Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A word about updates

This blog of mine is a living breathing thing. What I post on here is information based upon my continuing research into the life and design career of Paul McCobb (just like the title says). The act of writing a post on a subject does not signify that I have stopped researching this particular topic. I write when I believe that I have sufficient information to present my case clearly and authoritatively.

Some of you might have noticed that there have been alterations and additions recently to older posts like the Design Timeline and the Lamp Post. As I get better information I will include it here providing it is pertinent to the subject at hand...

The best is yet to come!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

And now... The Wine Racks

Paul McCobb was a hard worker. People who knew him well frequently had this to say about him. He and his wife Molly were constantly working.

What’s interesting is that he somehow managed to keep working (if we are to believe certain items commonly attributed to him) for several years after he passed away. Now that’s what I call dedication!

Obviously there have been mistakes made along the way as far as Paul McCobb attributions are concerned, much of my blogging on here has been about debunking these misattributions and today’s blog post is no exception as I delve into yet another common misattribution, the wine racks.

Though commonly attributed to Paul McCobb these Wrought Iron, Leather and Butcher Block Wine Racks were in fact designed by Arthur Umanoff for Shaver Howard and distributed by Raymor around 1971/1972 with the possibility that they might have started manufacture as early as 1967 and possibly continued production as late as 1980.

I first became aware of the probable correct attribution while interviewing a former Raymor designer last year. After describing the Wine Racks to him in some detail (it was a phone interview) he said “Arthur was doing stuff like that with the Butcher Block and the Leather”. As I questioned him further we were able to establish that “Arthur" was in fact Arthur Umanoff and that the company he thought likely to have produced these pieces was Shaver Howard, one of the Raymor concerns, but he couldn’t remember what years they might have been produced beyond suggesting late 60’s early 70’s as that was the time that he himself worked as a designer for Raymor.

So now I had an idea of where to look and what to look for. Unfortunately other things kept pushing this project off to the side. A few abortive attempts at searching out Arthur Umanoff had yielded some suggestive information from the late 60’s showing markedly similar designs for Shaver Howard but nothing with the signature leather straps.

When next I had the opportunity to try searching out this information I had better luck. Searching Shaver Howard turned out to be the charm as there were a limited number of articles in the ProQuest Historical Newspapers database I was able to finally find an image of one of the leather and wrought iron wine racks clearly attributed to Shaver Howard in an ad in the December 3, 1971 Issue of the LA Times (Below).

“Large wrought iron dome shaped wine rack holds 67 bottles. 75.00
Small 4-bottle in wrought iron and leather from Shaver Howard. At 10.00. In our Arts/Gifts.”

In the advertisement above from late 1971 we see an image one of the leather and wrought iron wine racks which gives us information establishing date of production and manufacturer. So that’s part of the puzzle, it pretty clearly establishes that these were not designed by Paul McCobb as they are produced several years after he died by a company he had no known affiliation with. Arthur Umanoff, however, had a long standing affiliation with Shaver Howard, as their designer, as seen in the article clippings below

Arthur Umanoff Etageré for Shaver Howard circa 1967

Arthur Umanoff Bar and Bar Stool for Shaver Howard circa 1967

Unfortunately the record I have been able to assemble is fragmentary, I have yet to uncover images of the larger wine racks in period ads or editorials, but I think that there is enough information here, to, in the very least, cast some serious doubts as to the veracity of anyone claiming that Paul McCobb designed these wrought iron and leather wine racks.

Addendum: Since writing this I have been in contact with Arthur Umanoff's daughter. She has most generously agreed to grant me access to her archive of materials related to her father's design career in the coming weeks. I am very excited to see this material and hope to be able to amend this post with better, more authoritative information once I have gone through the archive. Watch this space!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The case against the Globes

Have you ever seen the "Paul McCobb" World Globes? The ones frequently attributed to Directional? The ones with the very nice curved brass frames and a Replogle globe? They really are rather gorgeous, aren't they? There's only one problem, it seems highly unlikely that they were actually designed by Paul McCobb.

Over the past year I have scoured books, newspapers, industry periodicals, furniture catalogs, library collections, etc, traveling around the country where necessary, gathering data about Paul McCobb's work. I have 100's of hours invested in this research. I now have a database containing several thousands of articles from 1936 to 1969 weighing in at a little over 3 gigs of data. One thing I have not found over the past year's research is a single mention of Paul McCobb ever having designed a Globe. With this much information you would think that I might have found some reference, somewhere, anywhere, but as best I can determine there is nothing there, no mention ever of any world globe designed by, or even closely associated with, Paul McCobb.

Having found nothing in the historical record to support the attribution of these globes I dug a little deeper. First I contacted Replogle, the company whose globes were used in these pieces. As it turns out Replogle is one of those rare companies which has A) Never been sold or changed hands B) Maintains an excellent historical record of their work and C) Is quite willing to answer any questions posed. Another great thing about Replogle is that they have a page on their website titled "How Old is Your Globe" which gives detailed information on how to date their World Globes.

Over the course of several e-mails and phone calls I was able to establish that Replogle had never contracted Paul McCobb to design globes, and did not sell globes to Paul McCobb, BG Mesberg National Sales, Directional, Calvin Furniture, H. Sacks & Sons, Winchendon Furniture, Northcraft Lighting, Excelsior Art Studio, or Bryce Originals, which is to say all of the known business entities and manufacturers who did any work in brass related to Paul McCobb's designs and who were likely to have made the stands had they truly been designed by Paul McCobb.

Furthermore, during a series of telephone interviews with Edward Mesberg, who worked for Directional in an executive capacity from the start of the company in 1950 until it was sold in 1994, I asked him about the globes. Mr. Mesberg stated that to his recollection Directional never manufactured or sold a world globe designed by Paul McCobb or anyone else.

Finally, an examination of the globes themselves. As I mentioned earlier there is a very good resource for dating Replogle Globes on their website. There are a multitude of these globes available for sale on 1stdibs.com, all with very good, large, clearly detailed photos. After a careful looking at all of the available photos on 1stdibs.com I was able to determine that in each and every case the Replogle Globes available there dated to 1972 or later.

Now let's add a few pertinent facts about Paul McCobb's life and career into the mix:
  • Paul McCobb's working relationship with Directional ended sometime in or around 1960.
  • The very last furniture group Paul McCobb designed was in 1965 for Paul McCobb Showrooms, after which, according to his daughter Melissa, his failing health prevented his continued working in this capacity.
  • Paul McCobb died of kidney failure in 1969.

Now if only one of the globes had dated to 1972, then there would be the very real possibility that the globe had been replaced due to damage or wear. However, having dated seven of these globes and all of them dating consistently there is only one remaining conclusion I can draw given the evidence at hand:

It does not seem possible that Paul McCobb designed these globes.