Thursday, March 5, 2015

Horner Furniture: Victorian Masterpieces in an Era of Mechanization

By Gretchen Sawatzki

1887 "catalog" of Horner furniture. Image source
Victorian era furniture speaks to all types of styles and ornamentation, but none compare the mastery of Robert J. Horner. Arguably the best carver and furniture craftsman of his era, Robert J. Horner set up shop at 61-65 W. 23rd Street in Manhattan in 1886. Making furniture of the finest quality, Horner chose not to market to the wealthiest customer, but to those of moderate means. Horner referred to his furniture as, "first class and medium quality furniture." To call his work "medium quality" was an understatement. Having won the "Best Carving Award" at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair, his work became known for its exquisite carvings.

In 1887, the company produced a 14-page pamphlet entitled, "Our American Homes and How to Furnish Them," that offered decorating tips and featured a handful of Horner works. But as the company put it in their pamphlet: "Considering how great is the variety of taste and fashion in furniture at the present day, and that the styles are frequently changing, we do not deem it practical to issue a catalogue of our stock in its entirety, or anything approaching thereto..." This is the only known catalog ever produced in the 40 or so years of the company's existence.

Horner furniture is best-known for expertly carved dining sets, cabinets, and sideboards with most decoration taking the shape of winged griffins, caryatids, lions, cherubs, sphynxes, egg and dart patterns,  and paw feet. Some furniture features porcelain plaques adhered to the furniture with small nails. The furniture is made of solid and dense woods, heavily decorated and massive in scale with dining sets that can seat twelve comfortably, tables with up to six leaves, and cabinetry of sturdy construction. Horner furniture remains some of the finest examples of high-quality carved furnishings in an era of mass-production and mechanization.

Late 19th century dining set attributed to the Horner Brothers.


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