Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Baron and The Baroness

After years of searching I have finally managed to acquire a copy of the Electro-Voice brochure for their short lived and mostly forgotten 6200/6210 Electronic Organs titled respectively "The Baron" and "The Baroness", designed by Paul McCobb in 1960.


Form No. EV-530131-50M
1960 Electro-Voice brochure showing their Model 6200 "The Baron" electronic organ


Looking back through my research I see that I initially learnt of Paul McCobb's work for Electro-Voice in 2009 from a UPI syndicated article published in the July 6, 1960 issue of the Tyrone, Pennsylvania Daily Herald. The article is an interview of Paul McCobb by Joyce Schuller in which McCobb talks about the new organ he designed for Electro-Voice and the best ways to present it in the home. This was not the earliest mention of the organ in the press but it was the first mention which I managed to find, which pointed me in the direction of further McCobb organ research.


"By JOYCE SCHULLER CHlCAGO (UPI) -There's a place in today's small home for a piano or organ, but it should be a special place, furniture designer Paul McCobb says. McCobb recently designed two compact electric organs (for Electro-Voice, Inc.). Each Is only three feet two inches by one root six inches. small enough for even a city apartment. But the design- er advises against squeezing them Into any space smaller than nine by four feet. He recommends the extra space for gathering around to sing in old fashioned style. Because even this small an organ is basically an important piece of furniture, McCobb suggested giving it a corner of its own or at least half of a large wall. Make an organ or spinet the center or attraction in the room, he advised, or let it share the spotlight with only one other important item, say the fireplace. The sound or a spinet or organ is, of course, even more important than its looks. McCobb therefore cautions against placing it in front or heavy draperies, which, along with carpeting, tend to absorb sound. In most cases. the instrument will sound best when placed against a wall or other firm surface."
The earliest mention of the Electro-Voice Organs in the press is a February 29, 1960 article in Billboard titled "Dealers to Get E-V Organ Franchises" which talks in detail about the upcoming organ, the technology and design behind the organ, the article also mentions Paul McCobb's involvement in the project and available franchise opportunities for the new products.

Dealers to Get E-V Organ Franchises
Images of the organ in the press do not surface until October 10, 1960, as best I can determine, in the Chicago Daily Tribune. 




A full page advertisement from Allied High Fidelity stores with images cribbed directly from the Electro-Voice brochure. 



From the very scant information in the press we never really get a good look at the 6210 organ, "The Baroness", it is seen on the last page of the brochure (above right), but only in a small vignette. The image below is taken from Paul McCobb surviving personal papers.

Electro-Voice Model 6210 electronic organ "The Baroness" - Press Photo



Sadly, less than a year after the Organs' introduction Electro-Voice discontinues production and the remainder of the inventory is sold off as seen in this July 30, 1961 advertisement from Keys to Music in the Valley News.



The Baron and The Baroness

After years of searching I have finally managed to acquire a copy of the Electro-Voice brochure for their short lived and mostly forgotten 6200/6210 Electronic Organs titled respectively "The Baron" and "The Baroness", designed by Paul McCobb in 1960.


Form No. EV-530131-50M
1960 Electro-Voice brochure showing their Model 6200 "The Baron" electronic organ designed by Paul McCobb 


Looking back through my research archive I see that I initially learnt of Paul McCobb's work for Electro-Voice in 2009 from a UPI syndicated article published in the July 6, 1960 issue of the Tyrone, Pennsylvania Daily Herald. 

The article is an interview of Paul McCobb by Joyce Schuller in which McCobb talks about his new design and the best ways to present the new organ in the home. This is not the first mention of the organ in the press however, it is just the first article I managed to find at that time which then pointed me in the direction of further research into the McCobb designed Electro-Voice Organ.


"By JOYCE SCHULLER CHlCAGO (UPI) -There's a place in today's small home for a piano or organ, but it should be a special place, furniture designer Paul McCobb says. McCobb recently designed two compact electric organs (for Electro-Voice, Inc.). Each Is only three feet two inches by one root six inches. small enough for even a city apartment. But the design- er advises against squeezing them Into any space smaller than nine by four feet. He recommends the extra space for gathering around to sing in old fashioned style. Because even this small an organ is basically an important piece of furniture, McCobb suggested giving it a corner of its own or at least half of a large wall. Make an organ or spinet the center or attraction in the room, he advised, or let it share the spotlight with only one other important item, say the fireplace. The sound or a spinet or organ is, of course, even more important than its looks. McCobb therefore cautions against placing it in front or heavy draperies, which, along with carpeting, tend to absorb sound. In most cases. the instrument will sound best when placed against a wall or other firm surface."
The earliest mention of the Electro-Voice Organs in the press is a February 29, 1960 article in Billboard titled "Dealers to Get E-V Organ Franchises" which talks in detail about the upcoming organ, the technology and design behind the organs, Paul McCobb's involvement in the design of the Organ and franchise opportunities for the new products.

