Robert J. Horner

Robert J. Horner was working in New York as a clerk in the lace business of Mills and Gibb when in 1886 he decided to establish R.J. Horner & Co. on East 23rd Street. You will oftentimes see pieces attributed to Horner from around 1880, though the reality is that his shop wasn't producing until several years later.

R.J. Horner used the best mahogany and quartersawn oak hardwood for its furniture, leaving behind heavily carved masterpieces in the form of chairs, sofas, complete parlor sets, hall trees, benches, partner tables, and dining sets. The carvings draw upon an abundance of themes and patterns, such as caryatids, winged gargoyles, northwind faces, cherubs, man-of-the-mountain, and winged griffins. Identifying features include paper labels bearing the company name, finely detailed carved, winged griffins, extensive gadrooning, and according to Christie's, nailed porcelain plaques bearing the name of the manufacturer.

In advertisements, R. J. Horner & Co. claimed to have the "Largest Display of First-class and Medium Quality Furniture in America" across 10 showrooms. Horner provided a booklet, "How to Furnish Our American Homes" available to customers upon request.

Surviving the Panic of 1893

An interesting depression-era excerpt in the New York Times from September 14th, 1894 states that, "There has been no perceptible improvement in our business, because furniture is very much a luxury. But as soon as business in other lines picks up we shall feel it, and we think business will revive very soon. We are very hopeful of a good trade in October. That is always our best month."

Imitation Bamboo

Throughout the 1890s, R.J. Horner advertised imitation bamboo furniture made of Maple stained a yellowish tone. This furniture was inspired by the great success of the Japanese display at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Surviving examples suggest that this less formal furniture was used in private living areas and not the more formal public areas of the home.

Later Life

Horner was a director of Garfield National bank beginning in 1902 and continued to do so for 20 years. In 1915, R.J. Horner merged his business with another inspired furniture producer, George Flint to form Horner and Flint though neither were officers of the company. Horner retired at the time of the merger but his son, Robert Horner Jr. managed the business for at least another year.

Horner was married to Nellie A. Horner and had a son and daughter. Horner died February 27, 1922 and Nellie died in 1902.

R. J. Horner Locations:

  • 61-65 West 23rd Street (1886-) retail store and factory
  • 126 West 25ths Street (1897-) factory
  • 147-149 West 25th Street (1909-) factory
  • 20 West 36th Street (1912-) retail store

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    Other References

    Victorian Cabinetmakers