John Jelliff was born in Norwalk, Connecticut July 30, 1813. He was the fourth of eight children in his family. His father was Hezekiah Jelliff, a poor farmer of Huguenot descent and his mother was Nancy Bennett, a Quaker from Huntington, Long Island.
John Jelliff began his cabinetmaking career as an apprentice to Alonzo W. Anderson, a carver in New York City and later to Lemuel M. and Daniel B. Crane in Newark, New Jersey. Jelliff would spend the rest of his career making furniture in Newark.
After his apprenticeships ended in 1836, Jelliff went into business with Thomas L. Vantilburg, which lasted until 1843 when Jelliff opened his own shop on Broad Street.
Jelliff retired in 1860 due to a stomach ailment and his shop was henceforth managed by Henry Miller who had known Jelliff since they were 14. This means that much of the Renaissance Revival furniture that Jelliff is famous for was produced after his retirement. Anything marked by Jelliff that includes "Co." in the name was produced under Miller who ran the shop until 1890 and ceased operations after his death in 1901.
Jelliff's shop's work spanned several Victorian styles: Gothic, Elizabethan, Rococo and Renaissance Revival. Since he retired in 1860, this would mean that Jelliff himself primarily produced pieces prior to the Renaissance period, namely Gothic and Rococo. It is believed that Jelliff may have acted in an advisory role after retirement and possibly also contributed some design guidance as well.
Like John Henry Belter who's name is historically associated with over-the-top Rococo laminated furniture. Sofas and chairs with carved male and female busts are often correctly, and probably more frequently, incorrectly attributed to John Jelliff.
There is some confusion over the relationship between Jelliff, Schrenkeisen, J.W. Hamburger and others who produced or sold sets with strikingly similar form and carvings. This confusion is evident in an article and subsequent rebuttle in The Magazine Antiques.
Jelliff married Mary Marsh of Elizabeth, New Jersey and had six daughters. Jelliff died July 3rd, 1893 at the age of 80.
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