A Collector’s Odyssey

From the Desk of N. Gordon Gray

My collecting odyssey with J.M .Young furniture began in 1994 on the main field at the summer Bouckville, New York show. There near the main gate I found three different mission arm chairs painted red, white and blue. They obviously had been outside on a porch for while. They all still had their paper labels for J. M. Young & Sons, Camden, N.Y., so I bought them.

My knowledge of mission furniture at that time was limited but I remembered that I had seen a bookseller across the street. I went back to the bookseller and asked her if she had a book about J. M. Young. She went in the back of her little trailer and came out with a book that it had just been published: J. M. Young Arts And Crafts Furniture by Michael E. Clark and Jill Thomas-Clark. It was not a reprinted catalog, but a collector’s guide giving a history, pictures, and dates of the four different shop marks, construction details, photos, and detailed production records.

As I began to restore the three armchairs, I began to realize that these were well made chairs. This impressed me even more when I realized their age, as these particular shopmarks were used between 1902 and 1916. The joints were tight and did not need to be re-glued. The wood had been well selected, so that the arms had similar grain patterns, as was all the wood in the backs.

I also had luck on my side. When I stripped off the red, white, and blue paint, it came off easily. They all had several coats of shellac that had not worn off before they were painted. The shellac had acted as a barrier and the paint hadn’t gotten into the grain. As I learned later, this does not happen very often.

As my odyssey continued over the years, it was enriched by meeting Michael and Jill Thomas Clark at shows, auctions and the Arts and Crafts Conference at Grove Park Inn each February. Michael and Jill were always willing to talk about J.M. Young and I learned many interesting things which were not in their book.

Over the last twenty years I bought hundreds of pieces of J.M. Young furniture which I either sold in group shops or kept for my own collection. This was possible not only because the quality of this furniture was equal to Gustav and L. & J.G. Stickley, but also because it was manufactured over a long period time. J.M. Young produced Arts and Craft furniture from 1904 through World War II. They produced 4000-5000 examples of some models. These factors allowed a large number of their pieces to survive and come on the market in the recent decades. All this contributed to causing the cost of J.M. Young furniture to be less than Gustav or L. & J.G. Stickley.

My odyssey continues to this day. I now have a collection of forty pieces of J.M. Young furniture. On my shelf I still have that first well-used book, along with a new autographed copy, and I look forward to seeing Jill Thomas Clark and other J.M. Young collectors at the Grove Park Inn Arts and Crafts Conference in February.

Photos courtesy of N. Gordon Gray

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