Dealers to Get E-V Organ Franchises
Images of the organ in the press do not surface until October 10, 1960, as best I can determine, in the Chicago Daily Tribune. 




A full page advertisement from Allied High Fidelity stores with images cribbed directly from the Electro-Voice brochure. 



From the very scant information in the press we never really get a good look at the 6210 organ, "The Baroness", it is seen on the last page of the brochure (above right), but only in a small vignette. The image below is taken from Paul McCobb surviving personal papers.

Electro-Voice Model 6210 electronic organ "The Baroness" - Press Photo



Sadly, less than a year after the Organs' introduction Electro-Voice discontinues production and the remainder of the inventory is sold off as seen in this July 30, 1961 advertisement from Keys to Music in the Valley News.



Thursday, September 5, 2013

Predictor Linear?


So what do you do when you are presented with something that you fervently believe to be inaccurate but do not have the means to prove as being so? If you’re me you document everything that can be documented, research everything which is researchable, cross the t’s, dot the i’s and wait for more information.
1953 Urban-Aire chair designed by Edmund J Spence


When I saw a listing for the chair pictured above a few years back citing it as “Predictor Linear lounge chairs manufactured in 1958 for the O’Hearn Furniture Company of Gardner, MA.” I did the mid-century researchers version of a spit take. The listing just had to be wrong! For one thing the Predictor Group was produced from 1951-1955 by the O’Hearn Furniture Co. and the totally unrelated Linear Group from 1956-1962 by Calvin Furniture, there’s not even any overlap between the two groups and they look as different as two groups of furniture could possibly be.

The date seemed wrong too… 1958? How could O’Hearn have produced this chair in 1958 when all of the information I had compiled up until this point pointed to Paul Mccobb’s association with the O’Hearn Furniture Co. being entirely over by the latter half of the 50’s. 

I had to admit though that the chair itself did look very much like something that Paul McCobb could have designed and that if I were forced to make a guess based upon nothing other than “look and feel” that my best guess for manufacturer would have been the O’Hearn Furniture Co., but I am not in the business of “look and feel” best guesses, I am in the business of researching and presenting historical fact.


The “Predictor Linear” part was fairly easy to tackle as I had already at this point amassed a substantial body of information on Paul McCobb including a scan of his obituary in the New York Times. What it seems happened is that various folks online had used the information from the Obituary as the basis for their on-line prĂ©cis of Paul McCobb, some encapsulating and summing up the material contained herein and others pretty much copy/pasting it wholesale without editing. What I eventually came to realize was that whichever editors had copied the information had copied it pretty much verbatim from the original source but had missed one very significant detail, a comma, yup that’s pretty much all it took to create “Predictor Linear” in the canon of Paul McCobb’s work. Below is a scan of the complete  article from the March 12th, 1969 edition of the New York Times. The offending sentence is in paragraph 9. This, by the way, is the only place in the sum total of period material written about Paul McCobb where the word Predictor is followed by the word Linear (it’s amazing what you can do when you have your entire research library as scanned and text recognized PDF’s) You can still find the errant “Predictor Linear” references in websites such as Artnet or Lost City Arts and currently even the IDSA has it wrong…

Highlighted text: Furniture groups that he produced were marketed under the titles of Planner, Predictor, Linear, Perimeter and Delineator. 
So having proven to my satisfaction that “Predictor Linear” was in the very least a typographical error I still had not disproven the Paul McCobb attribution so next I set my focus on the Predictor Group and the O’Hearn Furniture Co.

Knowing that the Predictor Group was composed of 19 pieces in total (as referenced in Interior Design Sept. 1951 p. 29, Interiors Oct. 1951 p. 126, and other historical sources) I set about making a visual record of all 19 designs, which I was able to cobble together from my research materials in short order. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) our errant chair did not prove to be one of the 19 designs, which made the existing attribution less likely in my mind but did not prove it one way or the other, it was alway possible that McCobb had added pieces to the group later…

Having completed this part of my research into the Predictor Group I now set about tracking down any surviving members of the O’Hearn family, ultimately getting in touch with Robert O’Hearn, who is still very active in the furniture industry and a font of information. Mr. O’Hearn was of the opinion that it was very unlikely that the O’Hearn Furniture Co. produced any furniture for Paul McCobb in 1958 as he believed the contract had expired around 1955 or possibly even earlier. This corroborated other information in my research and strongly suggested to me that the date in the listing was in error, but, yet again, did not prove one way or another whether the chair was or was not a Paul McCobb design, just that the text of the listing was questionable. <sigh>

After doing all of this I hit a brick wall, there was no more information to gather, whatever new sources of information I uncovered only rehashed the information already in my research archive, it seemed that I was well past the point of diminishing returns and had not yet solved the problem. Without the proverbial smoking gun in the form of authoritative historical information properly identifying the chair as someone else’s design I was up an informational creek without a paddle.

