J.W. Davis, Cabinetmaker Extraordinnaire

by John Werry on December 19, 2010

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JohnM posted some photographs in the forum of a 12′ tall Renaissance Revival bedroom suite that must be seen to be believed.  It lives out it’s existence in the Brennan House (built 1868), originally the home of a wealthy tobacco trader in Louisville, KY.  It was sold to Thomas Brennan in 1884 who raised his nine children in the house.  Brennan family members resided in the home as late as 1969.

What is amazing about the home is that the original family antiques, decor and belongings remain in the house.  The house is frozen in time in the late 1800s, furnished entirely with items owned by the Brennans.

It is unclear when the bedroom suite arrived in the home, but a document found in a drawer states that it won the first prize at the 1876 Philadelphia Exposition.  It is said to have been made by J.W. Davis of Louisville and I assume that this name accompanied the Exposition information on the found document.  I’d love to see a scan of the document itself.

Barring the presence of the found documentation, I’m sure many who would have the occasion to assign a maker’s name to this set would have been tempted to put a New York/Thomas Brooks attribution to it.  The surviving document shows us how little we know of these makers.

It is unclear to me if J.W. Davis was a reseller as well as a manufacturer or if he exclusively sold his own wares.  I found little documentation on this maker to learn more about the nature of his business other than the construction of a factory in the late 1870s.  It is entirely possible that this set was bought wholesale from another maker and resold.  We’ll likely never know.

Stop by and see the rest of the photos of the set in the forum and thanks to John for sharing them.

Can you imagine what that bed must weigh?

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Randy Tart December 19, 2010 at 3:00 pm

Wow. That is one awesome bedroom suite! For some reason, I’m finding it hard to believe that some heretofore unknown maker, J W Davis, could have possibly made such a bedroom set as this. I’m not nearly the “expert” that many of the visitors to this site are … but, I’ve seen and read enough to believe that the anyone capable of this kind of work would be WELL KNOWN to even run-of-the-mill, casual appreciators of fine Victorian furniture. OPULENT certainly comes to mind as I appear at these photos. Thanks for sharing, John. I’d love to see the hall-tree some day.

Yeah … I’d say Thomas Brooks!

Randy

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james conrad December 20, 2010 at 5:41 am

Yeah, I saw the pic’s on the forum, very impressive. It’s entirely possible that JW Davis was a local maker of high end furniture and if so, opens up a whole new area of research.

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Funbud December 20, 2010 at 3:26 pm

The “won a medal at the Philadelpia Centennial” story needs to be taken with a grain of salt. I will say that the sheer scale of this suite (enormous) does put in tantalyzingly close to the rare “exhibition piece” category of large, ornate pieces of furniture produced as showstoppers to be displayed at large exhibitions like the Philadlephia Centennial. Relatively few of them survive, mostly due to their size. The High Museum in Atlanta has (had?) a large upright piano in their collection which was documented as being displayed at (I think) the Philadelphia Centennial. But documentation is not always easy to come by.

Teddy Roosevelt’s home, Sagamore Hill, has a large bedroom suite made by the Philadelphia cabinetmaker Danial Pabst in association with architect Frank Furness. It had a family history of “having been exhibited at the Centennial” (the story has a ring of probabiilty as Pabst worked in Philadelphia). But, in truth, the suite came from Roosevelt’s parents’ home in Manhattan, which was a joint commision by Furness & Pabst. The Centennial story in that case appears to be apocryphal.

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Becca Lee February 8, 2011 at 5:33 pm

Okay, I know that I’m a bit late to the party; however I think can add to the discussion. Not by much, perhaps, but it’s something to go on.

I”m a native Louisvillian, and I knew that the name sounded familiar, probably from my poking through the archives at the U of L and Louisville Free Public Libraries as a kid. I was right; I found a reference to the J. W. Davis Furniture Manufacturing Company in a Google Books search. “The Encyclopedia of Louisville” gives a starting date of 1875-1880 (they lumped Davis’ firm in with another one), so the timeline is correct. Unfortunately, most of the relevant information hasn’t been digitized, but from what I’ve been able to find, Mr. Davis was a skilled cabinetmaker.

Sadly, I haven’t seen the bedstead myself; the Brennan House wasn’t open to the public before I moved away. It’s on the list of must-see locations for when I go back, though (along with the Old Louisville house that my parents renovated).

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Tom Hedges July 10, 2012 at 12:14 pm

Just got a bet from my parents and on the back was a label for J.W. DAxxx Furniture Maker at the corner of Preston and Lampton

It is not as ornate as the one in this blog but does have the same beautiful burled walnut

I then found in:
http://www.archive.org/stream/industriesofloui00elst/industriesofloui00elst_djvu.txt

THE J. W. DAVIS FURNITURE MANUFACTURING C03IPANY.
J. W. Davis, President; Adam Beuther,
Superintendent: F. H. Pope. Secretary and Treasurer—
Corner Preston, Lampton and College Streets.

The above house succeeded, in 1875, the pi-ominent and successful lirm of J. AV. Davis & Co., the last named having been established in 1868. The company is composed of excellent men of high standing, viz: J. W. Davis, president; Adam Beuther, superintendent; F. H. Pope, secretary and treasurer; and L. E. Dnvall, salesman, with a splendid list of stockholders and directors. The paid-up capital stock is $120,000, and the factory proper comprises two substantial four-story brick buildings, covering an area of 180x293i feet, with three lumber-yards, warehouses, etc., located in a very convenient and accessible portion of the city, on the Freston-street car line. The aggregate annual output varies from $150,000 to $200,000, and is on the increase the superior quality of goods produced attracting the attention and orders of the trade wherever introduced. A specialty is made of fine and medium grades of chamber suits, for which there is a steady and constantly-growing demand, principally from the East and North -west, though the company’s trade is general. From 120 to 175 skilled workmen and a complete plant of new and improved machinery of great value are emploj’ed, and the furniture turned out is of the latest patterns, which they change once a year, so as to have something new every season.

President Davis is an old and experienced business man, having engaged in a variety of vocations in the course of his more than usually eventful life. He is quite popular with all who know him. Secretary Pope, a former school trustee, has been connected with the furniture trade since boyhood, and is perfect master of its details. Superintendent Ueuther is a practical furniture-maker, master of his department, and a most valuable auxiliary to the house. As to Mr. L. E. Dnvall — why, everybody knows him.

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