For The Record: James W. Cooper & Brother

by John Werry on March 12, 2009


In case anyone runs across one of these Hunzinger-looking pedestals, they were actually made by Philadelphia maker James W. Cooper.  You may have already viewed his “Art Furniture” catalog here on this site.  Paul Tucker, who shared the image with us, found the photo in an issue of American Cabinetmaker and Upholsterer.

“The Philadelphia Furniture Industry, 1850 to 1880″, is a dissertation written in 1980 by Page Talbott and it is available for purchase/download here.

According to the dissertation, Cooper set up shop as the sole worker in 1850 after leaving the cigar-making business.  He felt that there would be a strong market for furniture like those previously imported from Germany and Switzerland.  Within 18 months, the demand for his furniture forced him to move to bigger quarters.  There were several subsequent location moves until 1875 when he built a new factory at 17th and Washington Ave.

Talbott quoted the following description of the factory from Charles Robson’s,The Manufactories and Manufacturers of Pennsylvania in the Nineteenth Century Philadelphia: Galaxy, 1875:

The lower floor is the counting-room, and the upper contains the drafting and designing room.   the engine and boiler occupies the ground floor, and above all this the ‘machine carving’ is carried on. The main building is five stories high.  The first floor is the sawing and ripping room, the second floor is the turning shop; the third and fourth floors are used for putting together and finishing the cabinet wares; while in the upper story a large number of the most skillful hand carvers are constantly engaged.  From the third story a bridge extends to the rear building which contains the gilding and ornamental rooms, 26 together with the packing and shipping department.

I also received permission from Page to share the 1877 factory layout for Cooper’s operations from her dissertation.  Notice the first floor engine room, where Page explains there was a 20 HP engine, presumably steam, to power a lathe and carving machine.  Though he had machinery, he also employed skilled carvers, presumably from the local German population, for the finishing touches.   You can click on the image to expand it’s size.


{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

misslilybart March 12, 2009 at 8:21 pm

A “three dimensional” view of the James W. Cooper factory can be gotten from the Hexamer General Survey archive at (There are four surveys of the factory: undated pre-1881, 1881, 1889, and undated post-1889)

The 1875 factory referenced in Ms. Talbott’s dissertation burned on December 17, 1885, according to articles in the NY Times and Washington Post, with losses of $50000 to $60000, and $30000 in insurance; 250 men were left unemployed. The factory was replaced by a new and slightly larger building the following year (per The American Architect and Building News, dated 1/23/1886).


Brad Charles March 13, 2009 at 8:58 am

It always great to get more info. The more we get the more we find out there were a large number of furniture manufacturers in
the late 19th and early 20th century. So many in fact that for the
most part we will only be able to identify a very limited amount of
the furniture produced.
It does still seem likely that for people to fully understand more about what did go on and who was producing someone is going
to need to put together a comprehensive book.


RareVictorian March 13, 2009 at 10:04 am

thanks, mlb. That 3D view is great and can be found here. I guess the engine likely caused the fire or perhaps the boiler.

Brad, yes the 19th century is due for a new, comprehensive book, however I’ve only heard of some very targeted books in the works – Merklen Brothers, Pabst, and Henkels. I’d personally enjoy working on a “comprehensive” book on the higher-end and may get to do that some day.


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