Fortunately there’s lots to focus on in my continuing historical research, so, having exhausted one avenue of research I was readily occupied with other tasks and was rapidly immersed in a myriad of other information gathering and sorting endeavors which put this particular windmill far from my mind for a time.

Then about a month ago I got a call from my frequent collaborator, Gerard O’Brien of Reform Gallery, asking whether I had ever uncovered the true provenance of this chair design as an auction house had contacted him for confirmation of the design attribution. Sure enough, shortly after Gerard’s call the same researcher reached out to me via e-mail asking for help. She had done a very thorough job referencing all of the available web based data and like me was not entirely convinced that the information presented on-line was accurate. I relayed to her my suspicion that the design was not by Paul McCobb and outlined my research to date presenting the available facts.

Around this time I was also looking into a question about Modernage furniture and thus had delved once more into the New York Times historical archives looking for information pertinent to the question at hand. It was when conducting this search that I finally struck pay dirt about this long standing chair conundrum, finding a concrete historical reference to the chair in question in the form of a Modernage advertisement (seen below) from page 80 of the New York Times June 14, 1953 issue which announced a new line of chairs to be carried by Modernage called Urban-Aire. Whoo Hoo!!! I finally had something to go on!!!


From there it was the work of about an hour or so to finally track down who the designer was and again the New York Times provided the answer with the corroborating information appearing in an article from about a week earlier, specifically page 14 of the June 6, 1953 issue of the New York Times where we see the exact same chair from the Modernage ad accompanied by the following historical attribution which clearly describes the chairs in the later Modernage ad: “Top right: Unusually rounded wood-framed armchair was designed by the organization of Edmond J. Spence and is one of a series of four with slight variations available from Modernage, 16 East Thirty·fourth Street next week. It comes in walnut, birch or black lacquer finish and has Air-foam cushions.”

Highlighted text: “Top right: Unusually rounded wood-framed armchair was designed by the organization of Edmond J. Spence and is one of a series of four with slight variations available from Modernage, 16 East Thirty·fourth Street next week. It comes in walnut, birch or black lacquer finish and has Air-foam cushions.”
So there we have it, mystery solved at last, our mystery chair has proven to be a 1953 design by Edmund J Spence and most definitely not by Paul McCobb.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Blair Aluminum Furniture

It's important to realize that time does not stand still. For a designer this means that design ideas change, new approaches are tried, new materials become popular/available, in general - things move on. Paul McCobb was no different from any other designer in this regard, his designs changed over time and his design work in the 60's was really very different from where he started in the late 40's/early 50's.

Some time around 1960 Paul McCobb and Directional broke the ties that had bound them together and each went their separate ways. Paul McCobb, now a free agent for the first time in a decade, was at first unsure how he was going to proceed (according to interviews with friends and relations) but soon enough opportunities presented themselves, amongst these new opportunities was the chance to design a group of office seating for Blair Aluminum Furniture. This new group of office chairs was very synergistic with the continuing design work McCobb was doing with the Mutschler Bros. in the form of their 1961, McCobb designed, "Series 800" group of office furniture.

Now it's not entirely clear whether Mutschler Bros. themselves brokered the deal with Blair or whether Blair contracted with McCobb directly, but, whatever the case might be, the results were the "Series 690" group of 6 office chairs designed by McCobb, manufactured by Blair Aluminum Furniture and marketed by Cranbrook Inc.

The chairs are first shown and mentioned in an article about Mutschler's Series 800 office furniture in the June 1961 issue of Interiors Magazine and then again in the July 1961 issue of Interior Design Magazine. In 1962 Blair and/or Cranbrook took out a few full page ads in Interiors Magazine advertising the group.

Interiors Magazine - April 1962

Considering the scant few historical mentions for this group (there are four total that I have found) we are very lucky to have complete information on it in the form of the original catalogs and brochures courtesy of Melissa McCobb.

Blair Series 690 by Paul McCobb one sheet page 1


Blair Series 690 by Paul McCobb one sheet page 2

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Lee L. Woodard Sons 1952 Allegro Collection


The very McCobb like Lee L Woodard Sons Allegro group of wrought iron and white Ash was introduced at the Fourth Annual Summer Furniture Market at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago on October 22, 1951 and was in stores in early 1952. The group was a success and was sold throughout the 50’s. 

