Gustav Stickley Furniture of 1901: “Chips from the Workshops of the United Crafts”
In 1901 Gustav Stickley made the transition from his experimental offerings of 1900 to a full-fledged Arts & Crafts line of furniture. What started a year earlier as an assortment of chairs, stands, and small cabinets with varied influences, expanded to a complete line of household furnishings unified by the simple straight lines, arches, and exposed construction that came to exemplify the furniture of Gustav Stickley. Beautifully proportioned and elegant, the 1901 line of Stickley furniture exhibited some features that would be discarded within a year, and others that would carry forward as long as Stickley was in production.
Figures 1 and 2 show a Gustav Stickley Morris Chair and a simple dining chair. Both of these pieces have square legs that feature a reverse taper, being broader at the base than at the top. A few lamp and library tables from 1901 also featured this taper, but by 1902, even though the basic forms may have remained, the reverse tapers were gone. Stickley’s furniture was expensive in its day, and Stickley was looking to build a middle class clientele to support his business. As he grew from a small manufacturer to one with greater production, he probably felt the expense of cutting chair and table legs this way was not economical; also, in his move to further simplify the designs in his 1902 catalog, he probably felt this feature was not worth saving. Extremely rare, chairs and tables with this feature can bring from $5,000 to $150,000 in good original condition.
Figure 3 shows a leather top library table Stickley introduced in 1901 with two new prominent features Stickley would make use of for the rest of his career. First, is the leather top on the writing surface, surrounded by a band of leather on the edge and held on with decorative tacks. The leather and tacks add a decorative element as well as contrasting colors to the simple oak structure. Second, Stickley added heavy cast and hammered hardware in the form of faceted drawer pulls with a shield shaped back-plate. Early pulls like these were made from iron, later pulls would be formed from copper.
The trapezoidal china cabinet shown in figure 4 was custom made by Stickley for Vancroft, the Vandergrift home in Wellsburg, WV. This piece showcases a number of features used by Gustav Stickley starting in 1901. First, the doors are made with miter-mullions, a time consuming process Stickley would abandon in 1904. Second, the lower cabinet doors are made up of chamfered boards with heavy splines and butterfly joints. The butterfly joints in the doors would disappear by 1904, being replaced with hammered strap hinges. The iron escutcheons used on cabinet and bookcase doors in 1901 would give way in 1902 to escutcheons that had a loop pull so that doors could be easily opened.
Side tables, stands, and lamp tables underwent a complete transformation at Stickley’s hands in 1901. While beautiful to look at, the delicate tables of 1900 could at best hold a book, a few drinks, or a plant. In 1901, Stickley gave us lamp tables that could hold a heavy bronze Tiffany lamp, and were well proportioned to stand with the heavy chairs and settles that he was now producing. The lamp table in figure 5 is particularly pleasing, with posts extending through the top surface, and exposed tenons through the tops and bottoms of each leg.
While Stickley showed two designs for light weight drop-arm settles in his 1900 catalog, the even arm crib settle shown in figure 6, with massive legs, canted sides, and arms even on three sides, introduced another new, massive and overbuilt piece of furniture that helped redefine Stickley’s look.