Monday, February 15, 2010

A Tale of Two Chairs (or Paul McCobb vs. Clifford Pascoe)

Early in my collecting career I bought what I thought was a Paul McCobb Bentwood and Iron side chair. I was ecstatic! It was an amazing bargain at only $65.00.

Obviously the fellow I was purchasing it from didn't know what he had. He even tried to convince me that it was not by McCobb.

But I Knew Better!

Later on I learned just how little I actually knew and that what I had so vehemently thought was a Paul McCobb chair very clearly wasn't by Paul McCobb at all. I didn't know who it had been designed by, but I decided that I was going to find out. This was an important part of the long chain of events that ultimately led to my Paul McCobb research project.

Now on with our article...

1951 Planner Group #1535 Chair
Paul McCobb designed Planner Group Chair from
Interiors, June 1951

1951 Planner Group #1535 chair manufactured by Winchendon Furniture
A picture of the 1535 Chair in my own collection

In 1951 Paul McCobb introduces his iconic #1535 Planner Group Bentwood and Iron Chair (above). The #1535 side chair was rather expensive, retailing for $29.95, as compared to the #1531 wooden side chair which sold at that time for $17.95. The #1535 side chair was not in production for very long, and was phased out of the Planner Group by 1953.

Examples of this chair are really very hard to come by today, they are comparatively rare by virtue of their high initial cost and short period of production. When they do show up they are quickly snapped up to be placed into private collections never to be seen again.

So how the heck did it become such an icon?

Part of the answer is misattribution.

In late 1951 a remarkably similar (and substantially cheaper) chair designed by Clifford Pascoe for Modernmasters Inc. was introduced to the market, this chair was included in the 1952 Museum of Modern Art Good Design show.

1952 Modernmasters #DW4155M Desk and #SD34710 Chair
Modernmasters Desk and Chair from the 1952/53 Modernmasters Catalog page 23.

1951 Modernmasters SD3710 & SD3810 Chairs
Modernmasters SD3710 & SD3810 taken from the 1952/53 Modernmasters Catalog page 5

Modernmasters Scans Courtesy of the Ball State University Library Drawings and Documents Archive

Modernmasters Inc. was a curious company selling derivative furniture designs both through furniture stores and also mail order through ads in magazines such as House & Garden, House Beautiful, etc...

This Pascoe designed chair initially sold for $19.95, as time went on the price gradually reduced, first to $14.95, then $12.95 and finally as low as $8.95 apiece in 1963. It was quite a good looking chair (as was it's distant cousin the #1535 McCobb chair) and obviously very popular considering the duration of the production run and the number still around today.

How do you tell them apart? Here's a list of the major differences:
  1. Paul McCobb chair has a metal stretcher across the bottom between the front and rear legs (see images above), the Pascoe chair does not have this.
  2. Clifford Pascoe chair incorporates an upholstered foam rubber seat, the Paul McCobb chair a carved wooden seat.
  3. Where the Pascoe chair uses bolts through the back of the backrest to attach it to the iron uprights, the McCobb backrest is connected invisibly at the bottom of the backrest.
  4. The McCobb backrest is more sculptural and less angular than the Pascoe backrest.
Those are your major identifying points. Don't be fooled by cheap imitations! Take it from one who knows...

Special thanks go to Scott Lindberg over at Silab Studios for the improved title.

Monday, February 8, 2010

There's that damn moveable magazine rack again!

Here's a puzzling little oddity that has come up in my research.

In this clipping from Furniture Retailer and Furniture Age, October 10, 1956 we see the first appearance of a moveable magazine rack designed by Paul McCobb.

For the longest time I thought it was a one off made exclusively for the American Rayon Institute room until I came across this Photo in Look Magazine.

Look Magazine's December 23, 1958 p. 80

"book tree" (below, left), shown with it's creator
furniture designer Paul McCobb, will soon go
into production. It was designed by McCobb "for
the man who likes to read on the run."

And then again in House & Garden's, January 1959 "Forecast 1959" page.

So what ever happened to it? Did it ever actually go into production? If so, who would the manufacturer have been, and how many (if any) were sold?

Have you seen this book rack?

Saturday, February 6, 2010

A slight obsession

Over the past 8 months I have been independently researching Paul McCobb's life and designs. At first just for my own personal edification, and then, as the breadth and scope of the task revealed itself, with the intention of publishing a Catalogues Raisonnés of Paul McCobb's work.

I have had help along the way from other Paul McCobb enthusiasts, most notably from Gerard O'Brien at Reform Gallery in Los Angeles and Mark Naylon at Modern Living Supplies in New York, both of whom are avid Paul McCobb collectors, who have graciously allowed me access to their invaluable personal collections in support of my research efforts.

The task is not an inconsiderable one. Paul McCobb was active as a designer for 20 years, with much of his earlier and later work either forgotten, or, in the very least, not commonly known and poorly documented.

Besides the comparatively well known furniture collections Paul McCobb also turned his hand to designing Lamps, Textiles, Mirrors, Tiles, Ceramics, Radios, TV's, Stereo Systems, Glassware and Tableware, all of which I intend to include in the final published work.

Newspaper and magazine articles culled from research archives and libraries have been an invaluable aid in reconstructing the career of this remarkable man, as have the various Paul McCobb related furniture catalogs that I have been able to acquire in the course of my research.

Inevitably there are holes in my information, catalogs which I now know existed that I haven't been able to find copies of. Many of these missing catalogs aren't quite so important as the material is covered in other overlapping resources. Some however, would be invaluable to me and my efforts should they come to light, particularly those early pamphlets detailing the little known groups by Paul McCobb for Directional prior to 1952 or catalogs of his later period work for Mutschler, Lane, and Widdicomb. If anyone reading this should know of this material please contact me, any help is appreciated.

Along with this blog in the weeks ahead I will also be working on expanding the existing Wikipedia entry on Paul McCobb and (possibly vainly) attempting to correct common misattributions in otherwise respectable internet resources.