Thursday, May 15, 2003

Many fine furniture makers crafted tradition for the city

By Marilyn Bauer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Mitchell and Rammelsberg made this gilded wood sofa.
(Cincinnati Art Museum)
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Furniture making has a long tradition in Cincinnati. By 1841, there were 48 furniture factories, eight bedstead factories, 11 chair makers and one desk maker to serve a population of about 47,000.

With the advent of steam power in 1845, the industry was able to cut costs and realize unprecedented growth. In this climate, the Mitchell & Rammelsberg furniture company, founded by Robert Mitchell and Frederick Rammelsberg, became one of the largest in the country.

The company specialized in high-end grades with styles ranging from Renaissance revival to neoclassical. The ebonized and gilded wood sofa with its original upholstery featured in the Cincinnati Wing was part of a larger seven-piece suite. The company's catalogs in 1878 and 1880 put its price at $250.

It is an excellent example of the American Aesthetic Movement, a reaction to the poorly designed, mass-produced goods made possible through industrialization. It was designed with clean, straight lines and is simple but solid. The period jacquard upholstery fabric was inspired by exotic patterns from Eastern textiles.

The settee became the property of the Cincinnati Art Museum after its director of curatorial affairs, Anita Ellis, received a call from a local "gentleman" who said he was going to move and had a suite of furniture he didn't want to take with him. He said ... he wanted to be paid what he had paid for it.

"He told me it was signed 'Mitchell and Rammelsberg,' " says Ellis. "I just held my breath and asked him how much he wanted. I can't tell you how much we paid for it, but I can tell you it was less than $200."


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