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Could It Be Herter Brothers?

by John Werry on June 13, 2010

I received an email from a Rare Victorian visitor recently of a find in an as-yet-unnamed museum. He provided pictures of a cabinet that the museum staff was not sure of what they had. This RV visitor took some pics and went away thinking it was quite “Herter-ish”. I agree.

It appears to be largely Maple with very high quality inlay. Also, pay attention to the substantial hinges on the lower front doors and the basket-weave carving on the side of the top of the cabinet. I can’t match any element of the cabinet with known Herter after about 15 minutes of comparisons, but maybe other can. It certainly is made by a high-end maker and probably New York.

What do you think?

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Joan Bogart June 13, 2010 at 11:30 am

The cabinet reminds me of the cabinet I sold to the High Museum in Atlanta, That cabinet was part of the original furnishings that became the Rockefeller Dressing Room at the Museum of the City of New York. That cabinet was believed to have been made by Pottier & Stymus. However, the Rockefeller family received a letter from a George Shasty informing them that he had made the cabinet for P&S.

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vintrest June 13, 2010 at 11:54 am

I agree that this does not look like anything made by Herter Bros that I’m aware of. (but I don’t consider myself an authority on Herter, just an admirer of their work) I’m thinking maybe it’s a one-of-a-kind commissioned piece designed by either L.C. Tiffany or (even rarer) a design by his brother Joseph Tiffany? It deffinitely has a “Moorish-Orientalist” flavor that LC Tiffany seemed to like. I don’t have enough examples of Joseph Tiffany’s very limited body of known works to adequately compare this to. … Cheryl?

While Herter pieces from the 1850’s to the early 1880’s are fairly true to some common forms, those later pieces made by the firm are more eclectic and diverse-I suppose this could be one of them. In any event, this is a highly individualistic piece and a real tour de force of Victorian furniture design and craftsmanship.
John S.

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vintrest June 14, 2010 at 1:10 am

Joan,
You did mean George A. Schastey, of course…
Given his design work in the Arabella Worsham-Huntington smoking room (later Rockefeller’s, now museum installed as well) I can certainly see where this almost fantasy-like Moorish-Orientalist flavored piece could have originated from his very creative design ideas. I must confess, before you mentioned his name, I knew very little about Schastey’s firm but there is some more pertinent information here: http://libertypiano.com/cabinet_work_george_schastey.php
So, you think this particular piece may have been sold by Pottier & Stymus but may have also been sub-contracted out to Schastey’s factory-custom shop for design and fabrication? Interesting… Would you be able to suggest an appoximate date for the piece?

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james June 14, 2010 at 1:10 pm

Interesting, i wonder what the secondary wood is.

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VictorianJunkie June 14, 2010 at 6:20 pm

John.
Here’s a little more info on the cabinet. I believe it was Butterfields who did an appraisal in the last 10 or 12 years. They described it as “Aesthetic,” naturally, and attributed it to Pottier & Stymus. I will take another look at it to see if I can determine the inlaid wood and if I can see any secondary wood.

I believe the staff are going to look on the back for any label/stamping.

Do you or your readership know if P&S regularly signed their pieces? How would you compare Herter Brothers and P&S? Were they equal in capability, design, craftsmanship, and price? It appears they shared the same clientele.

Phil

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misslilybart June 14, 2010 at 11:45 pm

Joseph Burr Tiffany was LCT’s distant cousin, not his brother.

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misslilybart June 15, 2010 at 12:12 am

Sorry, hit submit w/o finishing… JBT’s career as an interior decorator was very short, and his only extant interior commission is, of course, Wilderstein, the Suckley family seat on the Hudson River. The copious documentation of that commission indicates that Tiffany supplied none of the furniture, save for one or two built in pieces. The interiors at Wilderstein are rather stodgy and conservative, IMO (save for the “Flemish” library, which one strange little room, again IMO). He doesn’t seem to have have much use for the exotic, and I seem to recall him being pretty disparaging of the Aesthetic Movement (I’d have to dig through my notes to find the exact quote). JBT did design furniture, of a sort, in his capacity as the director of the Art Piano department of Steinway, and he was involved in a company that manufactured “Art Organs” with one of the Audsleys… Again, I’d have to look through my files, but I remember JBT being very “pro-historical revival” in the articles he wrote on piano and organ case design.

