price lists; the Winterthur Museum owns several of these documents, including a Supplement to Illustrated Catalogue with fourteen pages of photographs (1872) and corresponding price lists (1871 and 1873). M. & H. Schrenkeisen advertised their “cheap and good” furniture, emphasizing, that “we keep no goods but those of our own manufacture.”

    In 1872, M. & H. Schrenkeisen had a factory at Nos. 328, 330, 332 & 334 Cherry Street and warerooms at No. 17 Elizabeth Street, near Canal Street in lower Manhattan. Because of the large German immigrant population, this neighborhood was known as “Kleindeutchland.” According to the 1871 price list, all of the parlor suites, without exception, were offered exclusively in black walnut or mahogany; mahogany was fifteen percent more expensive. The firm did use solid rosewood, but only for marble top tables. There were no options listed for rosewood parlor suites. Their photographic catalogue began with the typical serpentine sofas and balloon-back chairs that were ubiquitous in middle class parlors across the country; these came as seven-piece sets with a sofa, arm chair, ladies chair, and four small chairs at prices ranging from $19 to $42 for frames and $48 to $114 upholstered in hair cloth or terry. Then came the more expensive, albeit perfunctory, interpretations of French Second Empire styles replete with a modest amount of crest carving, medallions and applied burl elements. These were given names like the Pompadour Parlor Suit, Marie Antoinette Suit, and Napoleon Suit. Some of these were offered in different versions – No. 20 and No. 34 were both Napoleon suites; No. 30 and No. 41 were both Marie Antoinette suites; and No. 31 and No. 35 were both Grand Duchess.

    Of particular interest here is No. 31, the Grand Duchess Suit, one of the most expensive offerings (second only the No. 34 Napoleon Suit). It is also the most heavily carved parlor suite in the 1872 catalogue, including “French walnut panels,” an elaborately framed medallion at the crest and caryatids as arm supports. The walnut panels refer to the decorative applied veneer on the crest and stiles. Significantly, it is the only design described with “face on front legs” in the entire 1871 price list:

    1 Tete Face on Front Legs ($30 for the frame; $58 upholstered in hair cloth or terry).
    2 Arm Chairs Face on Front Legs ($38 for the frames; $70 upholstered in hair cloth or terry).
    4 Stuffed Back Chairs ($42 for the frames; $72 upholstered in hair cloth or terry).

    In 1871, the seven-piece set cost $110 for the frames and $200 when upholstered in a modest fabric. Of note, there is no mention of Jenny Lind or any identification of the face on the front legs. It is simply a face.

    With the panic of 1873 and the ensuing depression, M. & H. Schrenkeisen pared down their more elaborate creations. The 1873 price list does not include any of the Pompadour or Napoleon designs. The No. 31 “Grande Duchesse” continued to be offered at a slight discount of $100 for the seven frames. Still, it was by far their most expensive suite, more than double all their other 1873 parlor sets. The No. 30 and No. 41 Marie Antoinette suites listed in 1871 with prices of $64 and $65 for seven-piece walnut frames were gone in 1873. Instead, No. 52, No. 59, and No. 65 were designated as Marie Antoinette suites in 1873; these walnut frames were $50, $38, and $45, respectively.

    The 1873 price list also listed No. 66 “New Suit, Closed Arms” for $65, and this was clearly a stripped-down and headless interpretation of the No. 31 Grande Duchesse suite and an indication of the kind of arm supports that M. & H. Schrenkeisen supplied instead of heads. These are relatively two-dimensional scroll arms with a suspended carved tassel – nothing like the sculpturally carved arms found on the Wilcox armchair or the Munson-Williams-Proctor armchair.

    Although the picture is still far from complete, I would emphasize that M. &. H. Schrenkeisen did not offer rosewood parlor suites – only walnut or mahogany (as an aside, I also revisited the J. W. Hamburger materials – again the parlor suites are only offered in walnut and mahogany). On this point alone, I concur with Ulysses. I, too, believe that Charles Venable and Anna Tobin D’Ambrosio have incorrectly attributed the much-discussed Munson-Williams-Proctor armchair to M. &. H. Schrenkeisen. I know how exciting it is to find trade catalogue matches – but in this case, the match is not good, and I feel that it should be discounted. It is also interesting to note that the photograph for the No. 31 Grand Duchess suite in the original Schrenkeisen catalogue was annotated with the words “Fr. Walnut Panels.” This text appears to have been edited out in the reproduction published by the MWP Institute. This point is especially important because the MWP chair is, in fact, made of rosewood.

    Finally, I would like to come back to the Schrenkeisen claim that “we keep no goods but those of our own manufacture.” This could be hyperbole, as has been suggested. Or it could be completely true – I work in an Art Department with a Fine Woodworking program and have seen plenty of good carving. So I am sure that those 19th-century German woodcarvers could copy Jelliff’s heads quite well and quite consistently, if that was their intention. There is also another plausible alternative – and that is that Schrenkeisen and Hamburger bought their carved heads from another source. It seems that the No. 31 Grand Duchess suite was either a popular style (similar enough to high-end designs, but more affordable) or a token high-end offering that added some cache to the overall selection.

    ~ Roberta Mayer

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