Rare Victorian - Herter Brothers Secretary Lands At Newark Museum

Herter Brothers Secretary Lands At Newark Museum

Mark Hopkins Herter Brothers Secretary Herter Brothers Secretary Lands At Newark Museum

The above Aesthetic Movement secretary made by Herter Brothers is in the process of being acquired by the Newark Museum. That news is fresh off the presses as the decision was just sealed yesterday after a formal presentation to the museum’s board. Senior Curator Ulysses Dietz explained to me that it has displaced a Leon Marcotte cabinet that the museum has owned since the 1930s which will be back on display in the near future in another wing.

Herter Brothers not only constructed cabinets, such as this secretary, but also excelled in carpets, draperies, wall and ceiling decorations and other forms of interior furnishings. Their exquisite style is still imitated by modern manufacturers around the world today, and can be found in a number of diverse locations, from manor houses in New York to birmingham hotels in the UK. Still, nothing quite compares to seeing a genuine Herter Brothers piece. The secretary is currently in the American Art wing as part of the “Picturing America” exhibition.

The Hopkins secretary has a storied past. It was originally part of Mark Hopkins’ Nob Hill residence which was constructed between 1875 and1880.  The home was architected by Wright and Sanders with interiors designed by Herter Brothers. Unfortunately, Mark died in 1878 while the home was still under construction and never saw it’s completion. His wife continued on with the completion of the home and later married Edward F. Searles, Herter Brothers’s West Coast representative.

You might remember a similar cabinet that I wrote about this past September that was also at the Bonhams sale but did not sell.  This cabinet was featured in the Warner Brothers move, My Fair Lady in 1964.

This cabinet headed to Newark was acquired by Margot Johnson for $91,500 at the Bonhams sale in January 2009 and has been conserved since.

However …. developing news.  I’m hearing today that there is some possibility that this secretary and other pieces for Mark Hopkins’ home were actually made by Pottier & Stymus as a subcontractor to Herter Brothers.  I’ll pass on any further information that I receive or those in the know can pass it on via comments below.

I hope to make a stop by the Newark Museum in the near future and see it in person as I have yet to visit and have always had it on the list.  This secretary has tipped the scales to make the drive.

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  • Ulysses Dietz - March 5, 2010

    Just an addendum: the piece we just purchased is actually a secretary, and is both inscribed with that word, and also inscribed “New York 1878” in pencil. The New York Times reported on July 22, 1878 that the widow Hopkins was “in the East negotiating for the purchase of furniture.” The Nob Hill mansion was complete by 1878, but it was still unfurnished. Surely the rosewood furniture from the house’s huge rosewood paneled Music Room (three pieces of this furniture were in the Bonham’s sale of the Warner Brother props in January 2009) had been designed in concert with Herter’s design for the room itself. When the Hopkins furniture was sold in 1942 at Butterfield’s in San Francisco, there were two other rosewood pieces that were probably from the same room. They have yet to surface.

  • woodwright - March 6, 2010

    The Ballantine House (Former home of Ballantine beer magnate John Ballantine) which adjoins the Newark Museum alone is worth the trip. High style Victorian mansion, very nicely furnished and decorated. The Newark museum also has some nice Victorian furniture – by some well known makers. It’s worth the trip to see. I’ll have to get back again to see the new Herter secretary. woodwright

  • R. Joseph Wiessinger - March 7, 2010

    IN regard to the Pottier and Stymus connection, I have recently acquired 4 parlour side chairs with the P&S attribution. They do look like other P&S furniture but on cleaning the casters, I noticed they were marked. Diamond Steel Truck Co. is stamped on the wooden wheels and the brass frame is stamped with a B and a lying down diamond below. Anyone know of this maker of casters and did P&S use them on furniture? I’d be happy to know.

    • mark pope - June 7, 2010

      I own a man’s dresser and a tester bed made by Pottier & Stymus for James Flood.s Linden Towers, and a brass inlaid armchair that may be from there. I have not noticed the words photographed on them or any of the other P&S pieces I have owned, but I will look closer. The bedroom pieces are exquisite and do have Flood stenciled on them and 5 digit serial numbers. Anyone aware of bedroom photos from that house. I have the one for the bed but not for the dresser as it was from another bedroom. It is amazing too. Very classical and top of the line. Also I have the best Alexander Roux parlor cabinet by far of the rare few that I have seen and I recently found a 4 digit serial number stamped embossed on the back. Anyone know of any Roux records, or of other roux pieces having number embossed into them?

