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Desk

On view

Desk

Artist: Edward Whitehead Hutchings (1807-1889; active New York, New York, 1832-1884 or 1885)

Date: 1845-1865
Medium: Rosewood, tulipwood, satinwood, black walnut, yellow-poplar, pine, glass, metal
Dimensions:
Overall: 52 1/8 x 36 3/4 x 17 5/8in. (132.4 x 93.3 x 44.8cm)
Signed: Stenciled label inside drawer: "FROM / E. W. HUTCHINGS / CABINET WAREROOMS / 475 / BROADWAY. N.Y."
Credit Line: Museum Purchase
Object number: 60.203
Text Entries

Edward Whitehead Hutchings (1807-89) was the proprietor of a prosperous business that offered up—to-date fashions and rivaled the most prominent New York City furniture manufacturers in the mid-nineteenth century. Hutchings, son of Samuel and Lois Whitehead Hutchings, was first listed in a New York City directory in 1832 as an upholsterer at 67 Sullivan Street; by 1835 he was listed as a cabinetmaker at 31 Thompson Street. In 1845 the Hutchings shop was located at 475 Broadway, where it remained until 1868. The firm name changed several times from E. W. and W. Hutchings to E. W. Hutchings & Company and to E. W. Hutchings & Son.(1)

By 1850 Hutchings employed seventy-five men and four women; in 1855 his workforce included 125 men and three women.(2) The business occupied at least two structures—475 Broadway and an adjoining building at 42 Mercer Street—and possibly a third at 46 Wooster Street.(3) The flourishing firm exhibited a sideboard, armchair, téte-a-téte sofa, étagere, and chair at the Crystal Palace exhibition in NewYork in 1853. An illustration of the sideboard reveals a fashionable buffet with richly carved decorations of classical figures, dead game, sea life, and other appropriate motifs.(4)

Hutchings’ business endeavors included attempts to expand the distribution of his wares outside New York City.(5) His brother William, who had worked with the firm in New York, briefly operated a retail store in Chicago from about 1856 until 1858; Edward apparently supplied wares for this store.(6) His entrepreneurial ventures may have also included short-lived branches in New Orleans, Louisiana, about 1850, and in Mobile, Alabama, in the late 1850s.(7) If his enterprises outside New York were not prosperous, his wealthy New York clients, the longevity of his New York warerooms, and his solid credit ratings indicate a highly successful business. He expanded his trade to provide a full spectrum of interior decorating services by the 1870s. An 1872 advertisement promoted a wide variety of offerings including “Architectural Hard Wood Work, Wood Mantels . . . Frames and Wainscoting.”(8) Although he enjoyed considerable commercial success, Hutchings’ work was overshadowed by that of his protégés Gustave Herter and Auguste Pottier.“(9)Hutchings’ business continued in operation until 1884 or early 1885, at which time the firm was dissolved and its holdings were sold at auction.(10) Hutchings’ sons Edward Jr. and Charles, however, continued in the furniture business into the 1890s.

The firm’s quality of workmanship and stylistic preferences are set forth in the MWPI desk. It consists of two parts—a base with two drawers and a slant-top desk with an étagere top—that are joined together by four concealed pegs. The base is supported on delicate cabriole legs. Applied carved cabochons and foliage accent the front legs, but the composition is not fully articulated on the rear face of the back legs. The lower edges of the drawers and sides of the case follow a curved silhouette that is enhanced by an applied molding.

Inside the slant-top desk are two compartments, four small drawers, and two sliding trays. The drawers and trays are faced with herringbone-patterned veneer. The partitioned interior, constructed as a separate unit, slides into the desk case. Hutchings’ label is located inside an interior drawer (fig. 30).

Above the desk is a shelf with a mirrored back. The uppermost shelf, above the mirror, is supported by carved, pierced brackets and is enclosed on three sides by a gallery (also carved and pierced) of flowing C-scrolls. There is little detail in the execution of this carving other than simple concaving for depth. Two urn-shaped finials, which coordinate with two on the lower shelf, cap the gallery corners.

Hutchings often drew inspiration from French design sources and advertised that he carried “the Latest and most Fashionable Style of FRENCH FURNITURE.” The MWPI desk presents the same restrained rococo vocabulary and elegant lines found on forms illustrated in French periodicals published by Michel Jansen, V. Quetin, and Désiré Guilmard. Plate 62 in Guilmard’s Le Carnet de l’Ebeniste Parisien: Collection de Meubles Simples (ca. 1845) has especially tangible similarities.(11)

Hutchings also relied on English sources for artistic stimulation. The MWPI hall chair is analogous to examples in mid-nineteenth-century English design books, such as Designs for Furniture and Cornices (n.d), but they may have been ultimately derived from Renaissance models.(12) The form of this chair is simple and utilitarian in outline. The shaped back is cut from a solid piece of wood and pierced in four areas. Applied moldings, forming interlocking scrolls and rounded tracery, surround a shield-shaped garnish and add dimension to what otherwise would be an austere chair back. The bottom of the chair is uncomplicated. The hinged trapezoidal seat is supported by tapering, square, Renaissance-inspired legs with incised out-lines. Flat, applied ornament on and below the seat rail alleviates the plainness of the surfaces. The contrast in aesthetic merit between the desk and the hall chair illustrates the range of goods available from the Hutchings showrooms.

