In little more than three hours time, they would have watched as three nearly identical bow-arm Morris chairs were sold. The first finished at $17,360, the second at $5,890 and the third at $5,270.
So, why the difference?
The first (top photo, all from RagoArts.com) was the oldest of the three, having been made in 1901 when Gustav Stickley was just getting started and was still intimately involved with furniture design and production at his Eastwood, N.Y. factory. Even though this chair apparently never received an early red decal, the subtle reversed tapering of the legs identify it as having been made at the Craftsman Workshops in 1901. Collectors of the earliest Stickley Arts & Crafts furniture knew this was a true rarity and battled over it until it reached $17,360.
The next year Gustav made a slight change in the bow-arm design, widening the narrow arms just slightly enough to be able to attach corbels to each of the legs. He kept the arched seat aprons, loose cushion and the side seat stretchers. This chair (lower photo) had the 1902-1903 red decal collectors love to see. It sold less than 15 minutes after the previous bow-arm, but stopped at $5,890, a difference of $11,470.
Before the sale ended a third example hit the block. This one was also signed with a red decal and still had four corbels, but the loose cushion had now been replaced with a spring seat and the reverse tapered legs with straight legs. In addition, the arch of the bow-arm had been lessened, making the chair a little less dramatic than the 1901 version. It sold for $5,270.
Three chairs: all made at Gustav Stickley’s Craftsman Workshops, all Morris chairs, all bow-arms, but with subtle details that only an educated collector could detect – details that spell the difference between a $17,360 chair and a $5,270 chair.
Proof to what I have always said when called upon to defend the eight seminars and thirty small group discussions at the Grove Park Inn Arts & Crafts Conference: an educated collector is a confident collector.
PS – For the same money, which would you buy: one 1901 bow-arm Morris chair or three 1902 bow-arm Morris chairs?
For a detailed explanation of Gustav Stickley shopmarks, go to our new feature “A Collector’s Guide” and click on “Gustav Stickley Shopmarks.”