Consensus: Not Stanford White Design – Aesthetic Parlor Set

by John Werry on April 15, 2009

sette jan 2009 005 300x225 Consensus: Not Stanford White Design   Aesthetic Parlor Set

There was a lot of good discussion on the Parlor Set in the last post that, by family history, had been designed by or is in some way associated with Stanford White.  Cheryl (AKA misslillybart) found a photo that seems to be a dead ringer for this set pattern in the Dickerson House photos, which was designed by  McKim, Mead and Bigelow – who, very curiously (to me), were predecessors to McKim, Mead and White – as in Stanford White. This new incarnation of the firm started in September 1879 when White arrived – after the house was finished.

Samuel White, who has written several books on Stanford White and is Stanford’s great-grandson has seen the photos and believes it doesn’t reflect the work of Stanford.  Nina Gray, a curator of Victorian design (and Tiffany book author) does not believe it to be designed by White.  Paul Tucker has also studied Stanford White’s work extensively and is also in concurrence that it was not designed by White.

Thanks go to Paul for having the associations with the aforementioned experts and relayed their thoughts onto us.  I’m always amazed at the contacts and knowledge of the Rare Victorian community.  I often think that if any one person or group can solve a Victorian antique furniture mystery, the Rare Victorian community can.  I’m grateful for the flow of opinion and fastidious research that comes my way from everyone.

So How Did White’s Name Get Attached?

Dickerson died in 1889 and his son occupied the residence until 1910 after which he left for France.  My question is: were the household furnishings sold off at that time while the building was being converted to stores, offices and apartments?  Could this be the same exact set that furnished the house and then purchased by this family in 1911 when they got married?

I wouldn’t normally jump to the conclusion that it would be the same exact parlor set, but the year of the conversion of the building to shops and stores coincides with the timing of their marriage (close – 1910 vs. 1911).  The parlor set was made around 1882 (thanks, MLB), so this set was floating around for almost 30 years.  It’s not like this set was being mass-produced in 1911.

However, while it is a nice set, I don’t necessarily think it is a one-of-a-kind set.  It could have been produced in a larger volume than one.  The timing of the house’s demise and the wedding is just such a coincidence.  The set was probably purchased in N.Y.  From Ginny:

My guess would be New York.  My grandfather was born in NY in 1884.  He was a member of the Seventh Regiment of the National Guards in Ny and shortly after their marriage in 1911, they moved to Richmond.  My grandmother was from Yonkers so most likely the set was purchased in Ny and according to the letter my grandmother wrote in the 60’s to my Dad, there was 2 settees, 3 arm chairs and a ladies chair and they were done in pale green brocade.  She mentioned the invoice was over $1,000.00 but that she could not find it at that time and I have not found in going through old letters etc.

Other than mentioning that the set was designed by Stanford White that is all the info I have.

If we imagine for a split-second that the set is one and the same as in the Dickerson photos (or even another McKim, Mead, and White/Bigelow house), I could see where a White association may have been attached to the set and lived with it and carried on for 100 years.  This isn’t a recent association to White made by an antique dealer or new owner in 1992.  This was passed on by the one who bought it in 1911, so there must be some, even ever so loose tie-in to White.

If the set had been known to have come from a McKim, Mead and White house, the association with White might have stuck.   White “was a skilled artist, capable of creating elegant details and brilliant arrangements of texture, color and objects based on unconventional juxtapositions”, according to the Buffalo, Architecture and History site. I doubt if anyone buying wedding furniture would do the research to see if it was created during Bigelow’s participation in the firm or White’s.  The firm was one and the same, and at the time of purchase, it was White’s name on the stationary and he was the “skilled artist”, so…. one might assume.

In the end, I believe it was not his design.  However, there is a shot that it came out of a McKim, Mead and Bigelow/White designed building and that is where the association came from.

Herter Brothers Link

stanford white chair skirt1 Consensus: Not Stanford White Design   Aesthetic Parlor Set

Putting the White design association aside, there are those who commented on the previous post that believe that this set could have been manufactured by Herter Brothers.

If you take the foliate design in the skirt, isolate it, and compare it to Herter Brothers patterns, you won’t get a match to those documented in the “Herter book”.  Making that comparison and coming up short does not prove one way or the other.  It just pushes one on to look elsewhere.

I also have not seen the floral patterns on the side of the chair arms on any other Herter work.  Again, this doesn’t prove one way or the other.

One of the bases for the attribution to Herter by one of the commenters, “beerwineandcheese” was the casters:

For me, it was the brass conical caster rings that did it. I haven’t seen those on other makers. They are impossible to find.

I can’t respond to that assertion, but I present it here as one of the concrete thoughts behind such an attribution.  To me, attributions cannot be made on style and level of quality/craftsmanship alone.  There must be concrete hallmarks present in construction or carving, or labels/brands, bills of sale, etc.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

misslilybart April 15, 2009 at 1:27 pm

Some final thoughts and then I will put this topic aside…

Per period sources (see “The Real Estate Record” of October 4, 1879) interiors of the Dickerson house were not designed by McKim, Mead and Biglelow: “The hardwood trimming and artistic decoration were done by R. Laforte, 1000 Sixth av.”