Essay by Anna Tobin D'Ambrosio

1. In the New York City directory of 1838-39 the firm is listed as “Hutchings, E. W. 8c Co.” In the 1842-43 directory it changes to “Hutchings, E. \/V. & W. 8c Co.” The second W. is dropped from the listing in the following year. By 1851 the firm name is “E. W. Hutchings Sc Co.” although the “& Co.” was not always used. In 1866 the firm name became W. Hutchings & Son." Edward Jr. (1840 or 1841-95) joined the firm as early as 1860 (when his business address is the same as his father's) but was not officially made a partner until 1866. See New York Vol. 190, p. 400 (July 12, 1866), R. G. Dun 8c Co. Collection, Baker Library, Harvard University Graduate School of Business Administration, Boston, Mass. I have relied on the chronology of Hutchings’ business that Medill Higgins Harvey compiled for the Department of American Decorative Arts of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1994. Catherine Hoover Voorsanger, associate curator, kindly provided access to this material.

 Invoice from E. W. Hutchings to James W. Williams, November 1851, MWPI Archives. Williams purchased a dining room étagere for $93. This object is not in the MWPI collection. The invoice is signed by R. C. Hutchings, possibly Edwards son Robert (b. 1836 or 1837). Robert is listed as a lawyer in the 1860 U.S. Census.

2. Bureau of the Census, Seventh Census of the U.S., Products of Industry, 1850, City of New York, New York, 8th Ward and N.Y. State Census, 1855, City of New York, 1st District, 8th Ward.

3. While Hutchings’ business prospered, he, like many of his colleagues, did not eagerly adopt stearn- powered machinery. The 1870 federal census notes that his shop used hand-powered tools.

4. Renewers of Hutchings’ display criticized the side-board: “We find more to commend in the conception of the design than in its execution. The treatment of the figures in particular is undecided and incorrect, and betrays a want of practical skill in the art of wood sculpture." See B. Silliman Jr. and C. R. Goodrich, The World of Science, Art and Industry Illustrated: From Examples in the New-York Exhibition, 1853-54 (New York: G. P. Putnam, 1854), p. 189.

5. Hutchings also had business dealings with James W. Vanpelt, a New York City wood merchant. Conceivably Vanpelt supplied wood to Hutchings’ cabinet shops. The exact nature of the business association is unclear, but in 1882 cabinetmaker Peter Brunner stated, “Hutchings was in the lumber business in the beginning.” See an 1882 article from Furniture Gazette quoted in Eileen Dubrow and Richard Dubrow, American Furniture of the 19th Century, 1840-1880 (Atglen, Pa.: Schiffer Publishing, 1983), p. 24. This statement is corroborated by the fact that from 1847 to 1851 Vanpelt and Hutchings list identical business addresses, and the R. G. Dun & Co. credit-rating report records the dissolution of a business association between Hutchings and Vanpelt in 1851:  W. Van Pelt leaving the bus.” New York Vol. 190, p. 398 (Aug. 28, 1851), R. G. Dun & Co. Collection. The 1851 Doggett Street Directory includes the listing “Vanpelt” under “E. W'. Hutchings 8c Co."

6. Illinois Vol. 28, p. 14 (Dec. 1, 1856) and New York Vol. 190, p. 398 (Mar. 15 and Dec. 23, 1856), R. G. Dun & Co. Collection. From 1838 through 1857 New York City directories give the same business address for William and for Edward Hutchings. William Hutchings’ Chicago business is listed in 1857 at 151 Randolph Street. The 1856 Chicago R. G. Dun 84: Co. report notes that the goods sold by William Hutchings were “too fine“ for the Chicago market. To date, the only extant furniture sold by the Chicago shop of William Hutchings is at Villa Louis of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Prairie du Chien. It is documented by two bills of sale for goods William Hutchings sold to Col. Hercules Dousman in 1856 and 1857. After closing his furniture business, \/Villiam entered the liquor business. Curiously, however, in 1860 Edward Hutchings is listed in the classified section of the Chicago directory under the heading “furniture dealers.“

7. The August 1851 R. G. Dun & Co. report that notes Vanpelt’s departure from the firm also states, “They had. . . a store in N. O. where ‘V. P.’ managed.” The Dun report of Dec. 1, 1856, on William Hutchings states that Edward's New York business “met some severe losses . . . in Mobile where he established a branch“; New York Vol. 190, p. 398 and Vol. 28, p. 14, R. G. Dun & Co. Collection.

8. Charles Prescott, ed., The Hotel Guests’ Guide to the City of New York (New York: George W. Averell, 1872), p. 92.

9. Affiuent investor and stockbroker LeGrand Lockwood (1820-72) engaged Hutchings to furnish at least two bedrooms in his home, Elm Park, in Norwalk, Conn. (built ca. 1867-69). Herter Brothers executed most of the interior decoration and furnishings for Elm Park. Hutchings may have received this commission because Gustave Herter “formed business connections” with Hutchings in the late 1840s. See The National Encyclopedia of American Biography 6 (New York: James T. White, 1896), p. 297, s.v. “Herter, Gustave." There were many interconnections among prominent New York City furniture-making firms. Cabinetmaker and interior decorator Auguste Pottier (1823-96), early in his career, was also affiliated with Hutchings. Pottier, who entered into partnership with William Stymus in 1859, worked as a journeyman sculptor for Hutchings from 1850 to 1853. Sec Katherine S. Howe, Alice Cooney Frelinghuyseu, 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), p. 62.

10. New York Vol. 190, p. 400a/23 (May 6, 1885), R. G. Dun & Co. Collection.

11. Plate 25 in Cabinet Makers Album of Furniture, an Americanization of a French publication, illustrates a “Lady’s Escritoire Louis X. V.” with attributes similar to those of the Hutchings desk. See Cabinet Maker’s Album of Furniture Comprising a Collection of Designs for the Newest and Most Elegant Styles of Furniture (Philadelphia: Henry Carey Baird, 1868). Printed Book and Periodical Collection, Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library, Winterthur, Del.

12. No author. Printed Book and Periodical Collection, Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library.