Gustav Stickley Furniture of 1902: “Retail Plates”
By 1902, Gustav Stickley had established himself as a leading figure in the American Arts & Crafts movement, publishing “The Craftsman” magazine and manufacturing an extensive line of Arts & Crafts furniture. As a perfectionist and self-driven businessman, the next challenge Stickley took on was making his designs more unified and easier to manufacture. In 1901, Stickley showed four styles of bookcases that were quite different in design; by 1902 he had simplified to a single bookcase style. In 1901, the hardware on each piece of furniture was designed for that particular piece; by 1902, Stickley’s hardware was designed separately from his furniture. Across the complete range of the furniture he made, compatibility and simplification of design and manufacture was evident. As with the 1901 forms, the furniture was massive in size, constructed of heavier boards than structurally necessary, and often featured exposed mortise and tenon joinery. Finishes also tended to be very dark.
While Stickley’s furniture from 1902 was more suited for mass production than his pieces from 1901, it was not well suited for the typical Victorian home of the day. Dark and heavy, it was ideal as camp furniture for the Adirondacks and Maine. By 1902, Stickley had increased production substantially over his 1900 and 1901 levels; but compared to the furniture produced in 1904 and later, this is still rare furniture. These pieces demand a large premium over later designs, especially when found in excellent original condition.
Figures 1, 2 and 3 show some ways in which Gustav Stickley unified his designs in 1902. These pieces use standardized hammered copper and/or iron hardware as an integral part of their design. Chamfered vertical boards are generously used. Extensive exposed joinery is used to emphasize how the pieces are built.
Figure 4 shows a #2342 Morris chair. Like many of the forms of 1902, it would later be redesigned to be less massive (see the 1904 Stickley catalog in which the model was changed to #332).
Figure 5 shows the transformation of Gustav Stickley’s 1902 bookcase design from several complex forms to a single, simple box-like form with standardized decorative elements: miter mullion joinery on the divided pane doors, hammered hardware, short exposed tenons, and a chamfered board back. In 1904, the mitered mullions and chamfered back would be dropped, further simplifying Stickley’s bookcase design.
Note, in all these pieces, how unified and consistent is the look and feel of each form, no matter how functionally different. Stickley’s complete redesign of his furniture line between 1901 and 1902 would probably not have been possible in such a short time without using the same design elements throughout the line.