Saturday, January 1, 2011

Country Workshop

If you have been following the blog you will already know a bit about Clifford Pascoe's designs for Modernmasters (see: "A Tale of Two Chairs" and "The Daybed that Paul McCobb should have designed...")  which were very clearly based upon Paul McCobb's 1951-1952 Planner Group offerings and Arthur Umanoff's designs for Peter De Jardin's Tropic Shop (see: "Sincerest Form of Flattery") which channeled the design synthesis of Paul McCobb's Planner Group and his designs for Directional.

Another of the copycats was Country Workshop owned by Josh Millstein. Country Workshop sold  their unfinished furniture directly from their factory in Newark, NJ to local patrons. They also sold mail order via ads in national magazines such as House & Garden and Living for Young Homemakers. 

Country Workshop was in operation, to my certain knowledge, from 1951 to 1974. One of the earlier references that I have been able to find is in a January 28, 1952 New York Times article titled "Free-Stand Wall Provides Storage":
"The Country Workshop, 95 Rome Street, Newark, is offering small bookcases, chests or other pieces of unpainted furniture. These are made of solid poplar. The cabinets are furnished with sliding doors of Novaply. The chests have woodfaced drawers.
The single-shelf bookcases, the cabinets (which have one shelf) and the three-drawer chests come in four different sizes, all twentynine inches high. The smallest bookcase, nine and a half inches deep and twenty-four inches wide, costs about $10.
The units have detachable legs five inches high or may be stacked on a matching bench, available in five different lengths. Two desks one with three drawers on one side and two legs on the other and the second supported by three drawers on each of its two sides complete the collection."
Reading this initial description one might not think much it but I  have seen their work frequently being confused with Paul McCobb's designs.

Country Workshop advertisement. New York Times Sunday Magazine March 30, 1958, page 75

The Country Workshop cases and benches were 16" deep where the McCobb Planner Group designs are 18". Many of the Country Workshop case pieces are virtually identical to the Planner Group cases barring this small detail. 

The stock configuration of attached legs were 5" tapered peg legs mounted at 90 degrees to the cases (straight up and down) but there was also an option of splayed tapered peg legs identical in appearance to their Planner Group counterparts as seen in the ad below,  the only significant difference being that the Country Workshop legs used a metal screw to attach to a threaded metal socket where the Planner Group legs are tapped with wooden threads much like a broom handle. 

Popular Science December 1954 page 172

Country Workshop craftsmanship was of inferior quality, lacking the through-dovetails used by Winchendon Furniture to invisibly join the sides, tops and bottoms of the Planner group cases.

Amongst other things Country Workshop was one of several manufacturers who made a variant of the Clifford Pascoe/Modernmasters bentwood and iron chair (see below) which was so remarkably similar to Paul McCobb's own Planner Group #1535 chair (A copy of a copy! Confusing isn't it?). The major difference between the Country Workshop chair and the Modernmasters chair was that the Country Workshop's chair had a continuously curving backrest, the metal frames were, for all intents and purposes, identical.

Country Workshop (L) and Modernmasters (R) chairs side-by-side.
New York Times March 8, 1953 page 84.

Country Workshop also had two desk designs along the lines of the iconic Planner Group #1560 desk. The main difference being that the Country Workshop desks (there were two distinct designs) had three drawers instead two. Not an improvement to my mind.


Country Workshop Advertisement.
Living For Young Homemakers February 1952 page 22

In 1958 Country Workshop introduced their own version of the Planner Group "Golf Pull". It is their use of this drawer hardware which causes the most confusion amongst the uninitiated.



House & Garden March 1962 page 102

Pictured below is a Country Workshop "4 Deep 4 Shallow" 48 inch chest of drawers  complete with  McCobb style drawer pulls. The design is depicted in the lower left corner of the large Country Workshop March 1958 ad. The similarities in design/construction and use of like drawer pull hardware make it almost impossible for those not exceptionally well versed in the ins and outs of mid-century furniture identification and Paul McCobb in particular to tell the difference. 

1960's Country Workshop "4 Deep 4 Shallow" 48 inch chest of drawers
for sale at Lost City Arts

8 comments:

  1. Very interesting. I'd never heard of Country Workshop, and I have to say that I'm surprised the mistake hasn't been corrected in the 1st Dibs listing. I thought they'd be screened better than that.

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  2. A direct quote from 1stdibs.com terms of service.

    Buyer beware...

    "12. AS-IS SALE.

    All Items displayed on the Site are sold “AS IS”. Neither the Seller nor 1stdibs.com makes any guarantee, warranty or representation, expressed or implied, to any Buyer with respect to any Item, including without limitation, its condition, merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, quality, rarity, importance, provenance, designer or creator, exhibitions, literature, historical relevance or otherwise. No statement anywhere, whether oral or written, shall be deemed any such guarantee, warranty or representation. Neither the Seller nor 1stdibs.com makes any representation or warranty as to whether the Buyer acquires any reproduction rights or other intellectual property rights in any Item. Except as provided in paragraph 11, ITEMS PURCHASED THROUGH 1STDIBS.COM ARE NOT RETURNABLE."

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  3. Great information and attention to detail. Thanks for the great research!

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  4. Good to know someone's paying attention to details. That sorted out some things for me.
    Thx Jon.

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  5. Great blog Jonathan. I was happy to come across this article about the Country Workshop.

    You may be interested in seeing this piece I sold last year. I think you will find the label particularly interesting.
    http://www.leedowdyantiques.com/index.php?option=com_autostand&Itemid=55&func=detail&id=90

    I also just got in two chests by the workshop:
    http://www.leedowdyantiques.com/index.php?option=com_autostand&Itemid=55&func=detail&id=135
    http://www.leedowdyantiques.com/index.php?option=com_autostand&Itemid=55&func=detail&id=136

    I also have several Planner Group shelves which are signed.

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  6. I purchased several of the workshop pieces in the early seventies some were delivered and some I picked up at the factory or workshop I should say. They also had a retail outlet in a shopping center in NJ not far from Philadelphia. I still have them and wouldn't part with them for the world. Solid wood popular or maybe it's maple and solid walnut drawer fronts. All laminated to be sure given the price. Very well done and today I see no reason to buy MDF veneered for oodles more. .

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  7. Am so glad to find this info. We are about to part with our most cherished Country Workshop chests of drawers (we have at least 8 some poplar, most walnut) that we have owned since 1962. We have never tired of them, they have never worn a bit, and they still look and serve us so very well. They will be auctioned off at William Smith Auctioneers in Plainfield NH sometime in October. I sure hope they find a happy home! They have lived all over the world! Ann

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