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Armchair

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Armchair

Attributed to: M. and H. Schrenkeisen (active New York, New York, 1859-1903)

Date: 1870-1875
Medium: Rosewood, ash, eastern white pine, gilding, reproduction upholstery
Dimensions:
Overall: 43 1/2 × 32 × 28 1/4in. (110.5 × 81.3 × 71.8cm)
Credit Line: Gift of the Mildred Bisselle Fewlass Estate
Object number: 86.82.2
Label Text
The attribution of this armchair is based on its extraordinary similarity to the "Grand Duchess" suite photographically illustrated in the 1872 catalogue of the New York City manufacturer M. & H. Schrenkeisen. The Schrenkeisen firm was an important contributor to the exceptionally complicated, late nineteenth-century, New York City furniture trade. Scores of firms made everything from specialized furniture parts to entire matching suites.

To maintain a presence in the vastly competitive market, Schrenkeisen specialized in parlor suites, offered an array of decorative options, and sold only wholesale. The suites were available "plain or carved" or with "extra heavy carving," and furniture frames could feature oil or varnish finishes with or without gilded detailing. Clients could specify whether they wanted upholstery and, if so, what they preferred for stuffing, fabric, and tufting pattern.

Schrenkeisen parlor suites generally consisting of a sofa, two armchairs, and four side chairs were sold wholesale and ranged in price from $17.50 for unembellished, unupholstered frames to the elaborate "Grand Duchess" suite covered in silk for $266 wholesale, a considerable sum in the 1870s. It is likely that the retailer doubled these prices to cover his overhead and profit. Therefore, furniture like the MWPAI chair featuring two expensive, labor-intensive options of diamond tufting and gilded detailing was beyond the reach of all but wealthy consumers.

ATD

Upholstery: Clients could specify whether what they preferred for upholstery stuffing, fabric, and tufting pattern. This chair survived with its original upholstery in poor condition on the back. The remnants are preserved and the new show cover is an exact color, weave, and fiber content match to the original-a satin weave in mohair and cotton.


Text Entries
This armchair is part of a relatively large group of related seating furniture with individual examples differing from one another primarily in their carved details.(1) The chair and matching sofa (not shown) have been attributed to the shop of John Jelliff (1813-93) in Newark, New Jersey, but the extraordinary similarity of these pieces to the "Grand Duchess " suite photographically illustrated in the 1872 catalogue of the New York City firm of M. & H. Schrenkeisen suggests that the latter firm probably made them.(2) With its incised and gilded detailing, female head on the crest rail, and pendant drops, the MWPI chair is  virtually identical to the example in the Schrenkeisen catalogue (fig. 35). The only significant difference is the substitution, on the MWPI chair, of scrolled arm supports in place of ones terminating with female heads. This variation is not surprising given the options available to retailers ordering from Schrenkeisen. Parlor suites, for example, were available "plain or carved or with "extra heavy carving," and furniture frames could feature oil or varnish finishes with or without gilded detailing. Clients could specify whether they wanted upholster y and, if so, what they preferred for stuffing and fabric and tufting patterns.

Parlor suites-generally  consisting  of  a  sofa ,  two armchairs, and four side chairs-ranged in price from $17.50 for unembellished, unupholstered frames to the elaborate "Grand Duchess" suite covered in silk for $266 wholesale , a considerable sum in the 1870s.(3) It is likely that the retailer doubled these prices to cover his overhead and profit. Therefore, furniture like the MWPI chair -featuring two expensive, labor-intensive options of diamond tufting and gilded detailing-was beyond the reach of all but wealthy consumers.(4)

M. & H. Schrenkeisen was an important New York City cabinetmaking firm during the last half of the nineteenth century. Henry Schrenkeisen (d .1887) worked as a cabinetmaker from at  l east 1851, but  company catalogues state that the firm was founded in 1859, the year the carver and cabinetmaker's shop of John M . Schrenkeisen, possibly the father of Henry and Martin, opened at 39 Attorney Street.(5) M. & H. Schrenkeisen apparently emerged as a major force in the New York furniture trade in 1863 when Martin Schrenkeisen (d.ca.1900), who moved the workshop to 65 Suffolk Street, is first listed in city directories. Two years later the concern was listed as M. Schrenkeisen & Brother; in 1867 the name changed to M.&H. Schrenkeisen and remained so for thirty years; after that it was called Schrenkeisen Company until 1903.(6)

Martin, whom contemporaries noted stood "high as to character & integrity," seems to have been the driving force behind the success of the business.(7) Under his leadership the company expanded dramatically and increased in value from approximately $125,000 in 1871 to $500,000 in 1885.(8) During this period M. & H. Schrenkeisen also grew in physical size and reputation. The firm moved into larger factory and showroom space twice by 1874, when R. G. Dun & Company termed it "one of the best houses in New York." Schrenkeisen pieces won a medal at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876.(9) In spite of the praise the firm received in its day, M. & H. Schrenkeisen is hardly known today. The fact that the company sold wholesale to retailers probably means that it did not label its furniture, thus making identification difficult.