Christopher Gray’s excellent NYT piece (linked to in the previous thread on this suite) clarifies that ‘R. Laforte’ was actually Remigio Loforte. LoForte according to census records, was an upholsterer (decorator) of Italian birth who was active in NYC in the 1870’s and 1880s. I do not have access to a copy of “Artistic Houses” other than the poor quality Dover reprint, but the furniture and interior fittings appear to be en suite. If they were, then it strengthens the likelihood that the suite in question is the Dickerson suite; there were a number of cabinet and millwork shops in the city which specialized in exactly this sort of commission.

I believe the name “Stanford White” was attached to this furniture to enhance its value in 1911; $1000 in 1911 would be the equivilant of around $25000 today!

The firm of McKim, Mead and Bigelow was (and is) virtually forgotten, while the name “McKim, Mead and White” is, even today, “pure architectural gold” if you will… In 1911, five years after his death, Stanford White was still constantly in the news as Harry Thaw was tried (twice) and sent to an insane asylum, the impoverished Evelyn Nesbit tried to access Thaw’s money through the courts, and the story of the horrible public murder and ever-so scandalous private life of the great architect was rehashed again and again – it was the “Crime of the Century” after all! With that on-going soap opera, if the furniture was made for the Dickerson house and was removed from the house c. 1910, the mis-attribution to White makes absolute sense – the name ‘Biglelow’ was on no-one’s lips, and the name ‘White’ was on everyone’s.

Is there anything we can state with certainty beyond these points?:

1. At some point prior to the purchase of this suite in 1911, Stanford White’s name was attached to it.
2. A seemingly identical suite of furniture is known to have been used in the drawing room of the Dickerson house, a building designed by McKim, Mead and Bigelow, prior to White’s return from Europe and his affiliation with McKim and Mead.
3. MM&B were not responsible for the interior decoration of the Dickerson house, per a contemporaneous source.

BTW, I can provide pdfs of the two period articles (Real Estate Record and Harper’s New Monthly) which reference the Dickerson house, if anyone is interested and doesn’t want to spend the time to hunt them down.

Reply

RareVictorian April 15, 2009 at 1:48 pm

Yes, thanks for pointing out that M, M & B didn’t design the interior. Omitting that detail might make it read as if construction of the home = interior design as well.

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james conrad April 15, 2009 at 8:39 pm

“To me, attributions cannot be made on style and level of quality/craftsmanship alone. ”

Yeah, i’ll second that. With “attributed to” having been cheapened by the market to the point of irrelevant, provenance has never been more important than it is today.

Reply

John Hutchinson April 15, 2009 at 10:00 pm

Agh Mr. Werry, and the argument comes full circle to that of attribution. I wonder what Charlie Chan would say. All the best to you ‘Super Sleuths’!’

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misslilybart April 16, 2009 at 1:32 pm

RV posed the question “Were the household furnishings sold off at that time while the building was being converted to stores, offices and apartments?” Quoting Christopher Gray in his 1991 NYT article:

“Dickerson occupied 64 East 34th Street with his son and apparently rented out their old house at 62 East 34th, to which McKim, Mead & Bigelow added a mansard roof. Dickerson died in 1889 and his son occupied the main house until moving to France in the 1910’s. The buildings were converted to stores, offices and apartments and the lower portions of the facade were stripped away.”

The US Census for 1910 shows Dickerson, Jr. and his family still in residence at the 34th Street address on April 16 that year. The contents of the house were sold at auction a year later, on April 27, 1911 (“Rich and Medium Furniture, Art Objects, Rugs, Etc.” http://i536.photobucket.com/albums/ff322/thepeacockroom/dickerson_1911-04-25.jpg) and May 19, 1911 (“The Rugs and Tapestries” http://i536.photobucket.com/albums/ff322/thepeacockroom/dickerson_1911-05-18.jpg)

I am assuming that the furnishings sold in 1911 were those purchased by the senior Dickerson’s at the time of the house’s construction, as Dickerson Jr doesn’t seem to have been the type to redecorate. He is a somewhat colorful character, who the historic record indicates devoted himself to yachts and travel; he married late in life, and then to much younger women (28 and 36 years younger, respectively). Oh, and he didn’t just “move to France”! Oh no! He owned a villa in Monte Carlo! : shakes head in disbelief :

Reply

Ginny April 17, 2009 at 8:59 am

Thank you so much for all of the responders who shed light on the parlor set passed down in our family. The information provided was extremely informative, your comments were welcomed and a special thanks to RV for posting the pictures and to MLB and the others for providing a wealth of information I could never have accessed. Most likely, the set was purchased at auction in 1911 and I feel her thoughts were correct that the auctioneer at the time may have been the one to link the Stanford White name to the set. Such an interesting story from that time and I really enjoyed reading all of the comments and history.

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