The desk is made in the form of one of the earliest forms of closed desks, the 17th century Spanish “vargueno.” The desk was made by the only surviving Stickley company, the L. & J.G. Stickley Company of Fayetteville and Syracuse, now simply called “Stickley.”
In the older and antique furniture business, there are names that recur time and time again. Some are the names of styles, like Rococo Revival or Federal. Others are the names of cabinetmakers, such as Duncan Phfye, Alexander Roux, J. H. Belter or John Seymour. And then there are company names that are very familiar, like Mitchell & Rammelsberg, Herter Brothers and Berkey & Gay. But do we really know as much about some of the companies as we think we do?
A classic example is that of the company name Mersman. Everybody knows that Mersman made all those occasional tables during the Depression era. After all, have you ever seen anything else by Mersman? And they have been out of business for many years. Right? Not exactly.
Otto Mersman opened his furniture making business in 1876 in Ottoville, Ohio, under the name Mersman Tables. But he also made beds and bed parts, as well as other types of furniture. After Otto gave the company to his two sons, it went through several formats and name changes, including Lenartz and Mersman Brothers. In 1906, the company became known as Mersman Brothers and Brandts Company, and later that year was incorporated under the slightly altered name of Mersman Brothers Brandts Company. The company name changed once again in 1927 to the famous name of Mersman Brothers Corporation, located in Celina, Ohio.
That is the name under which it turned out nearly 30 million tables and was a major player in the Depression era occasional table marketplace. But it made other things, too, like bedroom suites, dining room tables and radio cabinets. During the Second World War, it made tables and benches for the Navy and plywood for Lend/Lease. The company was acquired by Congoleum in 1963 and by an investor group known as the Somers Corporation in 1977 and operated under the name Mersman Tables, even using a triangular mark similar to the original Mersman Brothers mark. Mersman Tables ventured far afield from tables, producing bookcase/secretaries and a wide variety of other case goods. It ceased production in 1995. Bookcase/secretaries in 1995 is a long way from the Depression tables we normally see with a Mersman label.
Sticky Stickley Moniker
Another stranger in our midst is L. & J. G. Stickley. Leopold Stickley and his younger brother John George acquired a shop in Fayetteville, N.Y. and incorporated it as L. & J.G. Stickley in 1904. In 1917, Leopold introduced his famous Cherry Valley line of Colonial Revival reproductions and the company was off and running. John George died in 1921 but Leopold made it to 1957. The family had run the business almost into the ground by 1974, when Alfred and Aminy Audi bought it and revived it. For the first time in the 20th century, there were no Stickley brother in ownership of any furniture shop in America. Alfred Aminy died in October 2007 and his family continues to run the business without a Stickley.
These 1970s/1980s era tables with Lucite tops don’t look what we usually expect a Merman table to look like, but they carry the label of Mersman. They were probably made under the trade name by Somers Corp.
A ‘New’ Hitchcock
Hitchcock is certainly one of the most famous names in American furniture history. Lambert Hitchcock was a true innovator in chair design and in developing methods of factory furniture construction. He built an empire from a tiny shop that first made parts for chair repair. Unfortunately, he was not as good a business man as he was a chair innovator and he left the furniture business around 1850. Just after World War II, a shoe store owner in West Hartford, Conn., went fishing in the Connecticut river country and happened across the remains of Hitchcock’s old factory. After learning the Hitchcock’s story and lot of research and fund raising, John Tarrant Kenney revived the Hitchcock Chair Co. and began making furniture based on Hitchcock’s original designs and even using some of the original brass stencils of the decorative paint schemes. In 1950, he received patent rights to the Hitchcock name and he began signing the new furniture in a fashion distinctly similar to Hitchcock’s original label but with telltale distinguishing traits so there would never be confusion between original Hitchcocks and new reproductions. Many consumers, of course, were confused but a little research would quickly resolve the issue of the backward “N’s” in the label.
While this table is decorated like an early 1800s Hitchcock chair, it is actually a 20th-century telephone table made by the modern Hitchcock Chair Co.
Kenney expanded the Hitchcock line far beyond chairs and built a strong furniture manufacturing company on Lambert’s 100-year-old groundwork. The company was acquired by a British poultry processor in 1989. The new Hitchcock eventually stumbled due to cheap foreign imports and the company property, machinery and inventory was auctioned off in 2006. Negotiations are under way for rights to the name. We may yet see another Hitchcock chair rise form the phoenix’s funeral pyre.
This is a Heywood-Wakefield M794G step end table with drawer, originally produced from 1953 to 1955 as part of its Modern series. The new Heywood-Wakefield located in Miami offers the exact table with the same model number. Which one is “authentic” Heywood-Wakefield? They both are.
A final entry in the category of furniture company revival, at least in name, is Heywood-Wakefield, the name of the company formed in 1921 with the merger of Heywood Brothers & Wakefield with Lloyd Manufacturing. This is the company that brought cost-effective wicker production to the American market and took the lead in modern furniture design in the 1940s and 1950s with its esoteric looks and golden birch finish. It remained in business in Gardner, Mass., until filing for bankruptcy in the early 1980s. In 1985, a completely new company was formed in Miami and in 1991, it acquired the right to the trademark name Heywood-Wakefield and even the original black logo. The new company uses many of the old designs and even uses the old numbering system for its new furniture. Information on the new company can be found on the company website.
Fred Taylor is a antique furniture Worthologist who specializes in American furniture from the Late Classicism period (1830-1850).
Send your comments, questions and pictures to me at PO Box 215, Crystal River, FL 34423 or email@example.com.
Visit Fred’s website at www.furnituredetective.com. His book “How To Be A Furniture Detective” is now available for $18.95 plus $3 shipping. Send check or money order for $21.95 to Fred Taylor, PO Box 215, Crystal River, FL 34423.
Fred and Gail Taylor’s DVD, “Identification of Older & Antique Furniture,” ($17 + $3 S&H) and a bound compilation of the first 60 columns of “Common Sense Antiques,” by Fred Taylor ($25 + $3 S&H) are also available at the same address. For more information call 800-387-6377, fax 352-563-2916, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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