It was not designed by Paul McCobb.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The CBS-Columbia Model # 5110 Radio

Image courtesy of the McCobb family archive


This story starts back in 2009 when I first found out about a radio designed by Paul McCobb from a teensy little mention in House and Garden.
"For those who like to travel with music, there's a perfect portable for $29.95. Designed by Paul McCobb, it's about the size of a pocket novel, weighs only 2 lbs. and has a carrying case with shoulder strap."[1]
Not much to go on... but now that I knew that such a thing existed I had to find out the rest of the story. So I hit the books, which in this case means I did a search in Google Books, that invaluable resource for the historical researcher, to see if there was anything that jived with Paul McCobb and Radio (I think it's important to mention that Google Books has gotten progressively better over time, back in 2009 it was kind of a bear to deal with).


The responses were few, with most of them referring to the better known Paul McCobb designed Bell & Howell Hi-Fi and it's built in radio, but there was one mystery reference  to "USA Tomorrow". Those of you who use Google Books frequently will know that the greater majority of book results have a bit of scanned text attached to them showing your search in context to the books text, which is really quite helpful, but every once in a while down at the very bottom of the list of search results there will be one or a few without any scanned text attached, the USA Tomorrow hit was one of "those" responses. 


Having eliminated all of the stuff which was clearly about the Bell & Howell designs I was then left with an exceptionally short list of potential sources of information about this other McCobb radio. Getting a look at "USA Tomorrow" was pretty high up on my list of things to look into for my McCobb radio research along with getting a look through the run of Industrial Design magazine which was already on my research priority list. After some misadventures with WorldCat I finally manage to track down a copy of "USA Tomorrow" in the NYPL Arts and Architecture collection, which was a really great thing with two big advantages for me:

  1. The library is freely accessible and doesn't require making an appointment in advance to view items in their collection 
  2. Even more important, it's local.

And in case anyone is wondering why they've never heard of USA Tomorrow before, it's because USA Tomorrow was an exceptionally briefly lived periodical lasting only two or three issues. It was in one of these few published issues that I found the best information about the McCobb radio thus far in my research endeavors 
"Personal portable radio and carry case designed by Paul McCobb for CBS-Columbia, WINS good design award, 1955. This is the first radio of this type that has ever been accepted by the Museum of Modern Art for the Good Design exhibit. Paul McCobb has achieved this within the restrictions of cost and engineering. Colors --Cabinets: Stone, Sand, Avocado Green, Cardinal Red. Secondary colors: Lemon Yellow, Charcoal. Leather Carrying Case in Luggage Brown and Black. Cabinet material: Polystyrene. Handle: Spring steel, 4" Speaker. Battery operated. Retail price--$29.95."[2]
The article also included a photo of the radio, the very same photo at the top of this post in fact (but not the same print). 


So now that I knew what the darn thing looked like and that it was included in the Museum of Modern Art's 1955 Good Design show. Thus equipped I put on my curator and collector hat and started scouring the internet in hopes of finding one. Part of the problem in searching for this is that I do not know, at this point, the model number of the radio, so I go about searching out any and all references to CBS-Columbia radio's on the net only to find precious little out there. Not only was I unable to find a McCobb radio sitting Un-noticed in some online radio boutique but I very quickly learned that CBS-Columbia radios are kind of hard to come by, irregardless of the model you're searching for. 


Only slightly daunted by this I created an automated search on Ebay and waited. It took quite a while before I got my first bite from this Ebay search but sure enough after about 6 months I land my first radio (stone) which once it gets delivered gives me the final piece of the puzzle, the model number of the radio. It is a CBS-Columbia Model #5110!




 A few months later a second color (sand) appears and is successfully acquired, it takes almost a year between these first two finds to score the third (cardinal red) with a partially complete 4th radio (case only in avocado green) arriving just recently. 


While I was busy collecting radios I was also occupied in continuing research on this subject which resulted in my acquiring a scan of a 1955 press release from Paul McCobb Design Associates (text reproduced below) for the radio's inclusion in the 1955 Good Design show. It's interesting to note that the USA Tomorrow text blurb is taken directly from the text of this press release.


Ironically about a year ago I got access to the Pratt University Library which includes a complete run of Industrial Design magazine, where the McCobb/CBS-Columbia radio is pictured and written up quite prominently at least twice... had I gotten there first this would not have been a very interesting story at all and certainly might have taken a lot less time.

[1] House and Garden December 1954 page 166

[2] U.S.A. Tomorrow June 1955 page 54