Quote and Credit

Quote and Credit

Widdicomb and Adams Furniture Grain Decoration in Grand Rapids Folk Art and Fine Art

CLICK TO ENLARGE Collection Jim Linderman
Salesman Sample circa 1880 Collection Jim Linderman
Furniture graining has been done for centuries, it is a technique which adds fine (appearing) wood grain to lesser woods.  An embellishment and enhancement.  Until the late 19th century, this was done by hand.  Either by the hand of a trained furniture-maker in a detailed, "fool the eye" manner but as often by amateurs who frequently used a nearly inept, but often most exuberant manner.

Both are enjoyed, but for me the crazy swirls and outlandish whorls of the amateur are far most interesting than those of a trained professional.  It is that old fine vs folk argument.  Do you like pretty or primitive?  Fancy or free-hand?  Some were done with hand-held combs, some appears to have been done with whatever was at hand, or even the hand itself!
The super-primitive style shown below on a piece of furniture I own is a good example of my preference, but others certainly enjoy a more accurate representation.
Until I found this bronze salesman sample for a wood and furniture graining machine, I never even thought about it being done as part of a manufacturing process.  It was new...and as you will see below,  the company represented on this little advertising plaque was responsible for patenting a portion of the technique.

Grand Rapids has been known as Furniture City, so it makes sense the machine emerged and was produced there.  Widdicomb Furniture began as a cabinet making company in 1858.  George Widdicomb, and after the Civil War, his numerous sons and relatives,  grew the company into increasing larger facilities with a growing payroll. 

The company was not limited by style or look, eventually becoming a most well respected manufacturer of "Chamber" style, American Empire, Colonial Revival, Chippendale, and in the 1930s Art Deco.  Later products were influenced by modern Scandinavian, Japanese and Shaker design. 

Several companies over the years manufactured under the Widdicomb name, and the family had a few subsidiaries and branches operating as well.  In 2002, Whiddicomb was absorbed into Stickley, Inc. and John Whiddicomb continues to be manufactured in Manlius, New York.

There was interest in improving the graining technique among the several Grand Rapids furniture companies.  The fine photograph below is from the Rare Victorian websitehttp://rarevictorian.com/2008/12/graining-machines-simulate-hardwood-grains.html which mentions other companies, and refers readers to the book Grand Rapids Furniture by Christian Carron.
Robert A. Adams of Grand Rapids invented and received the patent for his graining machine in 1880.  He indicates "by this method all the fine lines and fibers of the natural wood can be transferred to cheap wood, dispensing with the tedious and expensive process of veneering" which must have been of interest to the Widdicomb family. Two of the Widdicomb brothers went into business with Mr. Adams, possibly as investors?  At any rate, John and Harry are listed as officers in the short-lived company on the sample here.

The company records and archives, which are stored at the Grand Rapids Public Library contains stock receipts dated 1881 for the Adams Graining Company, and one for Widdicomb has turned up HERE shown below.
 
The Adams company (or rather division or subsidiary?) was located at 62 West Bridge Street.  Adams Graining and Decorating was absolved in 1900, so it would appear the machine founded to utilize the technique was either absorbed into Widdicomb, or abandoned.

Note the brass "card" above was "Grained and Decorated By Our Process" and you can see it ranges from fancy to primitive.  The sheet is two-sided and gives a good example of the techniques available.  It measures 4" x 6"  or so, about the size of a cabinet card photograph, which is what I assumed it was until I picked it up. The Brass or Tin is no thicker than a tintype photograph.

Adams Graining & Decorating Company Metal Salesman Sample circa 1880 Collection Jim Linderman

1 comment:

  1. It’s stunning! I have seen this for the first time in my life. This is super-primitive style furniture example. Owing it definitely highlights your preference for royal furniture.

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