New York's furniture trade was exceptionally complicated in the nineteenth century with scores of firms making everything from specialized furniture parts to entire matching suites.(10) The Schrenkeisen company appears to have been of the latter type, manufacturing and upholstering a variety of furniture forms in several styles. Trade catalogues illustrate that the company was still producing furniture for the rococo revival taste in the late 1860s, but it soon phased out this mode in favor of what is now broadly called the Renaissance revival style.(11) MWPI's chair is in this style and reveals how little this style drew, in reality, from Renaissance design. In fact, nineteenth-century observers would have considered this piece to be in the French taste because of its affinity with contemporary French design. This French orientation is also reflected in the names of the parlor suites listed in the 1871 Schrenkeisen price list­ "Grand Duchess," "Pompadour," "Marie Antoinette," and "Napoleon." By the late 1870s Schrenkeisen moved away from these heavy, French - inspired styles toward the lighter designs of the aesthetic movement.(12)

 

Essay by Charles L. Venable


1. Other examples in this group include pieces in three public collections-the Dallas Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Newark Museum. For information on them see Charles L. Venable, American Furniture in the Bybee Collection (Austin, Tex.: University of Texas Press, 1989), pp. 158-61; Ulysses G. Dietz, "Edwin Van Antwerp's Jelliff Furniture," Antiques 137, no. 4 (April 1990): 907; and Marshall B. Davidson and Elizabeth Stillinger, The American Wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York Alfred A. Knopf, 1985), p. 91


2. The MWPI chair and related objects are regularly ascribed to Jelliff by collectors, dealers, and auction houses, as well as curators. In "Edwin Van Antwerp's Jelliff furniture," Ulysses Dietz, curator of decorative art at the Newark Museum, illustrates the museum's arm chair (which apparently differs only from the MWPI example in its use of a carved shell boss on the crest rail) and explains that it was part of the Van Antwerp furniture made by Jelliff in 1858 and documented by a bill of sale. While some precursors of the Renaissance revival style were made in the late 1850s, full-blown examples of this style of seating furniture were not made in this country until the late 1860s. The popularity of such pieces reached its peak in the early 1870s, and the style laded from fashion after 1875.  The set at the Metropolitan Museum, for example, was ordered by Jedediah Wilcox of Meriden, Conn., in 1870. The popularity of the style in the 1870s prompted several manufacturers to produce "Grande Duchess" suites. In addition to Schrenkeisen, the New York City firms of Jordan & Moriarty and J. W. Hamburger made suites of similar design.  A period advertisement showing a Jordan & Moriarty suite is in the Landauer Collection at the New York Historical Society. For an illustration of Hamburger's offerings, see his trade catalogue, Parlor Furniture (New York: J. W. Hamburger, ca. 1870), Winterthur  Museum, Garden and Library, Winterthur, Del. These references and additional research on Schrenkeisen were provided from copies in the MWPI research files.


3. M. & H. Schrenkeisen, Trade Price List for M. & H. Schrenkeisen (New York : M. & H. Schrenkeisen, 1873), pp. 2-4, 14 - 15, Printed Book and Periodical Collection, Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library.


4. The original upholstery was a satin-weave fabric with a cotton warp and mohair weft. The original weave structure have been recreated in the chair's reproduction upholstery. The tufting pattern is original.



5. M. & H. Schrenkeisen, Parlor Furniture (New York: M. & H. Schrenkeisen, 1869), preface. Printed Book and Periodical Collection, Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library. John M. Schrenkeisen is listed in New York City directories from 1858-59 until 1860-61.


6. There is a New York City listing for Martin F. Schrenkeisen as "furniture" or "upholsterer" until 1921.



7. New York Vol. 413, p. 21 5 (May 18, 1874), R. C. Dun & Co. Collection, Baker Library, Harvard University Graduate School of Business Administration, Boston, Mass.


8. New York Vol. 412, p. 200 (Dec. 9, 1871) and New York Vol. 4 13, p. 298 (May 27, 1885), R. G. Dun & Co. Collection.



9. For images of these premises see Parlor Furniture (1869), cover; and M. & H. Schrenkeisen, Parlor Furniture (New York: M. & H. Schrenkeisen, after 1874), rear end page. These catalogues are at the Cooper -Hewitt, National Museum of Design, Smithsonian Institution, New York, N.Y. The quotation is from New York Vol. 413, p. 215 Jan. 24, 1874), R. G. Dun & Co. Collection. M. & H. Schrenkeisen, Illustrated Catalogue of M. & H. Schrenkeisen (New York: M. & H. Schrenkeisen, 1879), pictures the medal the firm was awarded for a patent rocker. This catalogue is in the Printed Book and Periodical Collection, Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library.



10. While important efforts have been made in the study of this confusing industry, much work remains to be done. See Katherine S. Howe, Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen, Catherine Hoover Voorsanger et al., Herter Brothers: Furniture and Interiors for a Gilded Age (New York: Harry N. Abrams in association with the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1994), pp. 56-77.



11. Schrenkeisen, Parlor Furniture (1869), pp. 104-9, shows mainly late rococo revival furnishings. M. & H. Schrenkeisen, Trade Price List of M. & H. Schrenkeisen (New York: M. & H. Schrenkeisen, 1871), lists numerous suites in the Renaissance revival style. This catalogue is in the Printed Book and Periodical Collection, Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library. Also in Winterthur's collection are M. & H. Schrenkeisen, Supplement to Illustrated Catalogue (New York: M. & H. Schrenkeisen, 1872), and M. & H. Schrenkeisen, Trade Price List of M. & H. Schrenkeisen (New York: M. & H.  Schrenkeisen, [1873]), which are dominated by furniture in the Renaissance revival style. The same is true of Schrenkeisen, Parlor Furniture (after 1874).


12. Platform rockers with aesthetic-style upholstery are depicted in the company's 1879 catalogue. See Schrenkeisen, Illustrated Catalogue of M. & H. Schrenkeisen (1879), p. 61.