Widdicomb: Researching the Grand Rapids Collection

Widdicomb Grand Rapids Collection Desk and Chair designed by Paul McCobb

If you've read the timeline on here you'll see mention of Paul McCobb's Grand Rapids Collection, a Widdicomb case piece group to go along with Widdicomb's upholstered Symmetric Group.

I first became aware of this group towards the end of my library research into Paul McCobb, around September 2009, it was then I came across a series of advertisements from A. H. Stiehl published in Interior Design magazine between October 1962 and March 1963.



I had also found the Widdicomb case pieces mentioned in an article titled "Paul McCobb Opens his First Showroom" in the July 1963 issue of Interiors.


"(3) Widdicomb desk with refined architectural detailing in bleached walnut has three drawers. Also from the Widdicomb group are the small side chair and the armless chair with arched caned back."

"(5) Widdicomb case piece with caned open shelf is in bleached Walnut the "Custom Light" finish. Hardware is in nickel-silver finish."
The case illustrated in figure (5) in the article is the same as the case from the A. H. Stiehl ad, and, if you look carefully you'll see it's even the same photograph with the advertising copy overlaid over the painting.

We finally learn that the group is called "The Grand Rapids Collection" in the Market Spotlight section of Interior Design's July 1963 issue.


“Paul McCobb, well-known furniture designer, has opened showrooms at 425 East 53rd Street, New York, where his designs are shown in exciting contemporary settings with background sculpture and paintings from the Bertha Schaeffer Gallery. Mr. McCobb’s new designs of living room, dining room and bedroom furniture will be presented here exclusively in what he calls “The Gallery” and with this opening The New England Collection of H. Sacks & Sons, Boston and the Grand Rapids Collection by Widdicomb are featured.”
And that's it... I wasn't able to find anything more in the period trade journals, in the same time period I had been going through various online newspaper archives accessible via The New York Public Library's main branch research library in the Steven A. Schwarzman Building and found that the Widdicomb group by McCobb is mentioned in a couple of publications at the time. The following quote from the New York Times is the most descriptive of the lot but unfortunately there were no accompanying images:
“At Widdicomb-Mueller a new collection by Paul McCobb includes bedroom and dining room furniture as well as several living room pieces. The collection shows the designer's easy handling of wood in a contemporary manner, although in a more formal manner than previously. He has used caning in headboards, chair backs, cabinet doors and even table tops, which are covered with glass. The hardware is simple chrome pulls or handles.
One versatile piece in the collection is a tall armoire with a lower chest section and doors above it, available in either glass or caning. The units also come with interior lighting for display of china or art objects. All the pieces are In walnut and may be ordered in a light finish or a dark, rubbed linseed oil finish. The oil finish is a departure for Mr. McCobb and it is a successful one” New York Times - June 22, 1962 page 43
And that about closed out everything I had been able to find as of late 2009.

Around July 2009 I had finally managed to track down Paul McCobb's Daughter, who was very nice, but did not think that she had anything to really help my research. We messaged back and forth for several months and I even got the opportunity to visit with her once or twice. Then I got a message from her one day saying that she had found several boxes of her father's papers in the attic. I could barely contain my excitement! It took a bit of wrangling but finally in July 2010 I visited with Melissa to set about scanning the archive. The actual scanning took about a month with me working on site and also at home once it proved that there was far too much there for me to do in go. Inside these boxes and folders was a veritable treasure trove of Paul McCobb related material the likes of which I had never seen anywhere else, including a single unmarked black and white photo (below) of what I took to be the Paul McCobb Showroom at the time...


The photo was scanned and filed by me in the Paul McCobb Showrooms folder and pretty much forgotten about.

Then in March 2011 I decided to take another stab at the Widdicomb problem, but this time instead of searching for Paul McCobb to come at it from a different angle and search only for Widdicomb between 1962 and 1965 (the year that Widdicomb was purchased by the John Widdicomb company) instead of Widdicomb and Paul McCobb. This idea immediately paid off and I found the following two Bloomingdales ads for Widdicomb from 1965 in the NY Times archive.



So now I had a very clear idea that the furniture in my misfiled photo (above) was by Widdicomb, the dining chairs were already identified as being by Paul McCobb in the July 1963 "Paul McCobb Opens his First Showroom" article in Interiors (above) and the Gentlemen's Chest is identified in the March 1963 A. H. Stiehl ad (also above) so it seemed a fairly reasonable assumption that the rest of the furniture was the "missing" Paul McCobb group for Widdicomb.

Then in June 2011 I was able to put even any residual doubt in my mind to rest when I found the following articles published in the Dallas Morning News in February of 1963.



The quality of the clippings is pretty terrible, as they were scanned from microfiche, but not so terrible that we cannot clearly see that the furniture depicted is the same as that found in the photo (above) and the second article (below) even uses a cropped print of the same photo as my mis-filed showrooms photo (which I have since determined was a photo of the Widdicomb Showroom in Grand Rapids).

"Sculptured contemporary furniture in walnut in a light sable finish as designed by Paul McCobb and produced by Widdicomb has the precision and refinement he seeks to achieve to perfection." - Dallas Morning News February 25, 1963 section 3 page 1





Comments

  1. Love what you've done here with the research. Sounds like a true adventure. I'd love to chat via email sometime about attribution/research difficulties for mid-century.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Feel free to get in touch J. My email is straylight.wandering at gmail.com

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  2. I grew up in an apartment that was furnished with many pieces from this collection. I now own several of them and have spent years and years Googling various phrases trying to figure out ANYTHING about their history -- only today did I strike gold. Thank you so, so much for this post.

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    Replies
    1. I’m so glad my research has helped Exith

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