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Sometimes the Difference Between a Copy and an Original Isn’t Much

by Mike Wilcox (06/11/09).

An original Gustave Stickley recliner. The seats have been recovered; originally they would have been dark brown/black.

An original Gustave Stickley recliner. The seats have been recovered; originally they would have been dark brown/black.

We are often asked about “Mission Style” furniture, people see a piece of Mission furniture by well known makers such as Stickley, Limbert or Roycroft on one of the many Roadshow-type television series and wonder what makes them so valuable and their own nameless pieces worth one-tenth the price. The answer is a combination of these usual responses: These pieces by famous makers; they are all hand made; they are of a limited production; and they are of very good quality.” All of which are not entirely true.

While pieces by the above mentioned giants of the style are of good quality, they were in most cases neither rare nor entirely made by hand. What sells these pieces is the fact that the companies that produced them are well documented, providing a provenance to a maker, and the auction market loves nothing more than an iron-clad provenance to fame. The sad fact is that there are many fine pieces out there in the Mission Style built by local cabinet makers, students and craftsmen working from plans in Gustave Stickley’s “Craftsman” magazine1 that duplicated his factory pieces, but will never be deemed “as good” or as valuable as one with a Stickley brand on it.

Stickley’s “Craftsman” magazine was not the only publication offering Mission Furniture designs. During the heyday of the style (1900-1916), Mission furniture plans were available from a wide range of sources; even text books for industrial arts courses in public and high schools contained measured drawings for case pieces such as desks, book cases and coat racks in this style. Several of the text books in our collection from the period 1901-1912 all show pieces using identical construction methods as the big name makers, such as through tenons, quarter sawn veneers and fumed finishes.

These pieces are every bit as well-made as the best of the Stickley originals, in some cases better, but they are orphans without a name, at least for now.

The good news in all this is that with every rise in value for the originals made by the Stickleys, Roycroft, Greene & Greene, and Limberts of this world, the principle of “a rising tide lifts all boats” comes into play. These pieces by lesser or unknown makers will appreciate as well and start to gain the respect they deserve, which is how it should be. After all, the only difference between a Stickley piece and one made by an industrial arts student in 1912 is often just the name tag.
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1 The “Craftsman” magazine first appeared in 1901 and was published until 1916.

 

Mike Wilcox, of Wilcox & Hall Appraisers, is a Worthologist who specializes in Art Nouveau and the Arts and Craft movement.

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One Response to “Sometimes the Difference Between a Copy and an Original Isn’t Much”

  1. Jeff says:

    I make most of my pieces from books of the original Stickley drawings. I appreciate the simple design that still holds up today.
    I’ve been told some of my pieces are better than what Stickley is putting out now.

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