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vintrest June 15, 2010 at 11:48 pm

“Joseph Burr Tiffany was LCT’s distant cousin, not his brother.” I’m having a “D’uh” moment-of course that’s right, otherwise we’d have a Tiffany Bros. just like the Herter Bros. Interesting to learn JBT was an art director at Steinway (do you know during what time period he was there?) -the link I previously posted is to a site dedicated to the “Liberty” piano, which was a custom commissioned piece by Steinway in April 1882 with cabinet work by George A, Schastey explicitly made for Cotton thread mogul William Clark. Mr. Clark had this magnificent piano placed in his Newark, NJ mansion on Prospect Avenue. (amazingly, still standing) A careful examination of the piano case photos indicates some strong decorative similarities to the subject of this message thread. Thanks to Joan Bogart for recognizing the G.A. Schastey characteristics of the above piece. I completely concur with the Liberty Piano folks that George A. Schastey deserves to be recognized up there with Herter Bros., Pottier & Stymus, Belter, Kimble & Cabus, Alexander Roux…et al. Surprisingly, after experiencing business difficulties, Schastey subsequently relocated to Springfield. MA where he turned to making relatively plain furniture bearing little resemblance to his exotic creations of earlier years. ( a number of former high end manufacturers seem to have followed that trend for simplification in the 1890’s and certainly after 1900 as tastes for Victorian exotica rapidly waned)
John S.

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misslilybart June 16, 2010 at 3:51 pm

JBT was Manager of the Art Department of Steinway & Sons from about 1899 until he retired in 1913. In 1882, he was still a $20 a week clerk @ Tiffany & Co.

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vintrest June 16, 2010 at 11:50 pm

Thanks for the career chronology about JB Tiffany. Obviously, whoever had the art director’s job at Steinway in 1882 thought George A. Schastey was equal to the quality challenge for the commissioned Liberty Piano. The photo of the Schastey shop-factory shared on the Liberty Piano site shows a good sized business for the time. Both the piano and the piece that is the subject of this thread are heavy on the inlay/marquetry work. I can certainly see some similarities with documented Herter pieces but this cabinet does look like a Schastey piece design-wise, in my humble opinion. Like so many shops with uncompromising quality standards, it seems the realities of business profitability eventually caught up with them. Schastey’s later pieces made in Springfield, MA are much simpler and look similar to the Colonial Revival pieces later associated with Wallace Nutting.
John S.

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Ulysses Dietz June 20, 2010 at 12:49 pm

There’s plenty on this website about Pottier & Stymus and the recent expansion of understanding of just how great their work does for the most glamorous commissions of the Gilded Age. P&S did label things, but very rarely. They seem to have marked them with serial numbers–but that is not constant (i.e. perhaps not on custom pieces) and also not fully understood, although there are pretty plausible theories on their numbering system that seems to be backed up by documents.

Shastey is still the wild card in this deck, but at least for a time he was up there with the big players–Herter and P&S…and don’t forget Herts Brothers who were operating just below that top level, picking up whatever scraps drifted down from the boys at the top of the food chain. It was a very high-stakes game, pleasing the likes of Arabella Huntington, and it looks like Shastey crapped out and settled for something tamer (and safer). It was also a very short game, historically speaking–this amazing furniture was only made from about 1870 to maybe 1890–then the dramatic taste shift into “scientific eclecticism” began to take hold, and the very rich lost all of their sense of wonder over the potential of furniture design. Herter Brothers ends up hanging the cut velvet in Teddy Roosevelt’s red and green rooms, and Marcotte produces the reproduction Louis XVI panelling for the East Room. Academism sucked all the fun out of the gilded age (at least for curators).

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Hugh August 25, 2010 at 2:51 pm

In a 1984 thesis by C. V. Mortimer titled George Walter Vincent Smith: The Man and His Museum {in Springfield MA] the author found no city records of Schastey living in Springfield and considers it likely that the Springfield shop was just a branch.

The subject piece of this thread does look like Schastey’s work to me. It is eclectic though to my eye. The marquetry motifs are so similar to a well documented Schastey piece I and working on in conservation. Better photos would help if you’d like me to match them up. I wonder whether the dark carved wood is purpleheart (amarante), a tropical wood favored by Schastey.

Hugh

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