  • renaissanceman - March 8, 2010

    The Secretary acquired by the Newark Museum was indeed made by Pottier & Stymus and not Herter. I have been in conversations with Ulysses Dietz last week and both he and I now agree on its mis-attribution to Herter. There appear to be at least three and likely more items that were made for the Hopkins Mansion by Pottier & Stymus ensuite with Herter furniture in 1878. It is not clear whether Mrs. Hopkins independently went to P & S and contracted directly with them or whether Herter contacted P & S to fill an order. Mrs. Hopkins was indepedent and strong-willed and at least I believe she selected various cabinetmakers based upon timeliness of the work (she wanted to furnish the house ASAP) and quality of work. I doubt whether cost was a big deal since she had many millions to spend. Perhaps Ulysses could comment on how the attribution came to be. The last point is that by the late 1870s Pottier & Stymus were producing extremely complex and unique furniture vs. the prior years when many of their pieces followed more traditional designs, eg. Renaissance Revival, Egyptianesque, French, Italian, etc. Much of the later work was in the neo-Old English/Aesthetic Schools of architecture.


  • Ulysses Dietz - March 11, 2010

    When I started down the road with this beautiful secretary, I had never dreamed of it being Pottier & Stymus. But, P&S did in fact do two commissions in the San Francisco area at the same time Herter was doing Thurlow Lodge in Menlo Park for the Lathams and the Mark Hopkins commission on Nob Hill. Pottier & Stymus did the decorating and provided the furniture for James C. Flood’s eye-popping mansion in Menlo Park called Linden Towers, completed in 1878. Some of that furniture survives (which was more neo-grec overall) and has brass and wood inlays. Pottier & Stymus’ other major comission was the massive Italianate palazzo built in 1875 adn 1876–right next door to the lot where the Mark Hopkins house would rise between 1875 and 1880. So Mary Hopkins clearly new plenty about P&S and how good they were. In fact, from a social perspective, Herter was no higher up the ladder than P&S.

    There is a body of furniture–including the three Mark Hopkins rosewood and marquetry Music Room pieces–that share idential metal-and-wood inlays. One of these pieces, made for a family named Hartshorn in the 1880s, in a private California collection, bears the stenciled names and model numbers associated with Pottier & Stymus. It is further stamped with the word “PHOTOGRAPHED” which is something known to have been done by Pottier & Stymus–as documented by Kristen Herron in her work on the Pottier & Stymus furniture at Thomas Edison’s house, Glenmont, in West Orange, New Jersey. Apparently P&S kept a large, lushly bound album of their furniture to show prospective clients in their elegant showroom in New York. None of the three rosewood Mark Hopkins pieces seems to have the rubber stamp or inscription relative to photography on them–but then, this might have been a special commission (commissioned, possibly, by Herter) and thus seen as outside of P&S’s normal practice.

  • max - March 17, 2010

    I believe all three pieces discussed from M.H. house have five digit numbers which helps with the P&S attribution. We own the center table and it definitely has the five digit number. We also just purchased a wonderful aesthetic cabinet with the same metallic inlay as the desk which also has a five digit number and no Herter elements.
    The time frame may also not have put Searles in the picture yet.

  • Ulysses Dietz - March 30, 2010

    I spent a while Monday morning studying the furniture at Glenmont, Thomas Edison’s mansion in West Orange, NJ. The interiors and much of the furniture was done for Glenmont’s original owner, Henry Pedder from 1881-1884. Edison bought the house in 1885 after Pedder fled an embezzlement charge. All this was well documented in the May, 1999 article in the Magazine Antiques by Kristen Herron. Of the twenty-three surviving pieces from the original Pottier & Stymus order, there are a dozen that have brass and wood marquetry panels with ebonized grounds–all of them similar in technique and style to those on the Newark Museum’s secretary from the Mark Hopkins house. These include a large parlor organ case, music stands, parlor furniture and the master bedroom suite. But the eureka moment came when I spotted a little gilt reception chair, sort of Louis Puree, in the parlor, documented to the Pottier & Stymus furniture of 1882. The back crest has a panel of brass and wood marquetry on a black ground that is identical to a marquetry panel on the center drawer front of the etagere cabinet in the Mark Hopkins house that matched the Newark secretary. Furthermore, as documented in Herron’s article, several of the pieces of furniture have five-digit model numbers that would make chronological sense in relation to the Hopkins pieces, and some of them are also stamped “PHOTOGRAPHED” which relates to the Pottier & Stymus custom of keeping images of their products in albums for potential clients. The firm added an onyx turtle-back top to a splendid rosewood rococo center table from the 1850s by Charles Baudoine (odd story, it came with the house and was put there by the builder). That onyx top has a five digit number carved into its underside that coordinates with the numbers on other furniture made for that room. The Edison furniture is high end, but not highest end. It has a refinement of style and design that made it appropriate for a rich man’s house. It is not on the same level as the Hopkins pieces, which are far richer and more complex, but use similar design strategies. Herron’s article was crucial to this discovery, although her use of the term “Modern Gothic” for the Edison furniture is misleading, because it is more eclectic than that, and would really be classed (in my mind) as “Aesthetic Reform” furniture. There is all sorts of Renaissance and even colonial motifs that crop up in it, all of which deserves further study. But I’ve solved my puzzle, for now.

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