Friday, August 13, 2010

1956 Linear Group 497 Coffee Table and 496 Room Divider manufactured by the Imperial Furniture Co. of Grand Rapids, MI


If you are as familiar with Paul McCobb's work as I am you will know that these pieces are infrequently tagged with the familiar Calvin Furniture tags as are all of the other designs from the Linear Group. Most every example I have ever seen is unlabeled. This lack of a label bothered me from time to time, I just didn't understand why this particular piece would occasionally show up unlabeled.

Back in June I found the answer while going through the paperwork for a show that Paul McCobb did. I didn't realize at the time that I had found the answer, it was just another tidbit of information to go into the research archive for later consumption.

In 1958 Paul McCobb put together a show for the American Federation of Artists titled "Kaleidoscope - Changing aspects of American Design 1875 - 1960". The show was a traveling pictorial display detailing the evolution of American furniture towards Contemporary and was shown around the US and in Canada from 1959 to 1960.

In the paperwork for the show there is a entry on page 6 of the catalog list, the text, boxed in red, is quoted below the image:

"PAUL McCOBB - room divider linear group. Imperial
Furniture Co., Grand Rapids, Mich."
(Scan courtesy of American Federation of Arts.)

Referencing the very same untagged room divider I have sitting in my Living Room.

Never having heard of the Imperial Furniture Co. before and certainly never having heard of it in any relationship to Paul McCobb I did what any untrained, undisciplined, and disorganized researcher would do. I promptly forgot all about it.

More recently, while researching in the woodworking trade publications of the 1950's I came across an interesting article about the Bergsma Bros. (Julius and Kenneth), owners of the Calvin Furniture Co., who manufactured so much of Paul McCobb's 1950's output that the name Calvin Furniture has become almost synonymous with Paul McCobb. In the article it was mentioned that the Bergsma's had purchased Imperial Furniture Co. in 1955.

Now I wish I could say I had a sudden epiphany reading this, but the truth is I didn't. I scanned and filed the article and thought nothing more of it. (There are a LOT of articles in my research archive, several thousand in fact.) It wasn't until days later that I started thinking about the other Imperial Furniture Co. reference that I had collected. Finally the pieces settled into place!

Why doesn't this Linear Group room divider have a Calvin Tag? Because it wasn't manufactured by Calvin Furniture. It was manufactured by Calvin Furniture's sister company, Imperial Furniture, who never had a "designed by Paul McCobb" tag of their own.

Later production models manufactured by Calvin Furniture are tagged above the top shelf and have subtle though marked differences in their construction.

4 comments:

  1. Hello. I found a similar wall unit that has the Calvin tag. I recently purchased it on Ebay. Now, all I have to do is find the corresponding low table. http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=170525780025&ssPageName=ADME:X:AAQ:US:1123

    Sean

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  2. That's interesting Sean. That particular piece had been on Ebay for a looong time. Could you please send me a photo of the tagged piece showing the location of the tag once you have it in your possession. I would be much obliged.

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  3. Just goes to show that there are no absolutes in doing this kind of research. Reminds of the Paul McCobb/Bryce Originals mirrors which I have seen tagged both with the Bryce logo and an identical model mirror with a Calvin Tag (there were subtle differences in the construction of the mirror btw)

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  4. For sure, I'm driving to Denver the first week of October to retrieve it, so I'll let you know thereafter. If you see any 497 coffee tables for sale, let me know.

    seanjohnev@hotmail.com

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